Ball State juniors raise awareness with custom playing card company
“Man, they feel so good out of the box.”
For most cardists, like Nate Lex, this is a typical saying, but the feeling doesn’t always last, as performing hundreds of card flourishes and close-up magic tricks breaks down the playing cards’ cardstock and finish.
“How do they feel a week later?” Lex said. “Our banana [cards] — the ones that we literally made almost a year ago now — still hold up better than decks that I opened yesterday.”
A similar phrase has been said about creating business partnerships with friends — they can be great in the beginning but fall apart by the end.
Just like their playing cards, Cameron Toner and Lex’s friendship has remained strong since starting their own custom playing card business, Organic Playing Cards.
“I would say only do business with your best friends, because it just shows so much about who you care about,” Lex said. “I've grown to see different sides of Cam because of little hitches in the road that we've run into businesswise that make our friendship stronger ... I feel like I know him even better, because I know how he works from a business perspective.”
During the Spring semester of his freshman year, Toner heard one of his speech team members talking about the Cavendish banana going extinct.
The junior telecommunications major said he was “instantly inspired” to create a banana-themed design for a deck of playing cards. At the time, he didn’t have any experience with Illustrator or Photoshop, so he used PowerPoint and banana clipart to create the design.
Soon after, Toner brought the design to Lex, a junior telecommunications major, Toner met through Accelerate, a summer bridge program for incoming freshmen at Ball State. Together at Staples, Toner and Lex created a prototype deck and box for their cards they named Peelers.
With inspiration from the cards, the duo began calling themselves Peelers Playing Cards and posting photos on Instagram to bring awareness for research about the Cavendish banana.
RiffleShuffle, a company that prints and sells custom playing cards from various creators, saw their Instagram posts and reached out, offering to print and sell 2,000 decks of Peelers. The agreement meant only 2,000 decks would ever be sold.
Seventeen months after Toner’s initial PowerPoint design, Toner and Lex signed with RiffleShuffle, and all 2,000 of the printed decks sold out within a week.
During Summer 2018, Toner and Lex decided to rebrand Peelers Playing Cards into Organic Playing Cards to expand to other fruit-themed decks.
Along the way, Toner also reached out to Olivia White, a 2018 Ball State alumna and graphic designer, for help with more practical design methods.
A few months later, the three partners released their second deck — an orange-themed deck called Squeezers. RiffleShuffle printed 2,000 decks of these and sold out in 34 minutes.
“A lot of different people are trying to sell decks and designs, and I think one of the hardest things to overcome is kind of making [ours] different … and I think that I think we've done that,” Toner said. “We've combated that really well with really trying to stay on a very simplistic brand that is true and fun and new and that also really cares about things.”
White said there are different aspects of design she had to keep in mind when designing Squeezers compared to her other projects.
“You have to think about the way that the cards will look when they’re spread out and when you’re doing different card tricks,” White said. “We have to make [the cards] look really recognizable, so we can’t go crazy with court cards because if we do that, then people who do cardistry and magic, their tricks won’t go as well.”
Because retailers can also buy Organic Playing Cards’ decks in large quantities to sell through their own sites, Toner said people from across the world — including Taiwan, China, Russia, Germany, Italy and Spain — have Peelers and Squeezers, which has created a worldwide community.
Toner and Lex also hope to continue widening their audience to those who are interested in magic or cardistry but may be afraid to try.
“A kind of a big thing in the [magic] industry right now is magic has always been a super secretive, lucrative type thing,” Toner said. “I want to open the doors wide open … to different people. We've even had people on campus that we've talked to about our playing cards, and we've given them a deck, and they'll start getting into cardistry. They've found a new passion that they really are enjoying and having fun with.”
Peelers Version Two
In 2019, Toner and Lex said they have plans to release a Peelers Version Two, which will have a different color combination than the first deck.
They also have plans to partner with Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a pediatric cancer charity, where a portion of their sales will be donated to the charity.
Lex said being able to share their custom playing cards with people around the world is “100 percent, honest in [his] heart” the best part of Organic Playing Cards.
Because he wasn’t chasing after the money and recognition that comes with selling the cards, Lex said creating and selling the playing cards was more fulfilling to him.
“I've noticed that every single time I try to really chase after something [and] I'm making that fill me up instead of just like the fun of it, it's so not,” Lex said. “I’m like, ‘Just go do it for fun and then let those blessings of the conversations you get to have with people and that money it brings you [to] pay off bills be blessings later.’”
Toner and Lex said they hope to produce four other decks this year beyond the second Peelers deck to continue spreading their ideas and passion for their arts.
“We both are shoot for the stars kind of people,” Toner said. “We'll never have an idea and be like, ‘Nah, that's too much.’ We never say no to an idea. I think that that's part of what has gotten us this far.”