Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Moments in Black Doll History - Eason's Positive Toys for Our Children


"Our Children Need Positive Toys... that's why I made Sun-Man..." reads the above 1986 ad for Olmec's line of Superheros and Superheroines, (the Butterfly Woman collection).  Click the ad to enlarge. 

Yla Eason (pronounced Y-la) received inspiration from her 3-year-old son to create a line of black toys for boys and girls. It was her son’s declaration that he could not be a superhero because He-Man was white that prompted Ms. Eason to make a change in the toy market and in her son's mindset.

Olmec Toys was founded in May 1985. Their line of toys for boys and girls were geared toward the underserved African American demographics. As a parent herself, Eason knew there was a market for her toys because other African American parents also wanted playthings for their children that looked like them. The goal was to promote self-pride.

1992 Olmec Ad featuring Imani and the Hip Hop Kids


There were barriers to Eason's success.  But despite being told by a toy executive that black parents buy white dolls so there was no need to disrupt the “status quo,” Eason’s determination and dedication resulted in a several-year successful line of  dolls and action figures.

Olmec's first fashion doll, Naomi, 1988


The Sun-Man action figure was the company’s first toy. Naomi, an 11-1/2-inch fashion doll, was Olmec’s first doll (pictured above). Using the same head sculpt, the doll’s name was changed to Ellisse one year later and eventually finally changed to Imani.  Imani received a new face sculpt in the early 1990s.


Kente Fun Imani, 1991 with new face

 As an inclusive toy manufacturer, Olmec created action figures and dolls for African American, Hispanic, and Asian children from 1985 through approximately 1997.  A nice selection of baby dolls were manufactured as well as fashion dolls (see pages 5-7 in Yla Eason A-below).

In 1986 Eason joined forces with fellow black toy manufacturers to form the International Black Toy Manufacturers Association

No longer in the toy or doll-making business, Yla Eason, who holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, is a professor at Medgar Evers College, CUNY.

View additional pictures here.

Read more at the following links:
Yla Eason A (PDF format)
Yla Eason B (PDF format)

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7 comments:

  1. that's interesting to read that Ms Eason is still around... pity about the company going under... it had potential with its goals (maybe better quality control would be better too) and it is so sad to see that we haven't moved much from the 1980's to now in terms of diversity and attitudes towards dolls of color

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  2. ... even more depressing in that link to the Ebony 1987 article is the ad for Stolichnaya. Vodka lives but not Olmec Toys...

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  3. It takes pioneers like Ms. Eason to make the baby steps that will eventually break the ground wide open.

    Today we have Stacey Mc Bride-Irby pressing through with the So In Style dolls. Disney had a recent commercial success with the Princess Tiana dolls. Who will be next? Every little bit counts to gain some ground for our children to see positive black images.

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  4. You are so right, Hugs! Olmec and others before it helped pave the way for the Stacey McBride-Irbys of today.

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  5. Another great blog Debbie. I am fortunate to have Imani & Menelik together in NRFB condition!
    I also have another boy doll from Olmec!Too bad Olmec is no longer in business.But Yla,B.Wright,Garvey,Moss ,Negro Doll Co & all others set the positive standards on how we as a people should be and would be viwed.
    Bonnie

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  6. Thanks, Bonnie!

    That's great that you have Imani and Menelik together.

    dbg

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  7. Thanks for this post, DBG! Neat that Bonnie has Imani AND Menelik. Your Naomi has the best outfit of that doll (under that name); I have the one with the mint green sweater and the red-black plaid pants. Then again, those were the styles of that time.

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