Some people have an “aha moment” while summiting a mountain or walking alone on a beach during sunset. Others find clarity while meditating and practicing mindfulness. Me? My moment of clarity? The time when I thought, I see the problem, there must be a better way, and why can’t I be the one to fix it…happened at a toy store. Not quite as glamorous, but it goes to show inspiration lies in unexpected places!
My daughter, Grace, was nine at the time and had just finished soccer practice. Her face was still pink from exertion and her hair was in messy pigtails when we entered our local toy store in need of a wrapped gift for a birthday party she was attending in 30 minutes. We were quickly moving through the aisles, when a line of dolls grabbed my attention. They were dressed with belly baring clothing, high heels and make-up. I picked up one of the dolls and the name on the hangtag was ‘Lovely Lola.’ At the moment I knew there wasn’t one parent who wanted their daughter to look, act, or be called ‘Lovely Lola!’ But I bought the doll, while scolding the sales people in the toy store as my daughter ran behind me asking, ‘Mom, is that the birthday gift for Maddie?’ I said, ‘No, I am buying it to show Dad,’ which confused her even more!
This encounter with Lovely Lola crystalized something I already knew. Our culture, specifically the toy industry, was doing a lousy job providing girls with strong, smart, and powerful images. Maybe I couldn’t change an entire culture, but there had to be something I could do. What started as an idea in the toy aisle, led me to create a positive imaged product, be invited to the White House as a thought leader, ultimately sell my company, and now act as an activist promoting girl power, women power, and gender equality. All because of Lola.
A few years ago, while preparing for a TEDx Talk, I was having difficulty honing in on the right topic. When I discussed this with a friend, he said, “You have been really persistent.” I knew that was it. Above all, I have been persistent and determined which has been fueled by passion.
My moment in the toy aisle was a moment of clarity, but it was preceded by personal experiences of gender inequality and gender stereotyping that led me to realize the importance of girls knowing what their minds and bodies can do versus what their bodies look like. And although gender issues were on my radar for years, I didn’t know what I could do personally to change it, so I pushed it aside…until I met Lola. That’s when I then realized how I was going to deal with gender issues, but I didn’t anticipate the long road ahead of me, the hard battle I would begin to fight, and that my persistence and determination would serve me well.
It took two years from rough draft to the debut of the first Go! Go! Sports Girl doll, Tennis Girl Gracie, at the US Open in 2008, where 500 dolls sold out in six days. Knowing I had a good product, a good message and a good test, my next goal was to launch the line of nine dolls at the New York Toy Fair in February 2009. I thought I had the next best thing, but I quickly found out I was wrong. Many toy buyers told me my product was great, but it would never sell because it was not mainstream, it was not fashion, and girls like fashion. “Can you create a fashion doll,” I heard over and over. I said, “That’s my point - girls like more than fashion. As a mother of a daughter and as a woman, I am positive girls like more than fashion.” I also realized mainstream ideas never create change and I was creating change.
I persisted for five years with few sales, but what kept me going was the media. I received top awards and national press, so I knew I touched a nerve in our culture. This vibe told me others wanted more for girls too, but the buyers were my gatekeepers.
In 2013 after five years and 500 no’s, I decided to give toy fair one more shot. If it didn’t work out I would throw in the towel, which broke my heart because I knew girls deserved more, but I had to be realistic. At Toy Fair I had an opportunity to pitch to three Walmart buyers. I had five minutes and nothing to lose. After my pitch they said, “This is a winner. If you can include six books to go with six of the dolls and package them together, we will launch them in Walmart stores.”
For two years I worked with an amazing author, illustrator, and editor and in 2015 the Go! Go! Sports Girls Read & Plays hit Walmart stores. The following year I was invited to the White House twice to participate in conferences on breaking gender stereotypes in media and toys. In Oct 2016 my company was acquired by Jazwares, a large cutting-edge toy company, who is taking the brand to the next level. Together our goal is to inspire and empower girls throughout the world…until it wasn’t.
This is how I thought my story ended, but in 2019 Jazwares returned the Go! Go! Sports Girls brand to me. We worked for months creating a strategy to launch the new redesigned doll line, but in the end, their feet got cold. A true girl empowerment brand has never been launched and they didn’t want to be the first. It was the best possible breakup, but still disappointing. What I have learned is that we talk a good talk about the importance of empowering women and girls but cower and hesitate when it comes to implementation.
I realized my journey has been more than a doll. There is nothing like social unrest to keep you focused on the need for equality and a shelter-in-place order during a world pandemic to keep you at home, in front of your computer, writing your story. My book More Than A Doll: How Creating a New Brand of Dolls Turned into a Fight to End Gender Stereotypes will launch early 2022.
My big moment started under ordinary circumstances. What I have learned is that you don’t need to be a genius, have unlimited resources, or a giant team to create change. What you need is to take your best idea, step over fear, find courage, tap into your passion and persist when it becomes difficult.