At the time we lived in Southeast Asia there was a growing but tiny industry of local crafters that made blocks, stuffed animals, kitchen sets or doll houses, and other toys. We spent a lot on those, but they were locally sourced and well-crafted.
Coming back to NY was a different story. Options, wow. The pop culture focus of the toy industry, a profit-over-people corporate ethos, the consumerist culture – it’s over the top after several years abroad.
My little girl hit the doll phase this year and has been asking for one. But finding a toy company I’m happy to support is hard enough; Barbie, American Girl, and other chain store brands whose company values hew to the mainstream for profit’s sake won’t be getting my business.
It took some digging to find a doll company I like, that doesn’t contribute to the objectification of girls and women. That said, the tradeoff with aligning values is that the options are not inexpensive.
The following brands look great for the quality of their dolls, multicultural options, the learning approach to their dolls’ characters, and the companies’ philosophy of giving. I linked to and copied below some blurbs from their homepage, and reviews from other moms.
Any recommendations of other doll companies to check out?
- Maplelea (18″ dolls start at CAD99.99) – “As a mother with young children, Kathryn Gallagher Morton always thought carefully about the playthings she brought into her home. She was frustrated with the increasing number of diva-style dolls on the market that emphasized body image, dating and glamour. Determined to “be the change,” Kathryn Gallagher Morton spent the 1990s researching the possibility of developing a series of Canadian-themed dolls that would reflect our country’s unique culture, heritage, and geography.”
- Madame Alexander (18″ dolls start at USD29 for Xmas 2016) – “The daughter of Russian immigrants, Beatrice Alexander was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 9, 1895. She was raised over her father’s doll hospital – the first in America – and often played with the dolls waiting to be mended. Her belief in the American dream, combined with her love of dolls and their costumes, led her to start her own doll company when she was 28 years old. Within a few years she had moved her business from the kitchen table to a downtown New York City studio, later relocating its headquarters in the Manhattanville section of Harlem. Today, the Company is still in New York City, in midtown Manhattan!”
- Maru (20″ dolls are USD120) – “Maritza Gutierrez, our founder, wanted to create a beautiful doll that would look so real, that girls of all ages could associate with and be inspired. The idea flourished and she developed Maru and Friends®, a doll line with storybooks that would chronicle the life of a young Hispanic girl that comes to America in search of a better life.”
- Tonner (18″ dolls start at USD79) – “Beginning in the mid-nineties by partnering with celebrities such as Demi Moore and Sheryl Crowe for the AMFAR auction Dolls Have Heart to the world of fashion with Paul Smith and Stella McCartney for the U.K. event Dolls Against Addiction, the Tonner Doll Company has established a long history of giving back.”
- Hearts for Hearts Girls (14″ dolls start at USD39.95) – “There are four Hearts For Hearts Girls dolls: Rahel, Dell, Consuelo, and Nahji. Each of them has an important story to tell about life in her country, inspired by the stories of real girls who are strong, smart, courageous, and determined to rise above challenging circumstances.”
Useful reviews from other moms:
- From Puneeta at Maple and Marigold: “Our Generation dolls are perfect for those rough and tumble years when your daughter is looking for a companion to cuddle and sleep with. Maplelea Girls is the choice to make when you know your daughter has reached the stage where pretend play is still a big part of her playtime but she is able to look after her doll with the care it deserves.”
- From Hannah at Never Grow Up was invited by the company to do a detailed review of Maru and she compares her to similarly sized dolls in the market. Her conclusion? “This is hands down one of the most beautiful, photogenic dolls I have ever owned!”
- Emily of Toy Box Philosopher reviewed two of the Madame Alexander Travel Friends, which are 7″ minis. The collection includes 9 girls who each represent a different country (Ireland, India, China, Germany, Russia, Kenya and France), and retails at USD67.48 for Christmas 2016. I like the detail of the review. I’m thinking of maybe starting out with this set, and getting an 18″ doll for the next gift opportunity.
- From Cerise of Little Raven Creations: “While they may have a few shortcomings (starter wigs) or may lack some variety (there are no ethnic My Imagination Tonner dolls currently) they are nonetheless of excellent quality and beautiful. With their serene features and elegant poses, they make a classy addition to anyone’s doll collection.”
- And check out Stephanie’s photos of her Hearts for Hearts doll on Many Small Friends: “Nyesha is a lovely addition to my collection, photographs beautifully, and I’m happy to have her.” She also reviews European dolls from Spain and France.
And below are some doll companies I want to look up for more info:
- Carpatina, based in Nashua, NH, USA, makes dolls (including Celtic, Chinese, Japanese) and their historical clothes are gorgeous!
- My Sibling Dolls, based in West Caldwell, NJ, USA, makes boy and girl dolls with an eye to raising awareness about developmental differences and disabilities.
- Corolle, based in France’s Loire Valley, a storybook region known for its scenic landscape and castles. They have a range of sizes for different ages.
- Paola Reina, from Castalla Valley, Spain, a region with a history (since the 1800s) in toy manufacturing. They have a boy doll, Unai. These dolls look amazing!
For other toy options, check out these great posts
- Little Raven Creations on 18″ boy dolls. It’s an undated post so you can’t tell the relevance of the content – some of the dolls are only available by third party sellers now – but it’s great to see the boy options.
- Piri-Piri Lexicon on Children’s Toys: Diversity Matters, for great toy companies.