Objects! with ShipHero talks with the entrepreneurs, innovators and idealists that put items on the shelf and bring packages to your doorstep. From hot sauce to board games, toothbrushes to frying pans, startup side-gigs to enterprise players, join ShipHero founder, Nicholas Daniel-Richards, as he demystifies the manufacturing and logistics behind some of our most beloved household objects, with transformational ideas that are guaranteed to make you say, why didn’t I think of that?. This fast-paced and intriguing podcast covers thousands of travelled miles in less than an hour, so next time you’re standing in your local store and see a label that says ‘Made in ’, you’ll know just how it got into your hands.
Objects! with ShipHero discusses in detail what it takes to transform an intangible idea into a tangible object that is designed, sold, manufactured, shipped, and delivered in the digital world. If you are a successful entrepreneur looking to grow or an aspiring innovator with an idea, Objects! with ShipHero provides a detailed, 360′ exploration with the masterminds behind modern ecommerce and shipping solutions. So settle in, buckle up, and prepare to get objectified! … no wait, not that. Get ready to say “I objects!”… we’ll work on it. Available on iTunes and at this link.
Episode 3 of Objects! with ShipHero released right around the holidays to remind us what’s really important this time of the year… toys, toys, toys and toys. So Nicholas sits down with Dr. Lisa, former university professor and creator of The Fresh Dolls — the first line of authentically beautiful, multi-cultural dolls to represent and celebrate diverse ethnicities. Not only are these dolls Finalists for the 2021 Toy of the Year Award, but they are currently featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things list; yes, THE Oprah. In this conversation, Dr. Lisa shares what drove her to take a sharp career turn from academia to toy manufacturing, what challenges she faced with her factories, and what it takes to launch a brand new doll from scratch. It’s a wild ride, so buckle up doll face (it’s a compliment, we checked).
Paging Dr. Lisa
Dr. Lisa earned her PhD degree in Marketing and Supply Chain from “The” Ohio State University, where she was the first African-American woman to earn this degree in her field. To say she developed a successful career in academia is certainly an understatement as she was the highest ranking professor in her field, quickly received tenure, obtained various faculty positions, and became the first multi-million dollar endowed chair holder when she was recruited to the University of Arkansas to chair her department.
It was at the University of Arkansas where she made connections with a local Arkansas-based company you may have heard of, Walmart. Things were looking good for Dr. Lisa, having realized her childhood dream of becoming a professor. But one fateful day, Dr. Lisa stumbled upon an old study from Drs. Mamie and Kenneth Clark.
“One day while watching an updated doll study, I saw a beautiful little dark-skinned girl say she didn’t think the brown doll was pretty because its skin was nasty. She then touched her own hand indicating her skin was nasty, too. As my heart broke and tears flowed down my face, I said to myself, ‘I have to do something. This can’t happen on my watch’. A generation of children can’t grow up not knowing their true beauty and brilliance.” — Dr. Lisa
So in 2003, Dr. Lisa founded the World of Entertainment, Publishing and Inspiration (World of EPI) to produce dolls that inspire dreams, promote intelligence and build self-esteem for all children.
Cut the Copy and Paste
Dr. Lisa immersed herself in the world of doll-making and quickly learned that it’s far from child’s play. In fact, doll-making is roughly a $3 billion dollar industry and the global doll, toy, and game market hit $102.6 billion in 2019. That said, a vast majority of the dolls manufactured are white dolls, and the black and brown dolls are referred to in the industry as “white dolls dipped in chocolate” — meaning white doll templates, including shapes, features and hair, are used to create black and brown dolls. The result? A doll that very few children liked to play with.
Through her Walmart connections, Dr. Lisa got in contact with top doll manufacturing factories in China and hopped on a plane to meet with them in person (ah, remember travel?). But it wasn’t until she arrived that Dr. Lisa realized just how stacked against the odds her ideas really were.
