Yelitsa Jean-Charles, founder and CEO of Healthy Roots Dolls, had a distinct vision for her doll line when she first developed the concept in 2015. "To connect with children of color, you have to do more than paint a doll brown," she explains to Romper via phone. And that's exactly what Jean-Charles did when she created the "Zoe doll," a toy that empowers young children by teaching them all about natural hair care.
How Jean-Charles transitioned from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduate to successful business owner (she made ESSENCE's 50 Founders to Watch list in 2017) is a story in and of itself. But one apparent reason for Healthy Roots' triumph is its commitment to addressing the toy industry's lack of diversity. "I always wanted it to be more than just a brown doll," she says. Soon Zoe was born, a doll with natural curls young kids can wash and style all on their own.
"We wanted it to be an educational and empowering product," Jean-Charles tells Romper. "Educational in a way that the hair is styleable, specifically addressing natural hair care because there are so many dolls out there, but taking the opportunity to create a product that allows girls to learn or take care of their hair and see themselves."
She continues, "And then on the other side, also representing different career options and interests that a lot of children toys still struggle to represent."
To ensure the educational component is met, Zoe comes with a Curl Care Kit, featuring P&G's My Black Is Beautiful products. The kit is used in conjunction with Zoe, an idea Jean-Charles came up with after hearing feedback from parents. "I wasn’t reaching my goal of teaching curl care fully," she says. "We received so many emails from parents and customers who had purchased it, like, 'Yeah, my kid loves the doll, but I still have no idea what to put in their hair.'"
She adds, "We created the Curl Care Kit as a starter kit to help point you in the right direction to all the tools and products you need."
Jean-Charles' goal of making all kids feel seen and empowered has caught the attention of Secret, as she was recently included in their holiday shopping directory featuring 100 women-owned businesses. But most importantly, her work is resonating with diverse families across the United States.
"I remember one mom told us that the day she got the doll was literally the day after her daughter got bullied because of the way her hair looked," Jean-Charles recalls to Romper. "So it was really affirming for her daughter to receive it. That meant a lot to me because I used to get picked on for my hair as well."
Currently, customers can only buy the Zoe doll via the Healthy Roots Dolls website, but Jean-Charles hopes to transition to brick-and-mortar stores soon. Because all kids deserve to walk into any toy store and see themselves reflected.