DOLLS IN THE SPOTLIGHT - PART B continued from Vol 1, Issue 2
by Debbie Garrett.
The focus on dolls manufactured by Black Owned and Operated (BOO) businesses (past and present) continues in this issue’s "Dolls in the Spotlight" column.
In the last issue, we identified the following BOO doll manufacturers: Shindana Toy Company, B. Wright Toy Company, Inc., the Keisha Doll Company, and Golden Ribbon Playthings.
Currently in operation is Big Beautiful Dolls, Inc. owned and operated by two African American women. Audrey Bell and Georgette Taylor are the creators of the first full-figured, Big Beautiful Dolls, Dasia (African American), Dena (Hispanic) and Dawn (Caucasian).
After reading an Heart and Soul magazine article that featured the creators of the BBD line, immediate plans were made by this writer to purchase at least one of the dolls in the trio. This goal was recently fulfilled with the purchase of Dasia (pictured left). The doll is absolutely gorgeous! "Exceptional" describes the quality of the doll's vinyl construct. "Exceptional" also describes the quality of her exquisite black velour evening gown that is accented by a sheer black nylon wrap trimmed with black marabou feathers. Dasia wears black nylon hose and black faux leather high-heel shoes. Understandably, this doll was nominated for the 2002 Dolls Award of Excellence.
For fashion doll collectors, African-American doll collectors, or anyone who desires to acknowledge that big beautiful women exist, these dolls are a "must have" and are currently available at the Big Beautiful Dolls, Inc. website. See our Resources page for their link.
Another BOO doll manufacturer was Olmec Corporation, 1985-?, headed by another, insightful female entrepreneur, Yla Eason. Ms. Eason realized the need for playthings for children of color after finding it difficult to locate action figures of color for her young son. As a result, the super-hero/action figure, Sun Man, was created along with a host of Black fashion and baby dolls and their accessories.
Imani, the company’s last fashion doll, evolved from their original 11-1/2-inch, fashion doll, Naomi (pictured left). Naomi was on the market for one year only, 1988. The doll came boxed with several different outfits.
After a one-year debut, Naomi’s name was changed because a (then) high-fashion model whose first name was also Naomi (but whose last name was not Campbell), did not want consumers to associate the doll with her. In order to cool the "same name" waters, Olmec decided to change the doll's name from Naomi to Ellisse in 1989. Ellisse (pictured above right) was essentially the same doll as Naomi, and some of the original outfits were used. Naomi's name was changed "to protect the innocent".
In the early 1990s, Ellise was transformed into Imani who, along with a new name, also had a new, prettier face. The same concept of a boxed, 11-1/2-inch Black fashion doll with extra outfits remained intact. Imani, however, soon had a boyfriend, Melenik, named for Ms. Eason's son. Imani and Melenik are pictured, left.
It is uncertain as to the exact date Olmec ceased operation, but it is believed that the company continued to remain an active participant in the doll market until sometime in the late 1990s. Many of their dolls can be readily found today. However, finding an intact Sun Man super hero/action figure is probably no easy feat.
Shining Star is a dimple cheeked, 22-inch talking doll with vinyl head and arms and a hard plastic body designed and manufactured by Vousette Miller in the mid 1980s. According to "'Dream' Doll for Black Children" by Sandra Upshur from the "Montomery [Maryland] Business section of the Journal, (Monday, March 21, 1988), Ms. Miller "never had a black doll to play with when she was growing up in Washington ... not because her parents couldn't afford black dolls or because they preferred she play with white dolls. It was because her parents had a hard time finding black dolls in the stores.... Finally, while working as a full-time analyst for the federal government, she designed the doll of her dreams." Shining Star came with a book and three records that activated her talking mechanism. The doll retailed for approximately $65 and was marketed under Ms. Miller's company, Vous Etes Tres Belle Inc., which means "You are very pretty" in French. No picture of the doll was available at the time of publication; however, the doll can be viewed in Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide, Book 2 by Myla Perkins, page 323.
The One and Only Doll, manufactured by Zambardon Corp., 1988, is a 19-inch, talking doll made in the image of Tamika Martin, daughter of the chairman of the Zambardon Corporation.
The One and Only Doll has a voice box that says several different phrases that were recorded by Tamika Martin. The doll has thick wavy black rooted hair, styled in three braids. It has painted eyes, vinyl head, arms and legs, and a brown cloth body.
