Angelica Sweeting grew up playing with a black Barbie doll. It had straight black hair, a button nose, and a thin-lipped pout. Sure, its skin was darker than the iconic blond Barbie's complexion, but it still didn't look like Sweeting.
"It was like they just spray-painted Barbie different colors," she says.
Twenty years later, Sweeting, now a 28-year-old mother of two in Homestead, was driving her 4-year-old daughter home from school when the little girl declared from the back seat: "Mommy, I hate my hair. I want it long and blond like Barbie and Elsa."
Sweeting was mortified. She decided to fill her daughter's toy chest with dolls that had darker complexions, wider noses, fuller lips, and hair with curls and kinks. But no store in the area or online sold dolls with those features.
Sweeting vowed to design a doll that did. That was September 2014. Though she had always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur since studying at the University of Miami's business school, it was risky to quit her job at the YMCA's grant department. But she took the plunge.
"It's important that there are dolls in the toy aisle that actually look like little girls of color," Sweeting says. "As women, we have our own journey walking into our natural beauty. It'll help young girls to have a visual representation of their own beauty at an earlier age."
The risk was worth it. This past May 19, Sweeting and her husband Jason unveiled the 18-inch vinyl Angelica doll, with fuller lips and a wider nose than any other doll on the market. The doll's black tresses have kinks and curls, so Sweeting and other moms can teach their daughters how to wash and style their own hair.
At naturallyperfectdolls.com, parents can buy the Angelica Doll for $85 and expect a December delivery. So far, 1,600 Angelica Dolls have been ordered.
Other moms have even reached out to Sweeting to ask her to design more dolls. She's designing at least four others: another black doll with a darker complexion, a Latina doll, an Asian doll, and a biracial doll. Sweeting hopes to have the prototypes prepared by January.
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"I'm just so happy I had the courage to quit my job and actually do this," she says. "No matter where we end up, I'm thankful that I have the potential to change young girls' lives."
As for the Angelica Doll, Sweeting's 4-year-old daughter loves the prototype they keep at home.
"My daughter asked the other day if I could make her into a superhero," Sweeting says with a laugh. "She already is."