Almost every little American girl’s first doll is Barbie. But the angelic face, impossibly proportioned
Naturally Perfect dolls reject the standard of Barbies and Bratz and present girls and their parents with a different choice: toys shaped like them, with a wide range of skin tones and hair textures to more accurately represent the children who'll play with them.
Jason and Angelica Sweeting, founders of Naturally Perfect, pitched the dolls on Shark Tank in January. Jason says the episode was a hit on social media because it coincided with a heated time in politics.
“Social media went crazy. Beauty is a hot conversation. Diversity is huge. Acceptance is huge. And then, in late January, women stood up and marched all around the world and made the loudest impact. There’s no way any brand cannot pay attention to the needs, wills, and wants of women, of equality, justice, and self-acceptance,” he says.
“I’m married to a 'nasty' woman, and I’m trying to raise 'nasty' women,” he says, referencing Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks about Hillary Clinton.
The Sweetings have two daughters and one on the way. During the infancy of their company, Jason and Angelica were responsible for all the research and development, design, and manufacturing for Naturally Perfect dolls. The company began as a project to find their daughter Sophia a doll that matched her complexion and curly hair.
“We couldn’t find a doll to adequately represent and celebrate our daughter’s beauty," Jason says. "We found Barbie dolls spray-painted tan or brown. We wanted to do something better for her. We wanted to make a doll for us.”
The couple auditioned for Shark Tank four times in various cities around the United States. After proving unsuccessful three times, they decided to do the pitch dressed up as Disney characters — Angelica as Elsa from Frozen and Jason as Snow White. That audition was the clincher, and they did their taping for Shark Tank in June 2016; they were under a privacy contract not to reveal their deal until the airing this January.
On Shark Tank, the Sweetings made a deal with Daymond John — founder, president, and CEO of the fashion brand FUBU. The deal was 60 percent for the Sweetings, 30 percent for Daymond, and 10 percent for charitable giving. John was offered his share for $200,000, with the company valued at more than $600,000. The couple pitched to the Sharks for a reported hour and a half, though the viewers at home saw only ten minutes of the conversation.
Sweeting reports that after the Shark Tank airing, sales increased threefold, and emails and social media attention increased exponentially. The couple had initially walked into the tank coveting a deal with Lori Greiner, but she didn’t make an offer. Sweeting believes that Daymond made a deal with the couple because of his daughter. “Damon has a young biracial daughter, and not being able to find dolls is hitting him at home. It’s up to Naturally Perfect to make that doll,” Jason Sweeting says.
He believes that although Naturally Perfect manufactures and sells dolls, he and his wife are “not in the doll business.” Rather, he sees the dolls as a representation of natural ideals of beauty and progressive views about women. “We sell the fact that parents look at their daughters and see more than a beauty queen. The conversation on the value of a woman needs to change.”
Besides being a series of four African-American and Latina dolls that have accurate representations of facial features and hair, the dolls are also career-driven and have distinct personalities. The doll “Angelica,” named and facially modeled after cofounder Angelica Sweeting, is described as a “trendsetting entrepreneur.”
The Sweetings are researching for new products. They engage with their fans on social media to get opinions about facial features for ethnicities other than their own. They tell New Times they are slated to release a new line of eight dolls this summer.
“We’re developing outside African-American dolls," Jason Sweeting says. "We are developing a Latina doll, an Asian doll, a Muslim doll,
He agrees that Naturally Perfect dolls embody feminist values. “We need to stop undervaluing women and girls," he says. "How do we place value back on their lives, dreams, and hopes? We need to redefine them and take them out of the box we put them in.”
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