Embracing diversity among handmade felt toys evolved from an idea to an online business shop. Creating a space for children and people to feel represented was a keen goal for Creator of Diversely Yours Aonna Barksdale. In honor of Black History Month we want to highlight and show appreciation for Black History in the making. We shed light upon a shop owned by a woman of color and who is paving the way for children to feel acknowledged.
What was the inspiration behind Diversely Yours?
I was working at a retail store during the holiday season a couple years ago and they had the cutest ornaments to represent different family members. The only problem was that they were all white and as much as I wanted to buy one, I couldn’t have that as a representation of myself or my family members. The only African American ornaments they had were woven stick figures that had no facial features, hair, and only came in black. I wanted to see myself when I looked at the ornament and not as a faceless stick figure dressed in a brown cloth. From there I got the idea to create my own ornaments and a brand that would teach children to embrace diversity among each other.
Why was it essential highlighting diversity in children’s toys?
Having a toy that children can relate with will teach them self -love and how to love others that don’t share the same physical features as they do. If there is no diversity in toys the child will eventually reject their own characteristics and long for what they see is common with the things that surround them.
As a child my mother always voiced her opinion on the ethnicity of the dolls that I played with. She wanted to see more melanin in the dolls, a different hair texture, or something that didn’t replicate what society was trying to teach me was normal. I needed to see beautiful dolls with kinks and coils so that I could learn to love my natural hair as a child opposed to an adult. I feel like being exposed to different ethnicities as a child would have opened up a whole new world for myself, being that they weren’t portrayed from a stereotypical view.
What is the process in creating one of your handmade collectibles?
Right now, I offer a felt doll head and a clay charm that can be used as a ornament, necklace charm, or keychain. The process to create the felt doll head is a little more intricate but both are handmade to order. With the doll head, I start by cutting out the hair and face in whatever skin tone is selected then stamp on the face. The faces are stamped with a hand-carved rubber block that has been coated with a thin layer of black water-soluble ink. Once that ink has dried, the doll head is sewn together and stuffed.
Reading the messages that people send when they place orders is the best part of starting this business. Being able to impact a child or family in a positive way means so much to me because you never know what that one toy can inspire them to do.
Do you believe in the toy industry today that there is a lack of multicultural items? If so what are ways to alter that?
I do believe that the toy industry is trying to improve itself but that is a very slow process. There is a need for more multicultural people filling the positions at toy companies and a shift in what companies are trying to portray. The more diverse the company is, the more likely they are to represent other cultures adequately and with open arms.
Do you feel like women of color in your industry are underrepresented?
I definitely feel like women of color are underrepresented in the toy industry and you can tell that simply by the toys that are created. The products are a direct reflection of the company aesthetic; although you can see a slight shift, it doesn’t reflect that many cultures that make up the human race.
Where do you see your business within the next five years?
Within the next five years, I hope to be able to employ a small team and host workshops that teach young children to embrace others. My goal is to be able to pour into the youth not only with my ornaments but provide inspiration to know that anything is possible no matter where you’re from. I want my business to be able to donate to different charities and communities with child in need, starting with my own.