Grandmother Turns Love of Grandson, Desire for Black Imagery Into Baby Boutique

Debra Raney wants her baby boutique to be a step above the rest.

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Debra Raney was inspired by her grandson when launching Little Muffincakes. (Kamari Frink)

Representation matters and no one knows that better than Debra Raney. The grandmother of one realized the importance of Black youth receiving positive messages, and Little Muffincakes baby boutique was born.

“I feel like the earlier a parent introduces positive relatable images to their children the better,” Raney said of how the brand promotes self-acceptance. “Studies have shown over and over that minority children tend to use the images that they are exposed to the most as their standard of beauty. I want to break that mold and give minority children the chance to see characters that share their same facial features, hair texture and skin tones from birth to increase that self-acceptance and thereby promote high self-esteem.”

Raney knows first-hand what it’s like to receive negative messaging about the Black appearance. Although her parents made an effort to instill positive self-image by giving her Black Afro-wearing dolls, Raney opted for the blond-haired dolls “that have long hair [girls] can comb. That was also something that was etched in my brain to change for my [possible] future daughters.

“I made sure that my kids heard that they were beautiful/handsome, and made no hesitations to sit them down and dispel anything they heard outside of our house to the contrary,” she said.

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The Ashton character, modeled on a blanket by Dillon Palmer, was named after Raney’s grandson who she says
is definitely a child that appreciates the details.” (Jasmine Mitchell)

Raney explained she wanted to make a bigger impact on kids, for whom the brand is geared, and knew depictions of blackness were the way to do that instead of making designs etched with dinosaurs and flowers. Little Muffincakes’ blankets and bibs feature a brown-skinned boy and girl — respectively named Ashton and Zhara — with curly hair and wide-set noses. The inspiration behind the company came after the birth of Raney’s grandson, Ashton, when she said she felt disappointed by the lack of characters representing nonwhite children.

“Shopping for him made me revisit old feelings of disappointment at the lack of characters that represent minority children,” Raney said. “After toying with the idea, I decided that I would create my own characters. Surely, I can manufacture my own bedding, right?”


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But launching a shop featuring Black children’s characters wasn’t a simple task. Without a background in manufacturing, Raney said she had roadblocks at the outset. She needed to figure out how she’d finance the project with no investors and had to sift through reputable manufacturers. And that’s just the big stuff. Raney also needed to think about the details of products, design concepts and fabrics.

“This business definitely isn’t for the faint-hearted,” she said. “It takes blood, sweat, tears and overall mental strength to reach your goal in one piece.”

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The ballerina character, Zhara, which is on the bib worn by Toni Middlebrooks, is named after the daughter of Debra Raney’s friend. (Jasmine Mitchell)

“The other issue I wrestled with was making sure that my brand has a foundation of excellence,” she added. “I don’t want to settle into a place of mediocrity like some of the minority-owned businesses out there. I want my customer to know that they are getting their money’s worth. I have great attention to detail and went through painstaking lengths to make sure that the products I provide are of high quality. I care as much about the packaging and presentation as I do about the actual products.”

All that dedication paid off when Raney saw the reaction of the children she made these designs for. As her brand exposure has grown, the business owner says her profits have, too. Throughout the process, Raney had the support of several friends and family members, including her parents, children and women she calls her “sister-friends.”

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” Raney said, before adding, that “building Little Muffincakes has been a 10-month labor of love. Now that I have crossed the first hurdle, I know that I’m built for this. Now my dreams are even bigger … This is just the beginning.”

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