Last September, Angelica Sweeting had just picked up her 4-year-old daughter from school when the little girl declared from the back seat: “Mommy, I hate my hair. I want it long and blonde like Barbie and Elsa.” The 27-year-old mother of two panicked. Sweeting and her husband Jason reminded Sophia every day how beautiful she was, pointing to her darker complexion, wider nose, full lips, and natural black hair. But they wanted to do more.
“I was devastated and started reading all of these parenting magazines,” Sweeting says. “I remember what it was like for me when I was her age.”
Sweeting scoured toy stores to find dolls that looked like her daughter. She wanted to restock the toy chest with them and subliminally redefine her daughter’s perception of beauty. But Sweeting’s search turned up empty. Sure, she found Barbies with darker complexions, but none of them had Sophia’s facial features. “It was like they just spray-painted Barbie different colors,” she says. “I looked high and low, but there was nothing on the market that looked like my daughter and had facial features and hair natural to little girls of color.”
Sweeting dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur after attending the University of Miami’s business school, but she graduated in 2009, in the midst of the recession. Instead, she began working full-time at the YMCA’s grants department, where she learned crucial tidbits about funding.
She was sure there were other mothers and little girls of color in the same situation as she was. In January, she quit her job to dedicate her time to designing a doll to meet that demand. Sweeting had never done anything like this before. She started out by asking young girls who they thought was the most beautiful person. She noticed a trend: Almost every girl described her own mother to a tee. That’s why Sweeting named the doll Angelica, after herself, and made the doll an entrepreneur too.
On May 19, Sweeting unveiled on Kickstarter 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.
“We have one prototype that the girls play with at home. We’re very careful with it,” Sweeting says. “They just love it. Our daughters love finally having a doll that looks like them.”
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Sweeting needed 1,000 orders on Kickstarter for the international manufacturer to begin production. In less than a month, she had successfully raised $84,743 and sold 1,316 dolls. On naturallyperfectdolls.com, parents can buy Angelica for $85 and expect a December delivery.
Sweeting is working to create more dolls, specifically with Asian, Hispanic, and Native American features. She also wants to make another black doll with a darker complexion. “We got really good feedback,” she says. “We found out all ethnicities are buying our doll and requesting dolls that look like them too.”
She adds, “It’s not that white dolls are bad — Barbie and Elsa are beautiful — but so are our little girls and other little girls of color around the world. We really just want to open the spectrum of beauty.”