When shopping for toys in Montreal, Quebec, dads Gaëtan Etoga and Yannick Nguepdjop noticed the Black dolls were always either missing entirely, expensive, or placed on the bottom shelf.
The two parents decided to do something about it and launched the doll company Ymma in November, according to HuffPost Québec.
The company specifically sells Black and mixed-race dolls at around $20 each and aims to build inclusion and understanding in children through play by exposing children to different people.
The infamous doll study conducted by doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the 1940s concluded that children who played with white and Black dolls showed a preference for white dolls, Etoga explained. In 2010, children demonstrated white bias again in yet another doll study.
Ymma’s mission is to make sure Black and mixed-race children feel more seen.
“I think certain parts of society dictate to them that their hair and their noses are ugly,” Etoga told HuffPost Québec. “But what we want to tell them is that that isn’t true.”
Originally from Douala, Cameroon, Etoga and Nguepdjop are also using the dolls to pay tribute to their culture.
Each doll — Priso, Beri, and Sadi — is named after a Douala neighbourhood and wears natural hair with traditional Cameroonian clothes. The dolls’ clothes are produced in Cameroon with local fabrics, Etoga explained. The blue ‘ndop’ pattern used on a couple of the outfits is traditionally worn during large ceremonies. Meanwhile, the black, yellow, and orange circles known as ‘toghu’ seen on another are usually unique to the country’s northwest region. Additional outfits are also sold separately for $10 each.
But Etoga and Nguepdjop also wanted to support the local economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, so the doll packaging and boxes are produced in Quebec.
Etoga hopes the dolls will help create more awareness about how racism impacts communities in Quebec. Protestors in the province continued to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, calling for the end of police brutality worldwide.
Some people are still not aware of the prevalence of racism and are sometimes surprised to learn that finding Black dolls is difficult, Etoga said.
Most importantly, Ymma is meant to build children’s confidence and help them acknowledge their individual beauty. But the dolls are not just for children of colour. Diverse toy collections build a foundation of openness for children at an early age, which is crucial to creating more inclusive societies for all.
“If this initiative can make five, 10, 20 children a little more open to diversity because they’ve been around various toys, I think that would be mission accomplished for us,” Etoga said.