Gaëtan Etoga and Yannick Nguepdjop are getting a lot of praise for their new company Ymma that creates dolls specifically for Black and biracial children.
Etoga and Nguepdjop, both dads from Douala, Cameroon, now living in Quebec, Canada, spoke to My Modern Met to share how their personal experiences made them realize how difficult it is for Black families to find dolls for their children in Canada. Many stores, they said, either did not have Black dolls or put them behind the white dolls.
Their company is also doing some good for their home country as well. They source all of the doll’s dresses from Cameroon and try to get designs that reflect the vibrant color pallet of their home country.
“Black dolls are hard to find, and they don’t get much exposure. Even when you can find some, they are expensive. We wanted to solve that first problem. The second one is an identity problem; we want Black kids to have toys that look like them,” the two told the news outlet.
“We want to inspire them, build their self-esteem, their self-confidence, and, moreover, make them understand they are beautiful the way God created them. Our dolls are not only for Black kids. We want all the kids to have them so they can be exposed to diversity at a young age because we believe, if that’s the case, they will be open-minded, they will be aware of diversity, and, moreover, develop social skills when they grow up,” they added.
While their goal is to sell as many dolls as possible, they told My Modern Met they hope to push other doll companies into making more diverse toys that reflect the world.
“We hope to see our dolls in every household in the world. We want to be the reference for diverse dolls. It’s true we are a business, but it’s not just about selling dolls. It’s about change. Kids are the future; we want to make the world a better place for them,” the Ymma founders said.
They hope that the dolls priced at $20 will be used by children from different racial backgrounds to expose them to diversity from an early age.
Dolls have caused a stir in Canada as more companies seek to reflect the country’s diversifying population.
Etoga later told the MTL Blog that the company wants to help 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 color or their hair texture or whatever it may be. We want to let them know that they are perfect the way they are,” he explained.
In interviews with HuffPost Quebec, both men cited the infamous 1940s study from American doctors Kenneth Clark and his wife Mamie that showed Black children not wanting to play with the dolls that looked like them and generally preferred white dolls.
“The doll test video, when you look at it, it’s heartbreaking. These little children, they did not rub shoulders with toys that looked like them from an early age. I think in some places in society there are certain dictates that make them believe that their hair and noses are not beautiful. But what we tell them is that it is wrong,” Etoga said.
Right now, many of their dolls reflect back to Etoga and Nguepdjop’s life in Douala. Three of the dolls are named after neighborhoods in Douala and the company offers additional outfits for the dolls for $10.
“A study produced by neuroscientists at Cardiff University explains that playing with dolls develops empathy, but above all skills to better manage social relationships. We really believe that exposing all kinds of children to a variety of toys will have an impact on society in the future – not just for them – and make the world a better place,” Etoga told the HuffPost.
“If this initiative can make 5, 10, 20 children a little more open to diversity because they will have been around various toys, I think that would be mission accomplished for us,” Etoga said.