“It’s Christmas 2001,” remembers Yelitsa Jean-Charles, “and I’m seven years old. I’m ripping wrapping paper off a gift and my parents are watching. Suddenly, I burst into tears. I hold up the black Barbie doll and tell them, crying, that I wanted ‘the pretty one’ instead. I was seven, and already evading my blackness.”
Meet Yelitsa, now 25, founder and CEO of Healthy Roots Dolls, a toy company that empowers young girls by embracing their diversity. “After recognizing that so many other kids felt like I did – not seeing value in what they looked like – I knew I wanted to make a change. I wanted more girls of color to see themselves in the toys they played with and the books they read, and I wanted them to feel beautiful. That was the original idea behind Healthy Roots.”
The idea, which took shape in Yelitsa’s junior year at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) when she redesigned the fairy tale Rapunzel to feature a brown heroine with gorgeous kinky hair, won her a grant from the Brown University Social Innovation Fellowship. With added support from RISD, a Masschallenge accelerator program and over 600 Kickstarter backers, Healthy Roots was born in 2015 and “the great weight of having to bring a product to market hit me,” recalls the founder.
I knew what I wanted the dolls to represent, but suddenly I had to learn about sculpture, factory testing, and packaging…all in a short amount of time and with limited capital. But I knew what these dolls could mean to girls of color if we did it right.
She and her team did it right.
When the first Healthy Roots doll, Zoé, was released, she was an immediate game-changer. “Here was a doll that could teach girls to love the color of their skin and the kink of their hair,” explains Yelitsa, “and the hair care lessons are real.” Offering varying hair textures and corresponding hair care products, Healthy Roots dolls provide today’s girls with truly empowering play.
Play that is causing other female empowerment companies to take notice. Selecting Healthy Roots as one of their 100 Women-Owned Businesses to support this holiday season, Secret Deodorant highlighted Healthy Roots in their December campaign video, telling us separately that “[a]ll businesses featured in Secret’s 2019 Holiday Directory of Women-Owned Businesses were selected based on diversity of background and business offerings. Our goal for this first effort is to highlight businesses with appeal to holiday shoppers and help provide added exposure during this critical time of year for small business owners.”
Healthy Roots Dolls’ mission is to make sure no one feels ‘less than’ because of the kink in their curl or the color of their skin – we love how that encourages young women to be themselves. We admire Yelitsa’s drive to further the conversation around diversity and are proud to see how quickly her business is growing.Sara Saunders, Associate Brand Director, Secret, P&G
We couldn’t agree more. At a time of year when parents are looking for gifts with meaning, and a time in their lives when girls look meaningfully at toys and books to see themselves, a company like Healthy Roots matters. Dolls like Zoé, along with styling accessories, coloring books and the anticipated Big Book of Hair (coming 2020) have the power to help every girl recognize that the pretty doll is the one that looks exactly like her.
“I want every girl to know that the way she looks has value and that anything is possible,” concludes Yelitsa, “and when girls support each other, big things can happen.” Sara Saunders, Associate Brand Director at Secret, P&G, agrees:
Women-owned businesses account for 40% of all businesses in the U.S., and that number only continues to climb….Secret is committed to helping this growing group get the visibility – and hopefully the revenue – they deserve. Through this program, we hope young girls see the power of women supporting women and that it encourages them to support one another.
Listen up, girls. See yourself in the toy aisle this year and in role models like these, always. We simply can’t think of a better gift.
To learn more about Healthy Roots Dolls visit www.healthyrootsdolls.com and follow @healthyrootsdolls on Facebook and Instagram; @rootsdolls on Twitter. Être is grateful for the opportunity to speak with Yelitsa Jean-Charles and for the way Healthy Roots toys empower, educate and inspire girls everywhere.