In the recent May issue of Oprah’s O Magazine, a fantastic feature titled, “Let’s Talk About Race” (Which happens to be the exact same title I came up with a decade ago for an educator’s workshop I developed, but I degress…) presented a series of images depicting role reversals of stereotypical scenes of females in America.
The goal of the controversial photos, that immediately went viral, was to get people talking about race, class, and power among women. The image that stood out to me the most was of the little, White girl standing in the toy aisle staring at all the Black faces without a single White doll in sight. The feelings of erasure and inferiority that begin to take over you when reflections of yourself outside your home don’t exist or only reinforce negative stereotypes is all too familiar for my former little Brown girl self and current mother of two young, brown-skinned children. As I continued to stare at the reversed image, I kept wondering, what if all the dolls on the toy shelf were Black and Brown? Are there enough dolls to fill a toy aisle and, if so, what would be the brands represented?
I decided to do some digging and see how many doll companies I could find who didn’t just splash some brown dye on a white faced doll, but whose core mission is to change the standard look of the doll industry in the hopes to build the self-confidence of Black and Brown children. Below are fifteen doll companies–almost all Black owned–who each have their own story that empowered them to act instead of sitting around waiting for someone else to create the dolls our toy shelves so desperately need. I hope you feel just as inspired as I did when reading their stories, and don’t forget to bookmark my resources page for easy access to these dolls and other Black and Brown educational products I continue to collect for you each week!
“Growing up I had many dolls, but unfortunately only one of them was black and it did not look like me. Today, I have been blessed with 2 beautiful daughters with different skin tones. They were my inspiration to create Ikuzi Dolls, because I wanted them to have beautiful black dolls that look like them. With my daughters’ help, our dolls have been lovingly crafted in every aspect from my designs to the hand-made face mold, to the dress designs, to selecting skin, hair and eye colors.
Over time our collection will expand to include dolls with more shades of brown skin, hair textures, hairstyles and dress designs. I want every little black girl to have a beautiful black doll that they can relate to and identify with.” -Ozi Okaro. Founder
“Over the years I have mentored, tutored, and volunteered with countless children. I have seen firsthand how differently many of the boys of color maneuvered through life and it put into perspective how society cultivates children based on race and gender. Many of the kids I mentored dreamed and inspired within a bubble because of circumstance and environment. The only real change of course happened through an intervention of a new mindset and exposure to new ideas.
I created Melanites™ to intercept the glass ceiling placed on young boys’ mind about what they can be when they grow up and how they are supposed to express themselves. Melanites™ is showcasing positive representation to cultivate curiosity, adventure, and fun. After all, toys are more than toys. My goal is simple: to design diverse toys, storybooks, and games that empower children to dream big!” -Jennifer Pierre, CEO
“Herstory Doll is a reflection of diversity within kids of African Descent with different brown skin tones, more true facial features, and textured hair of different types. The added bonus to the doll line is the joint articulation and our building of a platform to allow those who purchase them to use their own creativity and imagination to build further on the character THEY choose to create, in a reflection they can Identify with and be proud of, as opposed to buying something that is already given an identity by a company. Herstory is more than a beautiful representation of girl characters (and eventually boys), it is also about putting creativity into the hands of kids encouraging them to use their imaginations and artistic abilities through creative writing, storytelling, photography, videography, crafting, sewing and more. Our goal is to build an online global community where youth have the platform to share their creativity through their doll characters, how they’ve defined their own unique characters in their own ways and share them with other youth in a positive creative sharing space.” -Queen Cee aka Queen Dollylama, CEO & Creator
“Like most young girls with kinky/curly hair, my daughter Sophia was not happy with her kinks and curls because of the doll I was putting in her hands every day. Sophia wanted long straight hair, and she even started expressing a strong dislike for her facial features and skin tone. With the help of my daughters, we created “The Angelica Doll” — A natural hair 18-inch doll for young girls.
As I began to develop The Angelica Doll and give serious thought to the things I wanted to do for young girls, I realized that I had been influenced by society’s standard of beauty for as long as I could remember. Here I am – 27 years old, and I am honestly just beginning to walk into who I am, my natural beauty. I want this to happen earlier, not only for my daughters but for your daughter, your niece, your sister, and for all young girls around the world. I want this to happen for all the young girls who never felt pretty enough because of their kinks, curls, wider noses or fuller lips.
