The Fresh Dolls is on a mission to bolster self-confidence in children of color everywhere — one toy at a time.
After watching a groundbreaking CNN social study led by Anderson Cooper and Soledad O’Brien that uncovered racial attitudes young Black girls had toward white dolls, Dr. Lisa Williams, then a college professor, was struck by how crucial conversations regarding race and representation are to children. The findings of the study revealed that even though decades had passed, Black children still associated lighter skin tones with “nice” or “good” and associated dark skin tones with “mean or “bad.”
This drove her to create The Fresh Doll Collection, multiple doll lines designed to amplify conversation in the home and provide children of all ethnicities and gender identities with a positive visual representation of themselves. To date, Fresh Dolls has surpassed six figures in a few years, is distributed globally including in Walmart, and was selected as one of Oprah’s favorite things in 2020.
But it wasn’t always easy.
“I’ve had some terrible experiences while scaling my business,” Dr. Williams shared. “But I always kept my ‘why’ top of mind and that led me to success.” The former marketing and supply chain professor said her career prepared her to be of service to her community regardless of the endeavor she embarked on. That charitable spirit helped her create Fresh Dolls for children of color who were taught not to love the skin they’re in, even by those closest to them.
“My family’s beautiful skin tones ran the gamut from the deepest of deep to fairly complected with blond hair, so I never really felt inferior to anyone most of my childhood, until that changed with one off hand comment,” she said referring to a moment from her younger days where she first experienced the subtle yet searing undertone of colorism.”
“When talking about my fairer skinned sister and I, they referred to me “dark one” when trying to make a distinction between us,” she recalled. I noticed even as a child that their tone was different when they referred to my complexion.”
She said that was a subconscious turning point for her, and the start of her passion for furthering representation in the Black community from the root up. “I never want anyone to have that sense of inferiority toward their skin tone, or think of their complexion as ‘nasty,’” she explained, referring to how one of the study’s elementary-aged participants referred to her darker tone.
Although Dr. Williams’s goal of inclusivity may seem idealistic to some, she’s been realistic in her growth strategy when scaling her business. She shared that she did intense research from the beginning.
“I looked into doll distributors that were able to affordably manufacture my dolls and landed on one in China,” she shared. Shortly after, she was boarding a flight to Hong Kong.
“I advise anyone that’s just getting their start to throw yourself into it even if things go wrong on the way up,” she said. “There’s no other way to learn.”
Dr. Williams also said that she’s cautiously optimistic about the world finally catching up to where she’s always been regarding inclusivity. “Corporations and venture capitalists are more open now than ever to throwing their support behind Black initiatives because it’s en vogue, but I want to offer a piece of advice to smaller founders of color who receive new interes: be careful,” she advises. “I hope the new wave of awareness holds steady but if history has taught us anything, it’s that large movements usually subside over time.”
Despite that concern, The Fresh Dolls will continue to expand and will spotlight LGBTQ+ product offerings and an expanded fashion line for the dolls that will include gender-neutral outfits.