How many of us remember the excitement of choosing a doll at a toy store, one that we would create imaginary worlds for that mirrored the lives we thought we might one day have. Except too often those dolls didn’t mirror our selves. Their blonde, straight hair and impossibly tiny waists were so ubiquitous that they made us question our own bodies and see our differences as imperfections.
Today the doll industry is making moves to do a better job of representing more girls in their offerings, and where the mainstream toy companies have fallen short small businesses have taken up the mantle. We believe that young girls will be all the more confident and comfortable in their bodies for it. You only need to watch the 1940’s “Doll Test” once to see the impact of this issue. Here are 10 companies that make black dolls. We previously published this list in 2015 with 6 companies but we’ve added to the list to incorporate the great feedback we got from our readers!
Naturally Perfect is a company founded by a mother who was solving a body image problem for her daughter - you'll find that this is a common genesis for doll companies. Founder Angelica Sweeting says her daughter Sophia “wanted long straight hair, and she even started expressing a strong dislike for her facial features and skin tone.” With input from her daughters, Angelica created the 18-inch Angelica Doll. Angelica says that at 27 years old she is “just beginning to walk into who I am, my natural beauty. I want this to happen earlier… for all the young girls who never felt pretty enough because of their kinks, curls, wider noses or fuller lips.” Watch out for Naturally Perfect on Shark Tank in early 2017.
Where to buy them: On their website Naturally Perfect
My Brown Doll, formerly My Black Doll, is a Dutch-based brand that offers a range of dolls for ages 0-12 from Barbie-style plastic dolls to baby dolls and even plush dolls – all with curls or fros. My Brown Doll is not black-owned, but founder Sigrid Wijngaards started the brand when she couldn’t find a dark Barbie with curls for her black stepdaughter. In an interview with Good Girls Company Sigrid said her stepdaughter wanted “long, blow-in-the-wind” hair, and Sigrid “wanted to make her aware of how beautiful she is. Inside, but definitely out!”
Price: Dolls range from about $13-35
Where to buy them: On their website My Brown Doll
My Natural Doll was created by Cutting It In the ATL’s Mushiya Tshikuka, and like the custom wigs she sells in her shop, the doll’s hair is made with 100% Virgin African textured hair. This feature was important to Mushiya because “in a community where our self esteem and self worth beauty is directly translated by the love of our skin and hair, this feature allows little girls to see the dolls model hair as beautiful and thus themselves as beautiful.” Mushiya also designed a Kikwembe (African print) baby doll dress, and the 18-inch doll comes with a song entitled My Natural Doll.
Price: $195, but at the time of writing this article it is on sale for $145
Where to buy them: Mushiya’s website Runway Curls
When Positively Perfect Dolls Founder Dr. Lisa Williams was first approached to start a line of dolls, she initially turned down the offer. She had previously been the first African-American to receive a PhD from Ohio University’s College of Business, then went on to be a professor, public speaker and author. Toys were not her area of expertise. Dr. Williams told The Grio that it was a segment on CNN about the way young black girls react to black dolls that changed her mind, and she then made it her mission to manufacture dolls for minority girls.
Where to buy them: Select Target stores and soon to be at Target.com
The Queens of Africa dolls were the first Nigerian fashion dolls designed to empower children of African descent. Founder and Nigerian entrepreneur Taofick Okoya created the dolls as part of a Queens of Africa program along with comic books, music, and an animation series to help children of African descent to be more confident. Each doll is made to represent a different Nigerian ethnic group, Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba, and come in beautiful outfits of both Western and traditional styles.
Price: Ranging from about $14-60
Where to buy them: Toy stores all over Nigeria, and on their website Queens of Africa
Like Positively Perfect founder Dr. Lisa Williams, Sheri Crawley was struck by the CNN segment on the research surrounding The Doll Test. During this time, she was planning a birthday party for her youngest daughter at the American Doll store and noticed that none of the girls chose a brown doll at the party, not even her daughters. Soon after Sheri and her husband decided to create Pretty Brown Girl, named after a term of endearment they called their daughters. The couple went on to create the Pretty Brown Girl Movement which offers events and national programs for girls and women of color. You can join their movement here.
Where to buy them: On their shop, Pretty Brown Girl Shop
You may recognize Karen Byrd’s Natural Girls United dolls from social media. They come with a wide range of hairstyles from twist outs to tribal-inspired braids to locs, chunky locs, braided updos, and afros. There are even a range of hair textures within these styles like the tight coils afro doll and the soft curls afro doll, as well as a variety of fashionable outfits. They are designed to help both children and adults recognize their natural beauty.
Where to buy them: on their website Natural Girls United
St. Lucian model Mala Bryan created the Malaville line of dolls out of frustration when she couldn’t find affordable with kinky or curly hair for her own personal Barbie collection. She told Huffington Post that “there are lots of adult doll collectors that would reroot black Barbie dolls with more natural hair but they are usually quite expensive… I notice[d] that there was a high demand for them.” It’s true, dolls are not just for children! Her dolls come in four models with different skin tones, Maisha, Mala, Malina and Mhina.
Where to buy them: On her website Malaville
Makedaa founder Laytah Shatta was inspired by the Ethiopian Queen Makeda, also known as the Queen of Sheba, who she felt symbolized positive identification and acceptance. She says “Our magnificent dolls are designed not only with black skin but also with black features, healthy silhouettes and luxurious afros for our precious little ones to feel recognized, beautiful and loved.” The dolls range in size from 14-23.6 inches, and all don colorful designer dresses.
Where to buy them: On their website Makedaa Dolls
Ozi Okaro was inspired to create Ikuzi Dolls by her two daughters, who have two different skintones. She recognized that most black dolls on the market came in one skin color, and that they were failing to represent all of the many shades of black beauty. With the help of her young daughters she has been working to create dolls that with textured hair and African print dresses. You can even buy a set that includes a doll and dress, plus a matching dress for your daughter.
Where to buy them: On their website Ikuzi Dolls