You may not have noticed but in recent years, there has been something of a toybox revolution. Toy companies have come to realise the importance of diversity when it comes to the toys they manufacture.
'Coloured Francie' released 1967
Racial diversity – the first step
In the latter half of the twentieth century, larger doll companies such as Mattel endeavoured to reflect a diverse population in their range by introducing dolls of colour. Falling short of releasing a black Barbie, in the sixties Mattel released Francie and Christie who were advertised as being Barbie’s cousin and friend. It was observed that these products may have been made from the same mould as previous white Barbie dolls, a fact which may explain customer’s lukewarm reception of the dolls. It wasn’t until 1979 when Mattel made the leap and released an official Barbie doll with black skin.
Further strides towards inclusion
Beyond introducing dolls of varying skin tone and body shape, toy companies were slow to make their products fully inclusive for children of varying abilities.
As ToyLikeMe founder Rebecca Atkinson explains, “When I was growing up in the 80s,” says Rebecca, who wears hearing aids herself, “I never saw any deaf characters in toys, books or on TV. When I became a mum myself, I decided it was time things changed. I wanted the global toy industry to act, to better represent the 150 million children worldwide with disability and difference.”
The need for representation
Reflected in Rebecca’s words is the underlying isolation children must have felt when it came to understanding and accepting their own place in the world. Despite having little or no representation in the toys they played with, children with disability made up an increasingly large proportion of society. It was time for toy companies to step up!
Acceptance through play
Psychologist Dr Sian Jones from Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh has studied the effects of playing with toys with disability and difference on the attitudes of children without disability and difference. Interviewing hundreds of children, she found that after playing with toys with a difference, children were more open to forming friendships with peers with disability and difference. She notes that “the ability to take the place of others is at the root of the development of empathy. This power of the imagination can be seen even more acutely when it comes to toy figures and dolls”.
Lottie Dolls answer the call!
Established in 2015, ToyLikeMe is a non-profit organisation which campaigns for diversity in the toybox. Frustrated at the lack of representation children were seeing in a £2.9bn global industry which was supposed to be working for them, ToyLikeMe sent out a call to toy producers to create toys that were more inclusive of the 150 million children worldwide who would be classified as being diff-abled. Lottie Dolls was one of the first doll makers to respond. Since our inception in 2012, we had created a range of dolls of which 25% wore glasses. We knew we could do more.
Breaking barriers – Mia, Wildlife Photographer
In 2016, we introduced the world’s first fashion doll to wear a cochlear implant. Wildlife photographer Mia was acknowledged in the International Design Awards, receiving both an honourable mention and a silver. Deemed "A great product has the potential to be life-changing”. In designing the new doll, it was important to Lottie Dolls that Mia’s cochlear implant wouldn’t be her focal point, but rather a small part of her story. Mia’s hobby was photography and it was hoped that the doll might encourage children of all abilities to take an interest in the nature and wildlife. Read more about Mia's creation and her impact here
Inclusion Expansion - Loyal Companion Finn Playset
Earlier this year, Lottie Dolls took another step towards expanding diversity in the toybox by releasing the Loyal Companion Doll. The doll, inspired by local child Hayden Geraghty who has been diagnosed with autism, includes an assistance dog, noise reducing headphones and light masking glasses. As with Mia, the Loyal Companion doll isn’t presented as a doll with autism, but instead chooses to focus on his fascination with all things space related. Reflected in the blue jumpsuit is the fact that diff-abled children don't have to be defined by that which supposedly makes them different.
Lottie Dolls: Dolls for all children
The Lottie Collection
Since our inception in 2012, achieving diversity in the toybox has been central to our creative decisions. We have released boy dolls, dolls of colour, the world's first doll to wear a cochlear implant among many, many others. We believe childhood is precious and that every day of it should be filled to bursting with imaginative and fun toys. Likewise, we believe that acceptance comes more easily to childAren than prejudice and that through play, children can gain understanding of issues which may affect their peers. We echo #ToyLikeMe in our call to other toy companies to follow our lead!