ANSWERING THE CALL: DR. LISA WILLIAMS IS CREATING TOYS FOR OUR CHILDREN
For Dr. Lisa Williams, the idea to create her line of Positively Perfect dolls was literally the answer to a call. Dr. Lisa–as she is affectionately called–spent many successful years behind the lectern as a business professor. Her career included numerous accomplishments, but she had never thought about creating her own line of multicultural dolls, until a fateful call from Walmart.
At the time Dr. Lisa was an accomplished professor and a trailblazer–with a resume full of firsts. She was the first African American to receive a doctorate in logistics from Ohio State University and later on she would become the first African American woman to earn tenure at Penn State.
She was also an experienced business woman, as a children’s book publisher. “First I was a publisher; from the children’s books spawned the dolls,” she shares. Ironically, it was her experience with children’s books that sparked the idea with executives at Walmart to approach her about creating the dolls. Though many would consider the request from the largest retailer in the world an awesome opportunity, Dr. Lisa did not immediately accept the offer. In fact, the big box giant would make the call three times before she would finally accept the hand that fate was dealing her.
Answering a Calling
Though the perseverance of the Walmart executives more than likely played a role in Dr. Lisa finally accepting the offer, it was not the main reason.
With fate once again stepping in, she recalls a quiet evening at home about five years ago: “One evening I was watching a CNN update of the doll study. Children were given white to deep chocolate doll choices. One little Black girl said the Black doll’s skin was ugly like her skin; This little girl did not know how beautiful her skin is; it was such a heart breaker for me.”
By the time she received the final call from Walmart, there was no way she could say no. She now realized that she needed to create what would become the Positively Perfect dolls. She had to provide our girls with images that reinforced the beauty that is Black and African American culture–their culture.
“I knew our young ladies had some self-esteem challenges,” says Dr. Lisa of the issues that our little girls and adolescent girls face. “I saw young women in my classroom who wouldn’t speak up. They would come after hours to express their insecurities.” She knew that our girls had been negatively impacted by our society and that something needed to happen that would positively change the way Black girls view themselves. Finally, with the opportunity to work with Walmart, she had an answer. The question now was, “How?”
Addressing Her Own Fears
“I didn’t think I had the expertise. Moving into dolls, I didn’t know what they were made of, how much time it took or how to design them,” admits Dr. Lisa of her own fears. Ironically, her lack of knowing was probably her greatest asset.
“Not knowing I jumped in with my heart and passion. I wanted to do a totally unique sculpt (the dolls face), which is most the expensive part of the doll,” she says. It was her ignorance to certain processes that enabled her to create a very specific idea of what she wanted, without the influence of knowing the biases that existed within the industry.
Unfortunately, she would get a very quick and very real lesson on how much (or how little rather) the doll manufacturing industry valued Black consumers. She shares, “I was questioned for my choice by manufacturers and told that Blacks will buy whatever is on the shelf.” However, Dr. Lisa believes that statement was true, only because of the choice (or lack of choices) Black consumers had been afforded.
Empowering Our Children
“What we know in terms of children and multiculturalism is that over 50-percent of all children ages five and under are children of color. However, only 5-percent of dolls represent our children’s beautiful skin tones,” states Dr. Lisa.
It’s no wonder our girls (and women) are suffering. Negative stereotypes of Black women plague mainstream media and we now see that even as young as toddlers, the value of little Black girls is underrepresented, if not ignored. “Our children are beautiful and bright and need positive toys,” she opines.
Positively Perfect dolls address the diversity in our children, unlike many other toys. The dolls range in hue from warm vanilla to dark chocolate and come with varying hairstyles such as afro-puffs or side pony-tails to ensure that all little girls of color can find a doll that looks much like them. Moreover, the doll choices address the interests of the youngest girl all the way up to young adolescents, with fashions and trends that are age appropriate. In addition, the positive images are reinforced with positive affirmations, such as “I am proud”.
In case you’re wondering, Dr. Lisa and her company, the World of EPI, have not forgotten about our boys. She exclaims, “Absolutely! There is a need for our little boys. Probably within the next three years you will see something from us–action figures. We have to let them know how powerful they are.”
Dr. Lisa and her team admit that the journey is far from over–learning lessons and successes alike. For those facing their own entrepreneurial struggles, she offers this advice:
“As the leader it is very important to learn how to adjust. When you are just starting out you tend to do it all. As you grow, it is important to delegate and entrust people who are smarter than you. When I was approached by Wal-Mart, it started out with pretty much just me and has grown into a team. I didn’t have bank loans, but I did what I had to do to get the business to where it is now. Always be creative, innovative and something different. With our heritage we have an innate ability to do that.”
To learn more about Dr. Lisa Williams and the World of EPI visit the website.