If you are a parent of young children, you are well acquainted with the toy aisle at your favorite shopping mall. If you are the parent of a young girl, you are no doubt familiar with the Disney Princess phenomenon, Barbie, Bratz, American Girl dolls and basically anything pink or “girly”. Just so you know, your daughter didn’t form her opinion of pink equalling pretty by herself. It is a clever marketing ploy by the toy manufacturing industry to push certain products, and to also perpetuate gender stereotypes in order to make bigger sales.
The problem with marketing, in many industries, is that it takes out the “human” aspect of the customer service industry, and treats every person as a commodity they can make more money from with clever schemes to dupe you into thinking you are getting something worthwhile. Beauty brand L’Oreal for many years has been telling us “you’re worth it” but really what they mean is you are NOT worth it without our product, so buy it and then you will feel worthy.
In the toy world, the pink brigade (as we have so dubiously dubbed them) have been reigning supreme, until lately. Toys like Goldieblox, started by Stanford Engineer Debbie Sterling, was created to smash those useless stereotypes in order to expose young girls to a wider range of talents and ideas from an early age.
Studies show that kids start forming identities very early on, and with the added saturation of media and entertainment, they make for a very convincing image of what a girl should be. Thank goodness the toy industry is started to be disrupted in a big way. Goldieblox, initially funded by a Kickstarter campaign, is showing how desperate parents are for a new model.
We also interviewed business partners Jamie Brown and Meg Seitz who created a line of books called ‘Bea is for Business‘ which centers around a young female protagonist called Bea who learns basic business principles through everyday experiences with her friends and family. Adding up her change when she buys candy from the supermarket, doing her math homework, and basic problem solving are principles the authors believe make for a more formidable foundation for a young girl’s future, than learning how to dress up like a princess.
An Australian woman named Sonia Singh recently made international news headlines with her unique doll project. She didn’t like that Bratz dolls were marketed to girls but so heavily made up, so she gave them a “make-under” and posted images on her Tumblr page. She started getting offers to buy these more natural-looking dolls by others who agreed with her message.
But is giving an existing toy model a make-under enough to change what dominates the market? Or do we need to see brand new products like Goldieblox flooding the market instead? Chicago businesswoman Jodi Norgaard is a mom who firmly believes the latter, which is why she created and launched her own line of dolls and accompanying books called Go! Go! Sports Girls.
After trying to shop for a doll for her 9 year old daughter and only finding over-sexualized products with bare bellies, high heels and excessive makeup, her frustration led her to create her own line of plush dolls which encourage healthy and active play over fashion and body image.
She spent two years perfecting the product before testing her debut line of tennis girl dolls at the US Open in 2008, where she sold 500 dolls in 6 days! Jodi launched the full range of 9 dolls at the New York Toy Fair in 2009, but as the economy worsened, it halted her progress.
From there she started approaching toy buyers but was met with resistance at every stage. They kept telling her the dolls weren’t “mainstream enough.
“The word ‘mainstream’ hit me hard. I realized change is never made by mainstream ideas and I am creating change. However, it was a huge hurtle I had to figure out how to overcome,” she told us.
Jodi got together with some high-powered mentors to figure out a solution to the push back she was getting. Filmmaker Jean Kilbourne (creator of the ‘Killing Us Softly’ video series examining women in advertising) and founder of WOMEN Unlimited (an organization dedicated to mentoring women for leadership) Jean Otte both told her “all good ideas are ahead of their time” and encouraged Jodi to stay strong, believe in her mission and keep moving forward.
A woman from Minnesota who happened to buy one of her dolls contacted Jodi to say how much she loved the line and she offered to write a series of books to accompany the dolls. The first book she wrote was a soccer story, but Jodi couldn’t afford to publish it and she didn’t pursue the idea.
In 2013 her luck started to change. After meeting with toy buyers from Walmart who she pitched her idea to, they said the loved the GGSG range but if there were books to accompany the dolls they would sell them in their stores. You know that saying “everything happens for a reason”?
She called up her Minnesotan friend, Kara Dougass Thom to give her the good news, who then created 5 additional stories centered around swimming, running, dancing, gymnastic and cheerleading. June 2014 saw the doll and book sets be sold in select Walmart stores to great success, and February 2015 they will be rolled out in 180 stores.
During her 8 year journey Jodi has learned a lot and networked with many other people who also have a similar mission to empower the next generation of girls. She is one of the 16 women who formed the Brave Girls Alliance, a think-tank of girl empowerment experts and allies.
“We have come together to ask media content creators, large corporations, marketers, and retailers to end sexualization of girls in the media and products created for them,” she says.
Jodi says the company may be small (for now) but they have a big mission. We wanted to find out more about that mission and share it with our readers, as we are big supporters of women and organizations that seek to empower the next generation.
What was the pivotal moment that made you realize the existing toy market was lacking in expanding girls horizons?
“One doll in particular put me over the edge. Dressed in a short skirt, belly button ring and faux fur short vest, I picked up the doll to look at the tag, and her name was ‘Lovely Lola’. At that moment I knew there was not one parent who wanted their daughter to look, act, or be called ‘Lovely Lola’!”
For those who don’t realize how important it is to give girls and boys examples of what is possible from such a young age, what would you tell them?
“Gender-stereotyping has increased over the last 20 years in the toy industry. If you walk down the toy aisles in department stores, the girl aisle is a sea of pink, princesses and glitter. Science kits, construction toys, arts & crafts, and kitchen toys are often gender-stereotyped, which can restrict a child’s play. Children need a wide range of play to develop different skills and learn about themselves and the world.”
How do we get better products like GGSG and Goldieblox to become the “norm” and compete against Barbies and Bratz?
“We need huge support from the consumer. Ultimately they have the buying power and it is up to them. However, it is very tough to compete against Mattel (Barbie) and MGA (Bratz) since they have a big presence on toy store shelves and in the media. This is what people see. Debbie Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox, and I are shouting from the mountain tops that girls and boys need positive products and images that encourage them to use their minds and bodies in a healthy way. Since Debbie and I don’t have the same marketing dollars as Mattel and MGA, we need grass-roots help to spread the word.”
How important is it for business investors to invest in female entrepreneurs?
“By investing in female entrepreneurs and growing their businesses it sets a stronger path for the next generation of female entrepreneurs. It also builds networking. I am a feminist which is one of the most misunderstood and controversial words, but its definition is simple; the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Women are half of the world and if we viewed things 50/50 I believe there would be greater balance.”
Your line of dolls and books are sold in Walmart which is like hitting the jackpot when it comes to selling a product. How difficult was the journey to getting there?
“The journey getting there seemed long, and there was a lot of rejection from toy buyers, but the actual event took 5 minutes! Through the Women In Toys organization, I had the opportunity to pitch my product at Toy Fair in NYC to Walmart buyers. I had five minutes and about 4 minutes into it they said “yes”! I am also part of Walmart’s Women’s Empowerment Initiative.”
For anyone reading this, how would you inspire them to keep going with their business idea despite the setbacks?
“Ask questions! There are going to be many setbacks and hurdles and you will need help to get over them. Most people want to help, so never be afraid to ask for it. Also seek out mentors.”
Finally, what makes you a powerful woman?
“Confidence, support, observation, and journey. Those were the first four words that came to mind. Confidence – always believe in yourself. There are going to be people who tell you can’t do this, or this won’t work. Trust your gut! Support – surround yourself with people who are supportive and positive. Observation – take in everything in. It’s okay to listen and not talk. Journey – we have all overcome adversity in our lives. It makes us stronger.”
You can purchase the Go! Go! Sports Girls range from select Walmart stores and Walmart.com.