Even though Dr. Lisa told them she wanted to make a brand new doll, the factories continually tried to convince her to pick a template doll and that creating a new sculpt — templates for dolls — was a waste of money. By all accounts, the factories were attempting to protect her from failure, not to mention losing a lot of money in the process because Dr. Lisa was paying for the endeavor out of her own pocket.
But Dr. Lisa trusted her vision and chose to create a sculpt that she believed adequately represented multicultural beauty.
Sculptors Gonna Sculpt
The process began by Dr. Lisa creating sketches of how she wanted the dolls to look. Like a budding Leonardo DaVinci, she studied the faces of children, understood the face shape, then eyes shape, nose shape, lip shape, etc. so that the sketches wouldn’t just represent one face, but a collection of many different faces. Then, she shared these sketches with the factory to produce a sculpt.
The doll sculpting process took six months to yield an acceptable sculpt. The process began with deco — facial decoration — to create the desired shape of the eyes, ears, nose and mouth (before the head, shoulders, knees and toes), as well as making sure the skin tone was just right. As it stood, the skin tone that factories were using for black and brown dolls contained too much grey or red or peach, leaving the skin looking “nasty”.
After six long months of tweaking 3D renderings, mixing skin colors, and making tiny adjustments, say to the tip of the nose just a millimeter, the moment came when Dr. Lisa’s vision was finally realized, and the factory was shocked with the results. With absolutely zero prior experience, they had produced the final form of a doll sculpt that perfectly portrayed the abstraction of beauty in multicultural children that Dr. Lisa had been chasing. The Fresh Dolls were born.
Another year and a half passed before The Fresh Dolls hit the shelves, and that’s when the anxiety started kicking in for Dr. Lisa. Having spent approximately two years of her life dedicated to producing a doll that she viewed as beautiful, she was understandably nervous to find out whether other people would agree. And what happened next was truly amazing.
‘It Looks Just Like Me’
Emails began flooding into Dr. Lisa’s inbox from parents with stories about their child referring to the doll as their best friend, and where the parents were elated that this is the first doll to actually look like her daughter. After two years of hard work, Dr. Lisa had succeeded in creating a doll in which children of ethnically diverse backgrounds could feel comfortable celebrating, and seeing the beauty in, their own skin and culture.
The dolls were flying off the shelf and sales continued to rise, not to mention the dolls were winning industry awards, submitted as Finalist for the 2021 Toy of the Year Awards, then endorsed by Oprah, which is basically the Super Bowl for toy-makers! These were all incredible achievements for Dr. Lisa, but it was truly the emails and feedback from customers that made Dr. Lisa realize that they were making a change in the world
“As long as I see a little girl play with my doll on the floor, it’s all worth it,” Dr. Lisa says to ShipHero’s Founder Nicholas Daniel-Richards.
The Fresh Dolls started with baby dolls, then moved to fashion dolls, then to boys fashion dolls. As her line continued to grow, so did her manufacturing needs so she branched out to different factories and more retailers. Dr. Lisa has certainly come a long way from her first sculpt, but still prides herself in continually breaking from the mold and creating uniquely diverse dolls that resonate with children and adults of all cultural backgrounds.
It’s holiday season now, so if you need to order some amazing dolls for the children in your life, check out Dr. Lisa’s amazing collection at thefreshdolls.com.
Do you have an idea that’s been gnawing at you? You are living in an era that is full of ways to convert that idea into a viable business. The reality is there’s no magical five step program, and we’re all making this up. However, there’s lots of tools, resources, and fantastically passionate and smart people that we can all learn from who are building all sorts of new brands and yes, ShipHero gets to do the shipping.
If you have an object that you want to profile, send a note to Nicholas Daniel-Richards to firstname.lastname@example.org – we’re always on the lookout for a new object to cover. For more info, episode details, and links to the stuff we discuss, visit https://shiphero.com/podcast.
The Objects! With ShipHero podcast is brought to you by ShipHero, the leader in ecommerce order fulfillment services.