The One and Only Doll was available wearing several different outfits. Ebony magazine was one of its marketing sources.
Here Comes Niya by HCN Enterprises, Inc., 1990 - a 24-inch vinyl talking, baby doll with cloth body and adorable, smiling face, was also sculpted after a real little girl whose name is also Niya. The doll has painted eyes and black rooted hair styled in two ponytails. She comes with a brush. Niya contains a voice box with a recording that was also made by the real Niya. When you squeeze the doll's right hand, Niya recites positive phrases in English and counts to 10 in English, Spanish, and Swahili. Essence magazine was a marketing source for Niya. It retailed for $50 but has sold on the secondary market for as much as $75.
The 11-1/2-inch fashion doll of the 90s: Candy Girl, Candi Girl, Candi Couture, Candi, has a name and appearance that are in constant evolution. However, the fact that she was also created by a BOO company remains constant. This 11-1/2-inch, fashion doll was brought to life by Helena Hamilton, president, founder and creative director of Hamilton Design Systéme. According to my Internet research and my memory of a telephone conversation held with Ms. Hamilton shortly after the original Candi Couture doll was advertised in a 1993/94 doll publication, "Helena's enterprising journey began in 1988 while she and her daughter, Nina, spent quality time together playing with Barbie dolls. She soon started to sew for her daughter's dolls and had a lot of fun doing it. However, being an artist, she soon wanted to do more. Her idea was an ethnic fashion doll with realistic features" to which her daughter could relate.
Candi Couture (pictured left) hit the doll scene in 1994 dressed in a black spandex cat suit, the bodice of which bore the name "Candi Couture" in pink lettering. Wearing pink high heel shoes; an upswept, dark brown, braided ponytail and a "serious-sister" facial expression, this doll had a look that was hers alone. Her fuller-than-the-Plastic-Princess's hips also distinguished her from any other 11-1/2 fashion doll. Pictured on the right is 1996's Candi Girl, aka Popular Price Candi. She wears a red spandex dress that has Candi Couture imprinted on the bodice and red heels. She has long, black rooted hair. The original black cat suit-wearing Candi has evolved into a highly collectible, 11-1/2-inch fashion doll and is available in a variety of ethnicities as well as a variety of African American skin tones.
To appeal to women whose childhood doll play commenced in the 1960s, Retro Candi made her debut in 1998. Sporting a retro black and white swimsuit, black sunglasses, and black high-heel shoes, she arrived in a full cardboard box that contained illustrations of her various fashions. Her accessories and fashion-illustrated box enhanced Candi's retro appeal. There were several versions of Retro Candi available. Pictured here is the honey skin tone version that was available with a ponytail or a bubble cut hairstyle. A darker skinned version was also available with both bubble cut and ponytail.
Honey skin Candi wearing the St. Tropez Separates outfit (pictured left), also from 1998, was another auburn haired version of the ever-evolving Candi.
Pictured to the right of Honey Candi is International Candi from 2001. Her caramel colored skin with contrasting short, platinum blonde afro wowed collectors. This doll was a huge success and sold out quickly.
Candi has certainly carved a niche of her own with today's collectors. As of this writing, Ms. Hamilton has teamed with Integrity Toys and Jason Wu. This teamwork has produced several fashionably attired dolls within the past few years. A glimpse at the dolls that are planned for release this year indicates that the line is even better. Candi has certainly come a long way and has gotten better with time. She has experienced some trials and tribulations; but through them all, she is STILL HERE! For a Candi dealer or for more information, visit our Resources page for a link to Integrity Toys.
Research reveals that the need for ethnically-correct dolls for children of color was the general consensus of the BOO doll manufacturers discussed in this issue and in the last issue of BDE. They realized the demand for ethnically-correct dolls and supplied it. These BOO doll manufacturers knew that in order for these types of dolls to be created, THEY had to create them rather than waiting for others to fulfill this need. While most of these companies have closed their doors, we applaud their efforts in creating dolls for us, by us.
These BOO doll companies are part of our doll history. In order to keep that history alive, every Black-doll collector should own at least one doll that was created by a BOO doll manufacturer, past or present.
Please let us know if we missed any BOO doll companies. We do not want any of their stories to be left untold.
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