We are creating Naturally Perfect Dolls to let girls know that they are beautiful. Our girls need to see a reflection of their own unique beauty. It’s time for our young girls to have a new standard.” -Angelica & Jason, CEO
“The Hearts For Hearts Girls mission is to empower girls to become agents of change in their communities, their countries, and around the world…It all starts with our dolls. Right now, there are four Hearts For Hearts Girls dolls: Rahel from Ethiopia, Dell from the USA, Consuelo from Mexico, and Nahji from India. Each of them has an important story to tell about life in her country, inspired by the stories of real girls who are strong, smart, courageous, and determined to rise above challenging circumstances.
For every doll sold, Hearts For Hearts Girls makes a $1 donation to our charitable partner, World Vision, a global humanitarian organization that supports children through local programs. Whether it’s malaria nets in Africa, schoolbooks in Asia, or food supplies in the US, these programs help kids to thrive and succeed.
Hearts For Hearts Girls believes that giving our children a positive, uplifting perspective on the people and cultures with which we share this earth is more important than ever. Our brand shines a better light on the world. It offers a way for young girls to gain knowledge, inspiration, empathy and—most of all—empowerment. They CAN do something! They CAN make a difference. And that, in itself, is a unique and wonderful feeling for anyone.” -Hearts for Hearts Girls
“I am a mom and former professor, so I have always wanted to inspire the best in young people. In 2003, the World of Entertainment, Publishing and Inspiration (World of EPI) was formed with the mission of expressing joy by providing children access to dolls that encourage dreams, promote intelligence, challenge perceptions, and open their hearts to all types of beauty. The doll you are holding is the result of generations of parents, grandparents, and friends wanting to provide positive play for children. Motivated by their dreams and from my heart, Positively Perfect Dolls were born.
Every doll represents positive statements, such as “I am proud,” “I am smart,” or “I am beautiful.” They are lovingly designed to show the beauty in our diversity, from curly to straight hair and buttercream to chocolate skin.” –Dr. Lisa Williams, CEO
“Three years ago a friend of mine asked me to help her find a doll for her Biracial daughter…The answer, it was not impossible, but it was challenging. The most frustrating part was the lack of choices. Every retailer had one, maybe two dolls to choose from but something was missing. There was nothing to create a connection and show African-American, Hispanic, Biracial, Multiracial girls just how beautiful they are. So, with that in mind, I embarked on a journey to create a collection of characters showcased in a line of books, dolls, and accessories that reflect the beautiful ethnic diversity of African-American, Hispanic, Biracial and Multiracial children. Double Dutch Dolls is about more than just a doll line. It’s about a group of characters that every young girl can relate to.
Each of the characters came to life when I started writing the first book in the series, “Double Dare”. Growing up I loved to read fun stories about girls my age who were experiencing the same challenges. My favorites were Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High and anything Judy Blume. I always wished there were characters like them who looked like me. So, I began to write my thoughts and ideas on the back of napkins (literally) and in the many cute notebooks I always carry in my enormous purse (seriously, it’s a big purse).
Finally, I pulled all those thoughts together and the Double Dutch Dolls were born. The characters are not perfect, which is great because neither are we. But, each one is smart, beautiful, and stylish and positively reflects all of the wonderful things I see in our children everyday.
Double Dutch Dolls is dedicated to all girls in hopes that through the stories and dolls every young girl will see herself in one of the characters and be inspired to stay beautiful, brilliant, and brave. -K. Charles, CEO
8. The Prettie Girls | Positive, Respectful, Enthusiastic, Truthful, Talented, Inspiring, Excellent!
“There was always something more I wanted to do as a designer especially working at Mattel for fifteen years. Having an African American daughter, [there was] not enough representation for her. Partnering with Trent T. Daniel, we came up with this concept to create Prettie Girls Dolls–a diverse, multicultural line of dolls that represent our girls who we are today. We named them Prettie Girls, because we didn’t want to just focus on the outward beauty, but we wanted little girls to feel pretty from within, so we spelled prettie p-r-e-t-t-i-e, because they have attributes that come along with it: positive, respectful, enthusiastic, truthful, talented, inspiring, and excellent.” -Stacey McBride-Irby, Doll Designer
“Over twenty years ago, Sister Aisamah begin designing Islamic clothing for dolls as a hobby. Through her designs, she strives to capture the ethnic beauty of the diverse women who embrace Islam. The woman in her nature is introduced in every culture worldwide as the “Natural Being She Is” encircled by the environment that cultivates her. While having a respect for diversity designed by Our Creator, ethnicity highlights the woman in her natural beauty.
