As a young girl, Neha Chauhan Woodward wondered why the dolls she played with didn’t look like her, or her friends – an issue that many girls today continue to struggle with. After earning a BA from Harvard and an MBA from Stanford and building her career in e-commerce, Neha took the matter into her own hands and founded Girls & Co., a new line of smart, ambitious, and diverse dolls. The “Willowbrook Girls” display an array of ethnicities, cultures, and aspirations from Cara, who is half-Latina and hopes to become an entrepreneur, to Anjali, the first Indian American doll who aspires to sing on broadway. These dolls prove that girls are so much more than one dimensional.
These dolls do a great job of not only showing diversity in their cultural backgrounds, but also sending the message that women and girls are not one dimensional through their interests and career aspirations. What was your inspiration in creating the individual stories for each doll?
Neha: When I was younger, dolls were my favorite form of play by far. And at the same time, I look back and realize they provided me with a very narrow view of the future, or even my future. In the dolls back in the day, and even now, they focus very much on beauty and show little of what girls are capable of being and doing and I knew that we could set our sights higher and do better than that. I wanted to create something that could live up to the ambition of girls; that would show girls as intelligent, goal oriented, and focused. When I was growing up, I remembered that I wanted to be a journalist, I wanted to be a scientist, an entrepreneur, all these things at different points or another. And I wish that those types of characters were represented in my dolls too. I think it was because I wanted to be able to learn and see something of myself in them. The individual stories that I came up with are very much inspired by the girls I knew growing up, whether it be from elementary school, high school, or college. None of these girls really color inside the lines and they’re all trailblazers in their own way. So they’re very much inspired by people I know. And what I think what’s important about these dolls is that we’re not trying to tell girls what to do, it’s more about, if there’s something they want to do, they can go out and do it. It’s more about providing those bits of inspiration.
What has been your experience as a woman of color working in the toy industry?
Neha: The toy industry is very male dominated, which is interesting to learn. As a woman in the toy industry, I’ve been very lucky in the fact that i’ve been able to find incredible mentors. There’s one woman in particular who has just been so helpful to me. She is a total trailblazer in the toy industry and I sent her a cold email one day and told her about what I was doing and she’s been such a mentor for me, guiding me through the toy industry, answering my questions and giving me advice. Having her there and having her ear has been hugely helpful. So as a woman in the toy industry, yes it is a bit different because it’s so male dominated, but having access to women who have done it before, has helped me along the way so much.
As a woman of color, I think it’s given me a different perspective. I think to myself that the reason why I thought that there was this need for more diversity in dolls is because I had that experience myself as a young girl who was playing with dolls. I don’t know if i would have even had that perspective had I not been a woman of color, so it’s given me that advantage and perspective of being able to put myself in those shoes and understand what’s missing a bit more in the market.
As a mixed race person myself, I can relate to the feeling of not seeing yourself represented in toys, TV shows, movies, etc. that you had growing up. What would you say now to your younger self?
Neha: Dolls, as a form of play, are so much about storytelling. For a long time, when I was growing up, and even now, the decision of who gets to star in these stories is very limited. And to your point, it isn’t just toys, it’s movie, tv, books, and I think what I tell myself is that everyone’s story deserves to get told. I think it’s really important to remind myself of that, that every story is worth telling.
To read more about each dolls story and purchase your own, visit Girls & Co.