We’re kicking off 2017 with a series of brand highlights, focusing on socially conscious companies that promotes Equal Goods’ Guidelines. For our first highlight, we feature Boy Story, whose co-founders Kristen and Katie also have helped bring Equal Goods to life.
Tell our readers, what is Boy Story?
Boy Story introduces cool boy Action Dolls to the toy market. Our dolls are 18” plus and vinyl dolls with ball joints for extra poseability. We specifically want to make kids feel comfortable including boys in pretend play using dolls. That’s our basic goal really. It’s simple, but not so easy to achieve!
What inspired you to start Boy Story?
Kristen: The initial inspiration came from my own son. I have two boys (almost 4 and almost 2), and while I was pregnant with the second one, I wanted to buy a boy doll for my first son. Naively, perhaps, I sat down at my computer and started searching the internet for a boy doll. My requirements were pretty simple (I thought): A doll in the 15-18″ range that was cool and a similar age as my son. What did I find? Hardly anything! There were baby dolls, girl dolls, plush dolls, and some incredibly expensive special order boy dolls, but nothing under $100 and nothing that was just a basic, cool boy doll for my son. I was a little taken aback – how on earth did this not exist in the 21st Century? Then I started digging in. It seemed everyone was asking for a cool boy doll, but no one was making them. I thought to myself, I can do this! But at the time I was working overseas as a full-time lawyer and mother. That’s where Katie came in!
Katie: While Kristen was visiting me in January 2015, she couldn’t stop talking about the boy doll idea. She had mentioned it a few times earlier, but now she was obsessed! But I was a little bit shocked when she called me one morning and excitedly asked if I would be interested in starting up a company with her. The timing was perfect for me and the opportunity was one I couldn’t pass up. I’m a designer by trade but was working in a bar to make ends meet since the design market was struggling. Kristen suggested I put my design skills to use by designing the dolls and clothes. I’m a “figure it out” kind of person too, so I was up for the challenge. Oh, and I LOVE my nephews and kids in general, so working with toys sounded absolutely perfect. One week later, I quit my job and started up Boy Story! Kristen would give me a little direction and act as a sounding board, but for the next year, I did everything necessary to get things up and running.
What kinds of stereotypes did you see in society, perpetuated by the marketplace, that you wanted to address?
The blatant double standards are what really shocked me the most. There I was, a working mom, struggling with gender-related issues all the time in my own field of law, and raising two boys, and I couldn’t even find a basic boy doll. This contradicted the message that I hear everywhere, and teach my own kids, that boys and girls should be sharing the load. We all are in this life together, and we all play different roles. But we are not cast into any one role necessarily (and especially by gender), and we should have choice and flexibility in our roles. A mom might be a super-star engineer who balances her intense job with child care, dinnertimes, and exercise. A dad might teach adult education at night while he takes care of the kids during the day and qualifies as household laundry and shopping manager. We teach our kids this and aim for it ourselves. Yet as I struggled to fight very antiquated stereotypes at my own job and raise my boys in a gender-equal environment, the toy market seemed to only counteract everything I was working toward.
Specifically, the world of dolls (which are inherently little people) is completely gender and racially lopsided. How can I really teach my sons that they can be anything and should be treating other genders and races equally if the toy market teaches them from a very young age that they can’t play with dolls, and that if they do want to play with dolls, there are no dolls like them available? How can I teach my sons gender equality? Dolls of all toys should be as diverse as the world in which we live. They weren’t, so I am aiming to change that.
When you think of the phrase “equal goods,” what does that mean to you?
We believe that equal goods are ones that are not labeled as being “for” any particular human trait, such as gender or race. We make dolls for kids, not for boys or for girls as separate groups. Kids all benefit from the emotional intelligence, relational and nurturing skills they can develop through pretend play with dolls. Why exclude a kid from that on a basis not connected with play? The stereotypes in toys, we believe, can be harmful to children, impeding their growth and equality in the future. There are a whole generation of young kids now who will grow up to be parents. Why exclude boys from the type of play that can teach them to be great dads? Equal goods give all kids the chance to learn and play together.
Name three other brands you love and admire:
- Mitz Accessories (obviously) – they co-founded Equal Goods with us
- Renegade Made – another small woman-owned company that makes the cutest art projects
- iamelemental – a Kickstarter-backed, woman-owned company making female action figures that are SO COOL (and their owners have been incredibly helpful as we have started up)
We have also received a lot of advice and help from other emerging businesses and some even more established ones – I can’t list them all here but I thank each of them!
What is your #1 absolute favorite book for children?
This is so tough! In our house, we absolutely love Julie Donaldson’s The Snail and the Whale. It’s a great story about helping even when you are small. The main character is female (oddly so many books use male pronouns even for animals that are main characters), and the illustrations are beautiful.
Do you think companies can be both successful and socially conscious?
Absolutely. And it is good business practice to be socially conscious. Consumers are increasingly demanding that the companies they support lend a hand to improving their world beyond just providing a product. These days you can buy practically anything from anywhere. We strive to be a brand that care about the messages our toys are sending kids.
