Genma Speaks

Entrepreneur/ Writer/ Radio-Host

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

So in Style Dolls of Color are a Big Hit for Mattel

For the last several years, this time of year have me flopping around in my Ms. Santa suit and busy with nonstop gift wrapping and delivering of gifts to my little friends at Grace Eaton Child Care. It is not an official program but Grace Eaton is a long time customer of Holmes Pest Control and it is our way of having fun serving others and saying thank you to a customer who provides quality child care to low wealth families in the community. We love the families that have we have met over the years.

Shopping for the children begin several months in advance. My Ms. Santa duties have made me famous at flea markets, close out stores, and discount retailers looking for the most requested items, Black Barbie dolls and bikes. My hunt for the elusive Black Barbie doll has made me an expert with the Mattel folks. I keep up with the coming and goings of all things Barbie with my ears perked to hear any word in Toyland about the newest craze. Imagine my surprise when one of the most eccentric doll collectors I know dropped the news in my inbox at the beginning of the year that Mattel was launching a line of Barbie Dolls designed by a woman of color and that the dolls would be based on strong influences from the African American community. Shut your mouth I thought, God has heard my cry!

Enter Stacey McBride-Irby and her line of dolls called “So in Style”, SIS. McBride-Irby, a fashion designer who designed adult and children clothing before joining Mattel, inquired about a job working for the toy powerhouse twelve years ago. She was hired as an assistant to an African American designer. McBride-Irby love of her Barbie dolls from her childhood inspired her to become a fashion designer years later. She played with her dolls until she was 13 years old. After putting down her dolls, she started drawing and designing fashion for people.

What an inspirational story! The community of color should have Ms. McBride-Irby speaking at every pre-teen adolescent event in the country and every Mom should read about Ms. McBride-Irby and ignore the cell phones request from their pre teen daughters. Give them a doll is my new motto! I could not wait to get my hands on the SIS line of dolls for the young girls at Grace Eaton. Imagine my disappointment when my eccentric doll collector friend sent me an email a few months back asking my thoughts about the controversy over the SIS dolls. “What controversy”, I asked in my reply. Never asked a doll collector a question about doll news, you will regret it. I was sent several links questioning the ethnic looks of the doll. My immediately thoughts were folks are crazy. Why are folks wasting energy on a non controversial event for the sake of controversy? Don’t we have enough issues in the world than to examine the “fullness” of a doll’s lips or the texture of a doll’s hair? If I was not serious, I would be laughing.

A woman of color works in a field that very few are highlighted for their creativity or contributions to the marketplace, designs a line of dolls that represent positive aspirations for young girls of any color and we judge them. We find fault in a woman achieving her dreams in life the old fashion way…working hard and using her God given talents to encourage other women to do the same. Please give me a break. I refuse to participate in the self-made oki doke.

For years, I have searched for the dolls of color. Trust me they are hard to come by. Hermitage area retailers know me by sight. My dolls search starts in August looking for the upcoming Holiday Barbie. I have gone into the stores late at night and helped workers check the back docks looking for dolls for Grace Eaton children. I would wait patiently as they searched through boxes of Mattel packages and hand me four dolls out of forty.

The idea that Mattel has addressed the ethnic heritage of one culture means they are listening to their customers and will soon have lines that represent other ethnic groups of people as well. The variety creates more interest and more interest in Mattel products means more dollar spent. The more money means more profit for the company. A profitable company reinvests in its people and new product lines. There are many young designers taking note of Ms. McBride-Irby success and will start to work harder and smarter to imitate her work ethics. These are all good things no matter what color you are. And people of color are not the only ones buying the SIS line of dolls. Hallelujah for that!

As for the beautiful dolls, I bought several dolls in the past from Mattel that were inspired and designed by Ms. McBride-Irby. When the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority celebrated their 100th Anniversary, I gave several retired AKAs in the community a Mattel doll designed by Ms. McBride-Irby. All the women were leaders who served the community faithfully for years but do not spend as much time in the spotlight in their latter years. They continue to help me raise money for non-profits without the pressure. They use their checkbooks and influence to get things done behind the scenes. None have ever asked for recognition and I believed the dolls were the perfect gifts instead of the traditional trophy organizations give to say thank you to volunteers. The dolls were a big hit. I had each doll put in a doll case with their name engraved on the case. The response to this small gesture left me speeches when one recipient of the dolls sent me a check for $5,000 to “help” me out! I love those women who wear their pearls and “help” me out! (Note to self…send Ms. Mack another doll this year, I need “help” for my toy drive.)

Everything about the “So in Style”(SIS) dolls show love and dedication of ones craft, an appreciation of culture and an attention to details that fashion divas like me adore. When I picked up several dolls last week, each were accompanied by a little sister. I knew right away that the designer was showing the importance of mentoring in our community. Each box comes with the description of the dolls’ personalities, the fashion style, and what subjects they liked in school. Wow, nothing left to chance including making sure young girls of color understand the value of getting an education and not just playing with your doll that looks similar to you. Ms. McBride-Irby is someone I am proud of; a woman, an entrepreneur, a designer, and a role model. And she loves Twitter. She tweets too! You can follow her online at You can also check out Stacey McBride-Irby on the web at As you can see, there is no controversy here; just pure talent, inspiration, and a love of community that cannot be disputed.

Now that you know more about Black Barbie dolls and the “So in Style” line designed by Ms. McBride-Irby, please stop by the toy department this Friday and load you basket with toys and extra dolls for me. I am going to need all the help I can get making sure that the children at Grace Eaton have a wonderful Christmas! Be safe and have a great week.

Photo credits: Stacey McBride-Irby and Alpha Kappa Alpha dolls Mattel
Photo of me in my Ms. Santa suit with bad son, Franz.


RiPPa said...

This was a great read as usual. I loved the way you highlighted the positives to be drawn from a simple object that would be an African American doll.

Dolls of Color said...

I love this post! It's so positive and sweet - shall be linking here as soon as I get home!

Unknown said...

It was a pleasure to read such a beautiful, positive article. Sharing you link with my doll collecting friends!

Anonymous said...

I don't know how you keep up with so many activities, your definitely a inspiration.

Karl the Bugman
EnviroCare Pest Solutions
Columbus Ohio Pest Control

Black Doll Enthusiast said...

Thank you for sharing the link to your "SIS DOC are a Big Hit for Mattel" blog. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I applaud you for giving virtual flowers to Stacey McBride-Irby while she can still smell them. Kudos to you for your work in the African American community to shed joy to needy children. Thank God for people like you! dbg

ptyson said...

Just a great article! I always wanted to be an AKA, so maybe I'll get a doll for myself.

Tim From Australia said...

I have to say i loved your story and how mush you do for your community, being an australian, i wish we has more a community base. i have just bought the entire series of these dolls as they are a huge step fup for Mattel, but did you know they had tried to do this in the early 90's? a doll like names Shani, sadly it was not marketed well and was dropped.
as far as the controversy of the dolls, mattel has released black dolls before with the same or similar faces and straight smooth hair and there was never an issue before...why would people worry about a thing as small as that?

Well done and good luck this xmas with Miss Sanra

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