Updated: Dec 31, 2020
What happens when Black school-aged children were asked which doll is smarter, the White doll, or the Black doll? Conducted by Phipps Clark and her husband, the Racism Doll Test proved a few theories. The evidence was striking—Black children without question, assigned positive characteristics to White dolls. On the reverse side, Black children attached negative characteristics to Black dolls. As an 11th grader, Flora Ekpe-Idang Corage, the founder of Corage dolls, couldn't stop thinking about the racism test documentary. It confirmed what she already knew, that colorism in the Black community was a serious issue. Researchers completed the racism test again in the 2000s. Despite the 80-year gap, Black children continued to struggle with internalized racism. As an 11th grader, Flora wasn't sure what she wanted to do with this revelation. And it followed her for years to come. Which now is the focus of her work and the foundation of Corage dolls. "Toys are supposed to bring you joy. Every kid has that one toy that they carried around with them to help build their imagination." She wanted to create a doll that positively reflected young girls everywhere. She wanted the dolls to bring them joy.
The College Pitch
During college, Flora interned at a toy company. It was a small toy company that exposed her to the marketing space of the toy industry. Her passion lies in diversity and inclusivity. It spearheaded her mission to change the face of marketing. This led Flora to work at a multicultural advertising agency in Los Angeles. While there, she volunteered as a mentor to young girls of color. Many of them were first-generation high school and soon to be college graduates. She noticed the gaps in access to resources and representation. These young women didn't have an image they could cling to. She dedicated herself to empowering women of color. Flora found herself conducting market research well into her graduate program. Again, she knew she wanted to empower young girls of color. Flora dreamed of creating dolls to reflect and inspire them. She spent a lot of time visiting toy stores with the hopes of observing the behaviors of shoppers and ask them questions. She observed how people interacted with the dolls on the shelf. She wanted answers to two questions. What percentage of dolls on the shelf were of color? Were there any differences between stores in different markets? She interviewed a total of 100 people, which included parents and children. Her research showed her two things. First, the options were either homogeneous; second, there weren't any options at all. While obtaining her MBA, Flora took full advantage of the program. She took entrepreneurship classes. This allowed her to work on her business idea. Like Shark Tank, the MBA program forced her to practice the art of pitching. She presented a prototype of her idea to the class and received feedback. Her classmates were also the judges. She pitched the idea of creating multicultural dolls, dolls that were reflective of young girls of color. She then explained the generational impact of the lack of representation. A class of predominantly White men, she wasn't sure how they were going to respond. As the only Black female in the class, she had to be the voice. But, despite the lack of diversity in the room, she still felt that emotional connection with the audience. She won the pitch competition that day, and her classmates encouraged her to execute her idea. The Harvard Pitch
A friend of Flora's encouraged her to register for a pitch competition at Harvard. At that time, Corage dolls weren't formed yet. She had two concerns before pitching. First, how could she convey why this matters. Especially without going into the nitty-gritty of the market and the numbers. Second, how does she impact people who, again, don't look like her? Given only 60 seconds to pitch, she stood in front of a room of 300+ people. She asked the audience to imagine themselves in a toy store. She told them to imagine looking for something that reflected who they were, but it didn't exist. She then invited them to put themselves in the shoes of a young girl of color doing the same thing. "Imagine what that puts in her mind like she's not good enough. She's an afterthought. And imagine seeing this not just in the toy store, but everywhere, such as the media. Imagine what that message conveys to that child." She posed to them. Although she applied last minute, she won second place. The pitch competitors were from different schools. She was not only the only person from her school who pitched, but she was also the only Black female. Courage Is The Most Important Virtue Courage comes before anything else. Without courage, it's almost impossible to begin anything. Flora found herself often taking risks for a cause she believed in. One time, she attended a toy fair without having a prototype. But she wanted to know what it meant to be in this space. She wanted to have conversations with people in the industry. By putting herself out there, she met Daymond John. She then met the founders of the Angelica Doll (a Black-owned doll company). It inspired her to see other Black people in the same space as her. Next, a surprising connection happened. Flora followed the founder of Build A Bear, Maxine Clark, on Twitter. She noticed a series of tweets about issues relating to Black Lives Matter. She noticed that her tweets that urged more women of color entrepreneurs to be visible. Flora found her email, and cold emailed her. To her surprise, she received a call back from Maxine Clark herself. Flora was able to pick Maxine Clark's brain about how she built her company. She received crucial advice that she implemented in her business. What Are You Most Proud Of About Corage Dolls
"Corage Dolls helps to elevate girls of color to be unstoppable." She says. There are two reasons why she is proud of Corage Dolls. First, she wanted the dolls to be the embodiment of girls of color. Second, she focused on working with women and people of color only in the industry. This included Black editors to Black advisors and Black female designers. Her web developer is a male of color. Her goal is to uplift and support other Black women and people of color. Courage is more than a doll. After the pitch competition at BVG, a White woman came up to her with her daughter (who is Black). They wanted to see the doll. The mother bought the doll at the pitch competition. She then messaged her a few weeks later on Facebook to tell her. Her daughter loved the doll. "Getting people to hold Aaliyah and have them notice the quality of the doll and that it's not just a fashion doll matters. The dolls are reflective of girls of color today who are doing extraordinary things." She hopes each child walks away with a doll wrapped around their arms. She hopes they feel good about themselves.
