"It’s time for our young girls to have a new standard."
Not long ago, Angelica and Jason Sweeting were driving home when their 3-year-old daughter Sophia started crying and wouldn't stop.
When they asked her what was wrong, Sophia told them that she hated her dark hair and dark skin and wanted to look like Barbie or Elsa, with long blond hair and white skin.
She told them she'd never be beautiful because she didn't look like those dolls.
Sophia's fear hit the couple at their core. They took a hard look at the images their daughter was regularly exposed to, and they promptly saw the problem glaring back at them.
The way Sophia looked wasn't well-represented — not in the media nor in the toys she played with.
They looked everywhere for a black doll that resembled Sophia but couldn't find one.
Yes, there are black dolls and Barbies on the market, but most are simply dark-skinned versions of white dolls. Few offer features that many black girls like Sophia see when they look in the mirror — like wider noses or fuller lips — and even fewer dolls come in a variety of skin tones.
According to the Census Bureau, there are now more racial and ethnic minority children under 5 years old than white children under 5. While dolls have diversified significantly in recent years, it's still a struggle for many parents to find dolls that accurately reflect their children's specific demographic identities.
Dissatisfied with the limited doll options available, Angelica and Jason decided to create their own doll.
A photo posted by Beauty Doesn't Come In A Box! (@naturallyperfectdolls) on
Their first 18-inch doll, named Angelica, was modeled after photos of Angelica and Sophia. Her hair was designed to look just like Sophia's, and they even made it washable so it can be styled like real hair.
Having a doll to play with that looked like her, Sophia's confidence levels improved significantly. Together with her younger sister Sydney, Sophia is learning to style her own hair by playing with Angelica's, and she's learning how much there is to love about her curly, voluminous hair.
Seeing how much of an effect the Angelica doll had on Sophia inspired the Sweetings to take their project to the next level. So they launched a Kickstarter to make more dolls. After all, Sophia and Sydney weren't the only little black girls out there desperately in need of seeing themselves represented in the toy aisle.
"Our girls need to see a reflection of their own unique beauty," Angelica explained on their Kickstarter page. "It’s time for our young girls to have a new standard."
After raising $25,000 in just 48 hours, the Sweetings started production on their new doll line: Naturally Perfect dolls.
As soon as they were on the market, kids and parents seemed to love them.
Currently, there are four dolls available: Angelica, Brielle, Camryn, and Kennedy. They all have different skin tones, hair colors, and textures, and diverse careers and interests.
Due to high production costs, the doll's retail price is a lofty $83, even with the funds raised from Kickstarter. So the Sweetings went on "Shark Tank" to try to get some financial support.
At first, whether they'd get funding was a bit touch-and-go. The biggest concern the "sharks" had was that Mattel is already working on diversifying its dolls — how could a small company make a dent in the market?
Shark Daymond John, who has mixed-race daughters of his own, came through for the couple, investing $200,000 for 30% of the company. In an interesting twist, the couple also agreed to give 10% of their shares to a girls' empowerment charity.
Thanks to the investment, the Sweetings can lower the dolls' cost and increase the number of dark-skinned dolls on the market.
For all the parents struggling to find dolls that resemble their kids, making the Naturally Perfect dolls more affordable will make a huge difference.
In Nigeria in 2015, the Queen of Africa dolls, created by Taofick Okoya, started outselling Barbie because they spoke to the population majority. With the United States becoming a minority-majority nation, large doll companies like Mattel and American Girl might want to take a lesson from the Sweetings and step up their game.
Girls of all races deserve to love themselves. That starts by seeing themselves in the faces of world around them, both human and plastic.