College student launches new line of dolls for boys of color

Wednesday, 04 May 2016 16:10

When Jennifer Pierre visits the toy store, she sees shelves of dolls that are mostly girls and mostly white. She wants to change that.

Pierre, who’s finishing a master’s degree in entrepreneurship at Babson College, is launching a new line of dolls designed for boys of color. One is meant to look like an African American boy, with curly natural hair. One is Indian American. Another is biracial.

The goal is to give boys of all races a doll that looks like them, and that they can be proud of. Her new company is called Melanites, a reference to melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color.

“We’re a toy company, but we’re trying to become a whole brand that celebrates brown boyhood,” said Pierre, 23, of Pompano Beach, Florida. “I want it to be normal for a kid to go into the aisle and see themselves on the shelf.”

For now, Pierre is taking orders while she tries to raise $35,000 to manufacture the first dolls. She hopes to have the first batch delivered by Christmas and sell them online and in specialty stores afterward.

The first prototype is an 18-inch doll named Jaylen, designed to look like a young black boy. It’s made of plastic, with limbs that can bend and twist like a big action figure. To boost appeal for boys, Pierre plans to advertise them as “action pals,” not dolls.

But part of her goal is to erode the idea that dolls are for girls. She wants to blur gender lines in the toy industry, and to move away from action figures that depict men with guns and big muscles.

“Parents are tired of the pink aisle and the blue aisle,” Pierre said. “They want something they can give to their sons to teach them empathy, or to inspire them.”

Each doll is meant to have its own personality. Jaylen is an inventor. Aiden, who’s biracial, likes to tinker. Marquis, of Caribbean American heritage, is a performer. Pierre plans to sell story books that take the characters on missions as astronauts, for example, or archaeologists.

The idea struck Pierre while she was working at a community center in Florida before moving to Massachusetts. Time after time, she heard boys say they wanted to become rappers or basketball stars, not doctors, lawyers or engineers.

“It’s not because that doesn’t happen, but because they don’t see it in their community,” she said. “I wanted to change that and give them different options, because you can’t be what you can’t see.”

Her idea reflects broader shifts in the toy industry, experts say. More companies are blending science lessons into their toys, and adding diversity of all types. Hasbro now makes toy guns for girls. Another brand, Guy Gear, sells crafting kits for boys.