What Were Some Setbacks Along The Way The hardest part of having a product to sell is connecting with a reliable manufacturer. Flora admits being a bit naive about how the supply chain process works. A manufacturer she worked with failed to deliver the dolls on time. They also failed to deliver the dolls with the right specifications. After they received their payments, they ceased communication. Despite having a lawyer draft up legal documents, she lost a lot of money in this transaction. Despite that unfortunate experience, she learned two lessons: she had to teach herself more about the supply chain, and she didn't rush through contracts. So, she looked at the lead time, packaging costs, and the quantity of the order size. With a new manufacturer, Flora focused on building a relationship with them. She scheduled meetings through Skype. This way, she could follow along with the various stages of product development. This allowed her to receive feedback from friends and family along the way. Getting real-time feedback made a huge difference in the quality of the dolls. She plans on visiting the manufacturer, which she encourages everyone to do. "When I first saw the doll I almost cried! Just to think about the journey from high school to that very moment and to see the milestones--to know none of it was done in vain. It was amazing!" She says.
What Is it Like Working With A Partner
BVG also spoke to LaTonja, the marketing specialist for Corage Dolls. LaTonja works in close partnership with Flora to spread the message of Corage's mission. Flora says working with a partner has sprouted out of the box ideas. A mother of three, LaTonja, resonated with Corage's mission. "I want my kids to be inspired. This isn't just another doll. It's a movement."
"Corage Dolls helps to elevate girls of color to be unstoppable." She says. There are two reasons why she is proud of Corage Dolls. First, she wanted the dolls to be the embodiment of girls of color. Second, she focused on working with women and people of color only in the industry. This included Black editors to Black advisors and Black female designers. Her web developer is a male of color. Her goal is to uplift and support other Black women and people of color. Corage is more than a doll. After the pitch competition at BVG, a White woman came up to her with her daughter (who is Black). They wanted to see the doll. The mother bought the doll at the pitch competition. She then messaged her a few weeks later on Facebook to tell her. Her daughter loved the doll. "Getting people to hold Aaliyah and have them notice the quality of the doll and that it's not just a fashion doll matters. The dolls are reflective of girls of color today who are doing extraordinary things." She hopes each child walks away with a doll wrapped around their arms. She hopes they feel good about themselves. out as expected. "It's not the end; this is the beginning." She says.
What Is Your Self-Care Routine
Flora didn't realize how stressed she was. This stress led her to hypothyroidism, which then led her to have throat surgery. She ignored her body. "As Black women, we tell ourselves to just get over it." She says. She has changed her nutrition; she is eating better and works out. Now, Flora engages in lots of reflection. She begins her mornings with prayer and writes and read scriptures. Then thinks about how that will impact her life. She then creates a think board wallpaper with her goals on it. She has personal, work, and business goals that she updates weekly. Visualizing it and putting it down on paper helps her to remain inspired and focused. Flora spends time with friends, traveling, and takes breaks when she needs to. She's also a choir director at her church and has a meditation practice. As for LaTonja, self-care is a little harder with three children. So she focuses on the little things throughout the day. She completes her bible study in the morning, no matter what's going on. She believes it equips her to be successful throughout the day. Then a simple bubble bath in the evening with a face mask and a good book to end her day. "Having 'me' time is important." She says. She's not only a mother, but she's also an entrepreneur. This helps her to remember who she is.
What's Next For Corage Dolls?
Corage Dolls is getting ready for the fourth quarter. The team is gearing up to release some new apparel that is distinct and unique. They are also providing more clothing and creating a fashion line. This includes accessories, various apparel designs, and outfits. Each child who purchases a doll will receive a headband. In 2020, they will attend more toy fairs and begin to test their dolls in small specialty retail stores. They hope to release an Afro-Latina doll. Corage is also considering taking their dolls internationally. Mantras Keep You Grounded: You can’t see what you can’t see. Even if you don’t see it, you’re going to create it. It’s worth believing. Favorite podcast(s): Unbothered Refinery29 and Side Hustle Pro, Myleik Teele
The food you can’t say no to: Chinese food/dumplings Book(s): It Was All A Dream, Go out there and make a difference, Drop The Ball
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