Her entreprenaurial effort to market and sell artistic cultural creations is part of a broader strategy for empowering African American Muslim women. This strategy is two-fold: First, there are many harmful misperceptions about the oppression of Muslim women. Through Aisamah’s Originals, she hopes to educate others about Islam, and the lifestyle enjoyed both domestically and professionally by women of her faith. Second, she hopes to embrace other cultural entities seeking to market their works of art online. The skills and experiences that Sister Muhammad has acquired through the development of Aisamah’s Originals will be shared with other urban, African American women.” -Sister Aisamah Muhammad, CEO
“At FICO Solutions, we believe that serving the children within our communities is our responsibilities. Our mission is to promote a positive self-identity in African girls as well as preserve the African culture. The Queens of Africa project is a Girl child empowerment program with the goal and aim of inculcating into the African Girl child positive attributes and interest through play by using fun and entertaining ways. The Queens of Africa characters are designed to represent progressive qualities such as endurance, peace and love while developing literary potentials in our children as well as enhancing their career development for future.
The Queens of Africa project is dedicated, through the use of books, dolls, comics, music and animation series, to help empower children of Nigerian/African descent to be confident and matured ethically. The materials are designed to be fun and engaging, while it subconsciously educated, encourages and promotes Nigerian/African heritage, encourage and educate.” –Taofick Okoya, CEO
“EthiDolls is a New York, New York based company that manufactures dolls, story, and audio books based on female African leaders throughout history. These dolls and their accessories embrace the heritage, culture, and history of Africa and those who come from the continent. Established in 2003, our company develops collectible quality, educational dolls and accessories with the mission of creating unique dolls to help children and adults embrace the culture of Africa. The idea was conceived by Salome Yilma, our CEO along with Yeworkwoah Ephrem, our EVP. Both women are Ethiopian entrepreneurs who plan to develop a culturally authentic, unique line of signature dolls and accessories to teach history, celebrate cultural diversity, and offer new play patterns for children.” -EthiDolls
“CHILDISH is a company founded and registered in 2013, which produces and trades in children’s toys and children’s character branded clothing and accessories. The first product offered by CHILDISH is an African Black doll, brand, and character with an exaggerated afro known as MOMPPY MPOPPY.
The company is a fully black youth-owned enterprise specifically founded to fill the void identified by its founders for an authentic African Kiddies character, brand and toy which little girls can associate with, a majority of dolls and girls clothing/accessories lack a representation of the diversity of different races and cultures as found in our society. Most dolls and branded young girls clothing and accessories have a similar image, which for the most part is not African. This is the gap that the owners of CHILDISH intend to fill.” -Childish
“The debut [Malaville] collection is just one of many. I started the collection with four beautiful shades of brown skin toned fashion dolls with beautiful afro and curly hair. I, personally, am a doll collector and felt the need to create something I felt was missing in my collection and also something I felt other doll collectors and lovers (both adult and children) would love to add to their collection.” -Mala Bryan, President of Malaville
“As we celebrate black beauty through dolls, we endeavor to produce high quality collectibles that inspire, captivate and encourage young women and children to love the skin they’re in. We hope to increase self awareness and self confidence by giving them positive options for dolls that they can identify with.” –Trinity Designs
“At the Pattycake Doll Company, we love children, and we know that children love dolls. Our goal is to offer your children a doll that they will hug and love and tell everyone proudly: ‘My doll looks just like ME!'” -Peter & Addie, CEOs
Chemay is a social liberation & equity coach who founded My Reflection Matters, LLC in 2016. She is an unschooling mom of two brilliant, TriniRican boys. She loves traveling, going on adventures and exploring new things with her sons, reading, decorating, yoga, photography, and collecting funky art. (Read more on MRM’s About Page.)