Milspouse Crafter Creates Dolls That Represent Diversity

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Representation matters, even (maybe especially) when it comes to kids’ toys.

When military spouse, entrepreneur, and maker Amanda Berlin started Little Nest Market back in 2013, she was a new mother looking for a creative outlet. She started small, selling the children’s clothes and accessories she made to friends.

Eventually, Amanda received so many requests that a friend with an Etsy shop recommended she give the online sales platform a shot.

From those humble beginnings, Little Nest Market was born. Today, Amanda’s Etsy store is thriving.

“If something in my shop doesn’t sell, it doesn’t bother me.”

While Amanda is a dynamic entrepreneur (more on that in a bit), she is first and foremost a creative. She develops and makes the items in her shop because she has to. “It’s part of me that I needed to create,” she explains. Her work represents her story, her family; she describes her need to make things as, “Something outside of myself”; she tries to create something every day.

Representation: A Lack of Supply Doesn’t Mean A Lack of Demand

One part of Amanda’s story that informs her work is her experience growing up as a biracial military child. Amanda describes her mother trying hard to find dolls that looked like her and her sisters when she was young.

“I want the brown one like me,” she remembers telling her mom after seeing a picture of an African American Barbie. Her mother, Ellyn, had to drive all over to find the doll, and Amanda says it remained the only brown Barbie she ever had.

Even though she says it is a little easier for her to find representative dolls for her own children, she says the dolls she sees on the shelves are still predominantly white.

As part of her process, Amanda keeps a notebook of ideas. For two years, she had in her notebook a plan to create the cloth doll she had wanted as a young girl: one that looked like her.

From Hobbyist to Entrepreneur

When she was ready to create the doll she’d been envisioning, one in which little girls like her and her daughters could see themselves, she put her entrepreneurial marketing skills to work.

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When it came to marketing, Amanda had to build the airplane while flying it. Attending a marketing course in person would have been difficult for her as a stay-at-home mom. She’s done a lot of professional development on her own time, learning about marketing through things like online paid webinars. It’s what “takes you from a hobbyist to entrepreneur,” Amanda says.

“It’s amazing how little makers are making dolls of color.”

Part of Amanda’s marketing education has included search engine optimization (SEO).

A keyword search using SEO tags related to cloth dolls of color produced only 200 hits, out of 25,000 hits when she searched SEO tags for generic cloth dolls. The results were worldwide.

“I saw a niche that needed to be filled,” Amanda says.

Part of the reason for the delay in producing the doll was finding what Amanda believed to be the appropriate facial features. Amanda describes feeling disappointed in the cloth dolls of color that she did find online. Often, all the dolls had the same generic facial features, just with different skin tones.

Amanda conducted a painstaking search for just the right facial features she felt would allow African American and biracial girls to see themselves represented.

When Amanda was finally ready to post the brown cloth doll, it sold within a day. The mother of the little girl for whom she bought the doll messaged Amanda to say she had struggled to find dolls who matched her daughter’s appearance.

Since Amanda posted the cloth doll on her Etsy page, a volunteer with Black Girls Code contacted her about the possibility of dolls for the girls at a group home with whom she works.

What You Make Matters

Think of the last thing you found on Etsy that you felt had been specially made for you by a total stranger.  Perhaps it made you feel a little less alone to know that someone, somewhere else in the world, made something from their own lived experience and story that resonated so closely with yours.

“Online sales platform” is such a dry phrase for the kinds of connections it makes possible. Part of Amanda’s mission as a maker is to “positively feed a child’s personal representation of themselves from a really young age.”

The drive that makers like Amanda have to create, to put something of themselves out into the world, comes from a deeply personal place. In the words of Auschwitz victim and Franciscan friar Maximilian Kolbe, “Only love creates.”  A definite labor of love, Little Nest Market makes the world a bit more beautiful, one little creation at a time.

 

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