In 2020, the US toy industry grossed approximately $32.6 billion, according to The NPD Group/Consumer Tracking Service. Despite that, only in the past decade or so have toy makers begun to add diversity into their designs. With Mattel and other companies still lagging behind, two fathers and entrepreneurs — Gaëtan Etoga and Yannick Nguepdjop— are doing what they can to create toys specifically for children who look like then.
Etoga and Nguepdjop, both from Douala, Cameroon and residing in Quebec, Canada, created Ymma to not only do good for their home country, but to make more available a diverse collection of toys that reflect the vibrancy of being Black, biracial, and beautiful. “Black dolls are hard to find, and they don’t get much exposure,” the two told My Modern Met earlier this year. “Even when you can find some, they are expensive. We wanted to solve that first problem. The second one is an identity problem; we want Black kids to have toys that look like them.”
Priced at $20, Ymma dolls are available to any child from any ethnic background in an effort to expose them to diversity from an early age. Already the must-have items have caused a happy stir in Canada as more companies seek to reflect the country’s diversifying population. “We want to help all children, but especially Black children,” Etoga told the MTL Blog. “We want them to know that they are beautiful just the way they are.” The Ymma dolls hearken back to Etoga and Nguepdjop’s life in Douala. Three of the dolls are named after local neighborhoods and the company offers additional outfits for an extra $10.
“We hope to see our dolls in every household in the world,” the Ymma founders said, remarking on their goal of not only selling dolls, but pushing other companies in the toy industry to follow their lead. “It’s true we are a business, but it’s not just about selling dolls. It’s about change. Kids are the future; we want to make the world a better place for them.”
Both men cited the infamous 1940s study from American doctors Kenneth Clark and his wife Mamie that showed Black children not wanting to play with the dolls that looked like them and generally preferring white dolls. “The doll test video, when you look at it, it’s heartbreaking,” Etoga said to HuffPost Quebec. “These little children, they did not rub shoulders with toys that looked like them from an early age. I think in some places in society there are certain [factors] that make them believe that their hair and noses are not beautiful. But what we tell them is that it is wrong.”
“If this initiative can make 5, 10, 20 children a little more open to diversity because they will have been around various toys, I think that would be a mission accomplished for us,” Etoga shared in the same HuffPost Quebec chat. All the Ymma dolls, accessories, and details to their beautiful story can be found here.