Dolls for All

October 25, 2019
Allison Singer with TIME reporting
PUT TO THE TEST Shi’a (left) and 7-year-old Jhase play with a Creatable World doll in a Mattel toy-testing session.
JUCO FOR TIME (2); ANGIE SMITH FOR TIME

Not long ago, toy stores had separate aisles for boys and girls. People spoke out against this, and retailers listened. Target, for one, got rid of gender-specific toy sections in 2015.

Then people started paying closer attention to product packaging. STEM toys, such as building blocks and chemistry sets, often showed boys on the boxes, while arts-and-crafts kits often featured girls. Some people argued that the packaging should be gender-neutral. Again, retailers got the message. Disney stopped using boys and girls labels on its costumes. That way, girls could choose to be Captain America and boys could choose to be Belle.

Now a major toy company is focusing on the products themselves. On September 25, Mattel announced a new series of gender-neutral dolls. Each doll has short hair and comes with a long-haired wig. Wardrobe options include hooded jackets, sneakers, and graphic T-shirts. Mattel’s slogan for the series? “A doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in.”

Before introducing the Creatable World series, Mattel tested the dolls with kids from 250 families. One of those kids was 8-year-old Shi’a (shown above). When given a Creatable World doll to play with, Shi’a jumped for joy, then said, “The hair is just like mine!”

Richard Dickson is Mattel’s president. He hopes Creatable World dolls will allow children like Shi’a to see themselves reflected in their toys. “Knowing we created something that makes them feel recognized, that’s a beautiful thing,” he says.

Good for Business

The doll industry is worth $8 billion globally. The Creatable World series is a chance for Mattel to bring in new customers and grow its business.

Lisa McKnight, a senior vice president at Mattel, says retailers are enthusiastic about Creatable World. “They’re excited about the message of inclusivity,” she says. “The world is becoming a more diverse and inclusive place, and some people want to do more to support that.”