If you've ever tried to find a black doll at your local toy store, you may have noticed they usually come with tamed, straightened hairstyles. But one California mom, fed-up with that status quo, started a business making dolls with a fabulously diverse spectrum of natural hairdos -- and her products are proving to be pretty popular.
Karen Byrd, founder of Natural Girls United, customizes dolls to give them natural hairstyles not typically seen on those sold in stores. As a child, Byrd remembers wondering why she didn't resemble her straight-haired, white dolls.
"I had dolls that were gorgeous, but they didn't look like me. When I looked in the mirror, I would be confused -- like, am I beautiful?" Byrd told The Huffington Post.
While toy shopping for two of her daughters, now 14 and 12, Byrd was stunned to discover the same lack of diversity in contemporary toy stores. It was time to do something about it; she started her own business in 2011.
Byrd, whose company was recently featured on StyleBlazer, takes straight-haired dolls of different skin shades and customizes them with ornate handmade hairstyles. Each style takes up to three days to craft, though she won't reveal anything more about the process behind the painstakingly detailed 'dos.
Due to high customer demand, Byrd's current stock of dolls is almost sold out, and she's working hard to satisfy a 51-person-long waiting list. She has plans to hire more employees to provide for a customer base that has expanded to the United Kingdom, Africa, and Australia.
"People are excited that the dolls look like themor their children or the people in their community," she told HuffPost. "It makes them feel good about themselves."
Her three most popular dolls at the moment are:
"Big Afro Doll"
"Brown Sister Locs Doll"
"Dark Blonde Curly Locs Doll"
Many would argue these natural hair dolls provide a much-needed dose of diversity to an often homogenous doll selection -- an issue recently described in a Collectors Weekly article.
“I’m emphatic about a black child having a doll that reflects who she is. When a young child is playing with a doll, she is mimicking being a mother, and in her young, impressionable years, I want that child to understand that there’s nothing wrong with being black," Debbie Behan Garrett, the author of Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion, told Collector's Weekly.
And while mainstream toy companies are producing more black dolls, the representation of natural hairstyles remains limited. Indeed, toy company Mattel's Barbie brand generated controversy in 2009 when it launched a line of black Barbie dolls with straight hair. Even today, Barbie's black dolls still typically sport sleek, straight hair or stylized 'dos, such as those seen on Ballgown Barbie or Air Force Barbie.
Given this limited mainstream selection, smaller toy companies have found their niche marketing more diverse alternatives. The Pattycake Doll Company, for example, seeks to provide dolls generally not found at other stores, including black baby dolls with natural hairstyles, Hispanic dolls, Asian dolls, biracial dolls, and dolls for boys.
For the more DIY-happy among us, blogger and Barbie enthusiast Kristl Smith Tyler has created an easy tutorial for giving straight-haired dolls a natural hair makeover. All it takes is some hot water and pipe cleaners.