Too ‘White? Stacey and Kelie Have the Answer

There is a lot of talk in our industry about ‘where the next generation of toy makers is coming from.’ I’d like to rephrase the question: In an America where more than half of the children born are children of color, where is the diversity in toys, reflective of our children, going to come from?

I thought about this as I walked Toy Fair last month. This is not a criticism, it is an observation: Toy Fair looks pretty ‘White.’

Imagine a Black Mama with three daughters aged 3, 5 and 8. She walks  into any of the big box stores hoping to get three different Black dolls for her daughters. A soft and cuddly Black lovie for her three year old, maybe a cute 12 or 13 inch Black baby doll for her five year old – hopefully with ‘natural’ hair that she can style and play with – and for the oldest, an 18 inch African-American girl doll with a nice selection of fashions.

Yeah… right.

If you don’t know these two names, you should: Stacey McBride-Irby and Kelie Charles. What Madame Alexander and Ruth Handler were to dolls in the 20th century, these two doll makers are to the 21st century. Visionairies. Pioneers. Entrepreneurs. These two women are helping to bring American Doll making into the 21st century.

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Prettie Girl Doll Lena by Stacey McBride-Irby

When you meet and talk to Stacey and Kelie you learn that they share the same story and the same passion. They’ve identified an itch – the lack of dolls of color, and they are doing their best to scratch it. It isn’t easy starting a new company from nothing more than an idea, but fortunately we live in a time and an America where it is possible.

Zaria Double Dutch Doll

Zaria is one of the Double Dutch Dolls by Kelie Charles

In the course of things it doesn’t really matter so much that I am proud of these women, or that I am proud to carry their dolls. I am but a humble doll merchant. But in an America that is changing from white to ‘of color,’ I want to stand and cheer. This is where the ‘next generation’ of doll makers is coming from.

Black Dolls Continue to Renew My Spirit

dbgGuest Blogger: Debbie Behan Garrett is a doll-collector, blogger and doll historian. She is also the author of ‘The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls,’ ‘A Comprehensive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls’ & ‘The Doll Blogs: When Dolls Speak, I Listen.’ You can learn more about Debbie at her Black Doll Collecting website.”

Sometime during the early 1990s, after reading a passage in a book or article by bell hooks on the aesthetics of blackness where she wrote: “black art renews the spirit,” I had an instant ‘aha’ moment. The ‘act of renewing my spirit,’ explains exactly what black dolls, at that time, had begun doing for me. They still do.

I had been collecting black dolls only a few years when bell’s words so profoundly touched me. In the same manner that black art reflects positive images of people of African descent with an ability to renew the spirit, I find these three-dimensional inanimate representations of black people rejuvenating to my whole being.

I have always been extremely connected to my culture, proud of my heritage, and have always delighted in surrounding myself and my offspring with positive reflections. As a child, living happily in a black world, I was unfortunately, unable to own black dolls as playthings. Very few were available in our area. Those that were offered were not aesthetically pleasing to my mother, who viewed them as negative representations of black people that she would never allow in our home.

While my childhood excluded black dolls, in my early adult years, I subconsciously delighted in them through doll purchases made for my daughter, whose doll family only included black dolls. It was my desire for her to develop a positive sense of self and culture and to ward off any innuendos, subtle or obvious, from sources that viewed anything black as negative. Seeing herself in her playthings, educational materials, and art ensured a healthy development of self-esteem and constant spiritual rejuvenation.

I began actively collecting black dolls as an adult to fill the void of not owning them as a child. Collecting and learning about dolls resulted in establishing and maintaining a doll reference library of books on antique to modern dolls. These books were useful, but the predominance of non-black dolls only served to fuel my belief that few black dolls were made during my childhood. It was not until I discovered my black-doll bible, written by Myla Perkins, Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide 1820-1991, that my world of black-doll collecting broadened considerably. Who knew, until reading Perkins’ book, that there were in fact as many positive black dolls made during my childhood? Thus, my early-1990s mission commenced to obtain as many of these lovely dolls as possible.

After the publication of Perkins’ first book and her followup title, Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II, the lack of black doll information resumed. No one else took the initiative to write another reference book on black dolls. In 2003, eight years after Perkins’ second book was published, I wrote my first black-doll reference book, The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls. It is the first full-color black-doll reference book ever published. In 2008, A Comprehensive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls followed, and includes over 1000 color images, references, and doll values. My third book, published in 2010, The Doll Blogs: When Dolls Speak, I Listen, was written to further serve the doll-collecting community, particularly avid black-doll enthusiasts. In The Doll Blogs, dolls both old and new, blog their experiences over a two-year period as chosen dolls in my now extensive and quite eclectic black-doll collection.

The passion I hold for black dolls (owned or admired from afar) is ever present. Conducting research and the documentation of the same—with an objective to celebrate the dolls and the people who make and collect them—is also a constant. My writings are published two to three times a week on the Black-Doll Collecting blog.

