The discussions of inclusivity and racial diversity have definitely come to the forefront in the last year more than ever before. But what does it mean for the children of today and future generations?
Two Montreal dads decided to take that answer into their own hands and start YMMA, a company that makes dolls from Africa to help introduce children of African and non-African descent to these topics from an early age.
Gaëtan Etoga and Yannick Nguepdjop run the company, but know that they aren't just selling dolls; they're sharing the opportunity to build a better future starting with children.
Donned in hand-made garments from Cameroon, the dolls are a beautiful homage to the full-time entrepreneurs' — and even fuller-time dads' — heritage and to show their own daughters what it means to be proud of where you come from. Accessories and outfits are sold, as well.
But these dolls aren't just for children of African descent. YMMA dolls are for anybody and everybody — no matter where you're from.
We got a chance to speak to the duo about how this project came to be and what this adventure has meant to them.
What inspired you to make these dolls? Why now?
GE: We wanted to build a better future for our children. We wanted to show differences while living in peace. We also wanted to share our African culture with the world.
It's not easy to find Black dolls, and when you do, they're really, really, REALLY expensive.
We wanted to let all of the children, but especially Black children, know that they are beautiful just the way they are. There's not a need to be ashamed of their skin colour or their hair texture or whatever it may be. We want to let them know that they are perfect the way they are.
YN: As for why now, when we were thinking of what type of product we could launch, we both agreed that this project could have a really positive impact on society, as opposed to just any other project. Based on that, we decided to move forward with the doll.
It is also a great way for girls to be motivated and inspired.
We always tell people: We are not just selling dolls. There's something bigger behind it.
You use fabrics from Cameroon as a way to honour your home country. What role do you think dolls can play in a child's education about their own heritage and different cultures around the world?
GE: There is a study from neuroscientists from Cardiff University showing that playing with dolls allows children to develop empathy and social positivity from an early age.
With the history and cultural aspect of the fabrics, we hope that it inspires children to do some research into those fabrics and the country, in general. The fabrics we use are still used to this day for big ceremonies in our kingdom. We hope that playing with our dolls could inspire all children to learn more about each other.
YN: Today, I still think about what toys I played with when I was a child. If I think about my own childhood, all of the toys that we had were of European or American culture. I really liked playing video games, like Super Mario, Marvel, etc. They were missing African characters and there weren't many African toys in general.
The impact that these dolls can bring to the children will actually be when they are adults when they think about these types of toys from Africa with African culture. This is for kids of both African and non-African descent. We hope that all of these children grow up to be adults and have this idea in their mind.
What do you think is missing in the toy industry, in general?
YN: What is missing is diversity in representation. Not just for dolls, but for the entire toy industry, in general.
GE: I actually think it's missing in all industries, not just the toy industry. There are so many that are under-represented. Especially when you compare to the population proportion.
With this venture, we are trying to tell the kids about diversity so that in the future they will be able to fix all of these issues.
As fathers, we are concerned about the future of our children, especially our daughters. We want to have an impact on our children.