Like many moms, Stacey McBride-Irby grew up playing with Barbie. She dreamed of the fantasy life her Barbie dolls were living.
“I wanted to be Barbie,” she says. “I’m a doll designer because of all of her fashions.”
Barbie inspired her to study fashion in college. Her first job was working at Barbie’s creator Mattel. There she helped create the looks for the featured dolls Barbie and Ken and all their friends, some of the Disney princesses, too.
Then McBride-Irby became a mom and she noticed her own daughter wasn’t playing with Barbies. It occurred to McBride-Irby that her daughter wasn’t playing with Barbie, but was playing with other dolls, because Barbie didn’t look like her. McBride-Irby and her daughter are African-American.
That realization inspired McBride-Irby to create the So In Style line of African-American dolls for Barbie. The dolls had different skin tones, fuller noses and fuller lips. Her daughter, who was 6 at the time, was involved in testing out the line and eventually the line came to market in 2009. “The positive message is always key for me,” she says. Mattel no longer sells the line, though.
McBride-Irby left Mattel in 2011 to create her own line of multicultural dolls. Her Prettie Girls! doll collection for Houston-based Tonner-One World includes dolls that are African-American, African, Hispanic, South Asian, Caucasian and Asian. They have back stories like wanting to grow up to be a pediatrician, being an artists or an athlete, being known for academics or comedic timing. And while you might think the name Prettie Girls! is a bit demeaning, it actually stands for something: Positive Respectful Enthusiastic Talented Truthful Inspiring Excellent.
Unlike a traditional Barbie, who might be a size 2, Prettie Girls! are designed to be a size 10.
Earlier this year Mattel answered the criticism that Barbie was an unrealistic body type by introducing a new line. The Fashionistas line comes in four body types — original, curvy, petite and tall — and in seven skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles.
McBride-Irby does wonder how long Mattel will keep the Fashionistas line. It will all depend on how well Fashionistas sell and whether the numbers meet the target investors want to see, she says.
“Hopefully, they can keep the trend going,” McBride-Irby says.
That trend is consumers increasingly demanding something different. Like McBride-Irby saw with her own daughter, girls want dolls that look like them. “When I was a little girl, I didn’t mind playing with a Caucasian doll,” she says. “Now how many years later and my daughter didn’t want to. Society is shifting what we want out there … It’s what parents want and what kids want.”
McBride-Irby’s Prettie Girls! sell on Walmart.com and Amazon.com for $23.94 for the 16-inch Prettie Girls! Tween Scene and $14.97 for the 12-inch original Prettie Girls! Tonner-One World is also working on a baby doll version.
“Prettie Girls! is so important to me,” McBride-Irby says, “Our world is so diverse. It teaches girls to have aspirations, to relate through culture… Our African-American doll is an over-achiever. She dreams of being president one day.”