JESSICA HUIE, MBE
Issue No. 52
Words: Satya Nelms
Visuals: Bessie Akuba
Jessica Huie, MBE has achieved some pretty incredible feats as an entirely self-made woman.
She’s the founder of the award-winning Jessica Huie Public Relations (JHPR) agency and the Color blind cards greeting card company, and a doting mum to Jensen, 3, and Monet, 16. Huie has graced the pages of a number of British magazines and newspapers, and has even caught the Queen’s attention: In the summer of 2014, she was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire honor at Buckingham Palace for her services to entrepreneurship and positive influence on her community.
Even with managing celebrity clients for one business, and being nationally recognized for the other, the 34-year-old entrepreneur remains incredibly centered and down to earth. Her ability to stay humble in the face of so much success is a result of some hard and unexpected lessons she learned at a young age.
“When I was a child,” Huie says, “I thought I would get married when I was 27 and have a baby when I was 30. I had it all planned out. Of course, life does not go according to plan a lot of the time.
“I was 17 when I became a mum,” she continues. “I found my teenage years emotionally challenging. I was a smart girl, but I had this desire for independence before I was really ready for it. Becoming a mum gave me a purpose, but it was seen as a disaster by my family, my peers, and society. I think I was fueled for a long time by wanting to prove people wrong.”
Although she was incredibly driven and determined to carve out a life for herself and her daughter Monet, the early days of motherhood were exhausting.
“Parenting without maturity was the hardest part,” Huie says now. “When you don’t have maturity or life experience on your side, it’s particularly difficult. Having to fumble through and learn some really basic life skills while mothering, and also trying to manage this burning ambition, alongside a desire to really be a very present mother... I mean I’ve managed, but it was challenging.”
Despite knowing that she wanted to forge a life for herself and her daughter, Huie was not entirely sure how she would accomplish that. This uncertainty led to feelings of hopelessness until a midwife came to her home one day shortly after Monet was born.
“She suggested I go back to college.” Huie recalls. “She was the first person to suggest this was even an option for me. It was a life-changing conversation as those first steps back to college became steps toward possibility—not because I was going to leave with qualifications, but because of the mindset shift working towards a goal caused in me. My self esteem began to return. Suddenly I had a reason [to exist] beyond just being mum. I had a sense of purpose, which I believe is essential to us as human beings. My family supported me fully when they realized I was intent on achieving for myself and my baby girl.”
Huie worked a few part-time jobs to support herself and her daughter while she went to school, and it was at one of those jobs that she got her big break. While working as a hairdresser, Huie made such an impression on the woman whose hair she was washing that the woman offered her a job. The generous client turned out to be Connie Filippello, a major publicist in London who has worked with a number of superstar clients. Working with Filippello was her introduction into the media world, and the opportunity of a lifetime for Huie.
After graduating with a degree in journalism, Huie went on to work at a variety of major media corporations from the BBC to Pride Magazine. But it was always her dream to return to public relations.
“PR is very much a central part of media,” she explains. “I wanted to equip myself with as much work experience as possible in order to ensure career success. Failure was not an option for me as I was sole provider to my daughter.”
She began working with PR agency Max Clifford Associates (MCA) in 2004, which boasted a client roster that included some of the world’s biggest celebrities, such as former American Idol judge Simon Cowell. But Huie always knew that she wanted to create something of her own. Her ambition, coupled with the desire for a more flexible schedule as a mother, made the prospect of starting her own business a matter of when, rather than if.
While she was still working for MCA, Huie experienced a stroke of inspiration that would lead her to her first company. She was looking for a card to cheer Monet up—her daughter was having a hard time embracing her curly hair. But when she looked in the greeting card aisle, she couldn’t find any cards featuring people of color.
“The market in the UK was completely devoid of anything representative of the society that we live in,” she says now. “I realized that the same way that I, as a mom, felt bad that I couldn’t get my daughter a card with a brown-skinned princess on it, I knew there were other moms in the same situation.”
That realization spawned Color blind cards, a multiracial greeting card and gift company Huie founded in 2006—the first company of its kind in the UK. Within six months Color blind Cards were stocked in 100 branches of UK chainstore Clinton Cards, numerous independents, Moonpig.com, and she had secured distribution in the United States, Barbados, South Africa, and Bermuda.
“Now that I have a son I feel even more passionate about Color blind cards’ mission,” she says. “On a very fundamental level, I think that it is important that our kids see themselves represented in the most basic forms—whether it’s a toy or a card—so that they become confident and they know that they’re enough just as they are.”
Huie had Color blind cards up and running within 6 months of first conceiving the idea, and just one year after starting Color blind cards, Huie felt ready to leave MCA to start her own PR agency so she could have more control over the clients she represented.
“There are some incredible people out there doing amazing things,” she says, “and I think it’s important to tell those stories. It’s both for their benefit, and for our benefit as the audience. Hopefully the next generation hears about them and feels inspired to start their own journey.”
Huie is proud and humbled by all of the acknowledgement, support, and positive feedback she has received for both of her businesses. “That’s what’s beautiful about life,” she says. “If you’re able to take an idea and run with it, you never know exactly how it’s going to evolve. I’ve made so many mistakes, because I didn’t have any business acumen, but that’s part of the beauty of it: you get there somehow, just like motherhood!”
Running two businesses is no easy feat with one child, but four years after starting Color blind cards, and just three years after leaving MCA, Huie had Jensen.
“There was a huge gap between my children's births and I felt like a first-time mum in many ways as I got to grips with those early days of motherhood all over—only this time with so much more responsibility to juggle.” Huie explains. “That said, I also had more in the way of resources which certainly helped.”
Even though running two businesses keeps her busy, Huie tries to set aside a “Mummy Day” for her and Jensen each week. On those days they swim, or go to the theatre, or find another activity that the two of them can enjoy together.
As for Monet, “I’m at the point where I’m trying to encourage her to leave time for me,” she says, a familiar refrain for any mother of a teenager. “She seems less and less interested in hanging out with her mum.”
She encourages her daughter to forge her independence, but she still makes sure that even as both of their schedules become more busy, they always make time for one another. As much passion as Huie has for her career ventures, of all her jobs, motherhood is by far the most rewarding.
“There’s this love, this overwhelming love that just blows you away. Every day is different. They surprise you constantly. Being a mom keeps me grounded. It keeps perspective in my life. I enjoy that. I enjoy the wonder of it all.”
Jessica Huie, MBE
Issue No. 52
Jessica Huie, MBE has founded two businesses—a PR firm and Color blind cards, the UK’s first multiethnic greeting card company—that have garnered a lot of attention and support. (Even the Queen of England is a fan!) Yet the 34-year-old entrepreneur and mom of two remains incredibly centered and down to earth. Her ability to stay humble is a result of some hard and unexpected lessons she learned at a young age. Huie tells mater mea how she found the strength and maturity to realize her potential after an emotionally taxing early pregnancy.