Is your approach to marketing the Boy Story dolls gender neutral
Not exactly. Our marketing is gender neutral – our dolls are for anyone. But Boy Story makes boy dolls, and we present them to the market in a way that is gender equal. Dolls as a product inherently are not gender neutral because they generally are perceived to have a gender since they represent children. Our approach is to level out the market and let all kids of all backgrounds feel comfortable with doll play. The way to do this, in my view, is to first break down the harmful messages that have been sent to kids telling them that boys can’t play with dolls and girls should be playing with dolls. I started with the basic problem: Cool boy dolls and racially diverse dolls don’t exist. So let’s make them. First part of the problem solved. But that’s not enough. I can’t just put them into a hugely stereotyped market and expect the problem to be gone. I have to counterbalance. So Boy Story deliberately brings ethnically diverse boy dolls to the market. We do it in a way that partially caters to the current marketplace and norms so that boys who haven’t been encouraged to play with dolls feel comfortable doing so. We also expect that girls will enjoy the “boyishness” of the doll line and pick them up to include in their doll play. We don’t ignore gender at all. We believe gender is something to be embraced and recognized. But it shouldn’t be imposed upon any kid, and gender certainly should not dictate choice in play!
I like to say that you have to break down the barriers before you can share the sandbox. Boy Story starts breaking down the barriers in the doll market. Once those barriers crumble, Boy Story’s messaging will naturally change. I could see a future major expansion that includes girl dolls as well, but first we want to balance out the market by making it diverse.
Aren’t there already dolls for boys? What about superheroes and GI Joes?
There are very few boy dolls in the market. Just to clarify, we don’t just make dolls for boys. Boy Story makes boy dolls to help balance out the market that offers a variety of 18″ girl dolls but very few boy dolls, especially of high quality and in a similar style and price point as our dolls. Our dolls are very distinct from superheroes and GI Joes. First, they are same-age toys, meaning they are similar in age to the children playing with them. Don’t get me wrong, superheroes are awesome! But they fill a different pretend play role. With dolls, we interact on a more social level. Our kids relate to dolls, they take care of dolls (compared to superheroes that are usually the ones flying in to solve problems), they cook for dolls, they use dolls as companions, and they read books to dolls. Superheroes are just that: super-human. GI Joes are full grown adults, usually accompanied by weapons and military garb. They emphasize powers, muscles, imagination, and adulthood. But they don’t really emphasize relationships. Kids sometimes just need that friend of their own to tote around and maybe take care of while daddy or mommy are busy. Maybe they need someone to talk to. Maybe they want to pretend to be a parent. There are all sorts of experiences that come with dolls that don’t necessarily come with superheroes. For all the reasons girls have been encouraged to play with dolls for years, those are the same reasons ALL kids should be encouraged to play with dolls.
What has the response been like from kids? And parents?
Kids love them. They want them. They can’t stop moving their arms and legs. I had a few kids try to take the prototypes home with them! Oh, and we’ve gotten lots of requests for blue hair!
Parents are a mixed bag. Some totally get it and love them. We had a huge showing of community support on Kickstarter last month. The articles by parents that have been written completely embrace the idea. Most of our surveys have been incredibly positive and recognize the gap in the current market.
Other parents have told me “no way, I won’t buy a doll for my son, he won’t play with it.” I’ve heard that for children younger than two. Retailers are concerned that walk-in purchases will be slow. They don’t even know where to stock them – with the dolls (traditionally girls’ stuff) or somewhere else. There isn’t really a spot in the “boy aisles” for dolls. It saddens me because it means the stereotypes aren’t going away any time quickly.
Has the toy industry embraced the concept of Boy Story dolls? Do you think their response reflects wider changes in consumer expectations when it comes to toys and toy marketing?
We’ve been blown away at how receptive the market has been. Whether the “toy industry” has embraced us, only time will tell. Our customer base started as a Kickstarter base, but expanded quickly through our direct and boutique retailer sales over the holidays. One advantage for us of being small is that we don’t need mass market sales. We just need a strong core of customers who want to offer their kids choice in play and are willing to buy our products. We are seeing some slow shifts in the toy industry in general to be more accepting and offer more diversity, but big changes are yet to come. Perhaps Boy Story (I hope) is leading the way for a wider change.
Are there plans to expand the range of Boy Story dolls available anytime soon?
We have two more dolls in development, plus a line of accessories. Since we are small and still brand new, our development is rather slow. We can only produce more dolls and clothes when we have gained market acceptance of our current products. We are hopeful to release the next two dolls this summer. Aspen is a caucasian doll with blond hair and blue eyes and Kenji is Japanese with black hair and dark brown eyes. All our face molds are unique to capture diverse facial features, which lengthens our average development time per doll. We also are producing richly illustrated chapter books with adventure stories to accompany each doll. After we have four boy dolls, we will be taking customer polls for the next dolls, and may even include a girl doll in the mix. We like to introduce our dolls in pairs.
Where can we buy Boy Story dolls?
Our dolls are currently available at www.boystory.com. We send our newsletter subscribers exclusive news and deals, so please sign up for our newsletter on the website or here. Select retailers also sell our dolls, so if you want to see them in person, head to a store nearby you.
How can we follow you on social media?
Our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter handle is @boystorydolls – check us out and definitely let us know what you think.