Will my desire to own black dolls ever cease? As long as they continue to renew my spirit, the answer is an emphatic, “no.”

Breaking the ‘Doll’ color barrier

There’s no really nice way to say it, so I’ll just blurt it out: It’s a crying shame that with 50% of American kids now ‘non-white’ ethnically, it’s still about 100% White in the children’s doll design and manufacturing world.

The numbers are a lot better in the ‘Art Doll’ world, but the Toy Industry as a whole is still pretty much ‘lily white.’

There are exceptions of course, and one, ‘The One World Doll Project,’ is the subject of today’s post.

the Doll designer Stacey McBride

Me with Stacey McBride

The One World Doll Project makes dolls of color. Beautiful Dolls. They’re a young company as far as how long they’ve been in production, so currently there are only two dolls available: Lena, an African American doll, and Valencia, an Hispanic doll (whose back story has her hailing from Mexico City.) In the pipeline are dolls from Africa and India.

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Prettie Girl dolls are built to the 11½ inch fashion doll scale, so there are literally thousands of additional outfits and accessories available for them.

What makes the Prettie Girls special is that they are designed by a woman of color, to represent women of color – for little girls. They have individual personalities and ‘ethnic looks,’ as opposed to the mass produced Barbie Dolls® and her cloned sisters. No one in their right mind would ever expect to meet a woman who looked like Barbie on the street. I see women who look like the Prettie Girl dolls every day. That’s huge in my book.

Seriously, walk down any major Toy ‘Big Box’ retailer… you’ll find plenty of Black  Barbies and her clones. But they all look alike. Prettie Girls look only like themselves, and are beautiful at that. I sincerely hope that this new doll company becomes a tremendous success. Absolutely nothing against Barbie mind you… I’m just a little tired of her ‘look,’ and ready to see real ‘Dolls of Color’ and especially ‘Doll Companies of Color’ take the stage.

Prettie Girl Doll Valencia

Prettie Girl Doll Valencia

Disclosure Notice: The Pattycake Doll Company, as of the date of this post, does carry and sell Prettie Girl dolls. We were not paid nor asked to do this review. It is as the largest Ethnic Doll site on the internet, and as authors of this blog about ‘Dolls and the Doll industry,’ that we wrote this post as a comment on the industry.

Book Review: Dream Doll

Dream Doll, The Ruth Handler Story is an Autobiography. Ruth Handler is the woman behind the Barbie Doll. What makes this book review a little different, and I hope a bit more interesting, is that I decided that instead of telling you what I thought about the book, that I would instead tell you what Ruth thought about Barbie:

“When we began sculpting Barbie’s face, I insisted it not be too pretty or contain too much personality. I was concerned that if she had too much personality, a little girl might have trouble projecting her own personality on the doll, that she would not be as free to role play or fantasize through Barbie.”

“Unlike play with a baby doll – in which a little girl is pretty much limited to assuming the role of Mommy – Barbie has always represented the fact that a woman has choices.

“Beginning as early as September 1959, we received hundreds of letters from little girls begging us to make a boyfriend for Barbie. we were scared to death of boy dolls, and so was the rest of the toy trade. Boy dolls had been tried in our industry dozens of times and they’d always flopped.”

vintage-skipper-dolls

Original Skipper Dolls

“In 1964 we also introduced Skipper, Barbie’s little sister. While little girls tended to perceive Barbie as being six or seven years older than themselves, they saw Skipper as close to their own age.”

“In 1967…we brought out a Black version of Francie. …It was a dud….Was America not ready for a Black fashion doll? …research soon told us. Francie’s looks and personality were already well established in our young consumer’s minds – to them a Black Francie wasn’t Francie. The next year, having learned our lesson we brought out a completely new Black doll, Christie, and she was overwhelmingly accepted. In fact Christie stayed in the Barbie line for 17 years, till 1985.”

That’s all for this post… I only quoted some of the Barbie and other doll stuff… remember, the book is ruth Handler’s autobiography… it’s not just about Barbie or Mattel.

Golliwog – A Black Racist Doll?

A Golliwog Doll

A modern Golliwog doll

This is a Golliwog Doll. A simple sack of cloth filled with stuffing. For generations of children a beloved doll. But today, this Black doll has been turned into a racial negative.

How did this happen? How does a simple cloth doll that was loved for decades become a symbol of racism?

The doll didn’t change. Golliwogs today look much the same as they did 120 years ago when they were introduced as a character in The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls by Florence Kate Upton in 1895 my sources.

Golliwog - illustration by Florence Kate Upton

Golliwog – illustration by Florence Kate Upton

And she based the Golliwog doll on one she had owned as a child in the 1870’s. So what changed?  Let’s just say “The Times Changed.” It’s about as accurate an answer as there is for a simple doll store owner like myself.

But I would ask you: “As a doll lover, am I allowed to love Golliwog Dolls too? Can I love the doll while admitting that it is no longer a socially acceptable image? What do you think?