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.

Related Online Links:
Making a Difference; A Christmas For Sun-Man
A Black Toy Company Called Olmec
Cool Breeze
Olmec Toys (Facebook)



Dolls of Color said...

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

Dolls of Color said...

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

Hugs said...

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.

Black Doll Enthusiast said...

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

Anonymous said...

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.

Black Doll Enthusiast said...

Thanks, Bonnie!

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


D7ana said...

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.

supremeboy23 said...

I have been a long time fan of Imani, because they were beautiful, stylish and more affordable than that OTHER fashion doll that's been around for decades. I also love Imani (in her original headmold) because she makes wonderful Pointer Sisters tribute dolls =) I have created a facebook page dedicated to Imani (aka Ellisse, aka Naomi)so you can view the ones I've customized as Ruth, Anita & June...The fabulous POINTER SISTERS!!! Now, I know the Pointers weren't triplets, but they were actual mom and dad blood sisters, so I used the same doll for all 3 singers. Besides, I see a little bit of each Pointer sister in the original Imani headmold =)

supremeboy23 said...

Black Doll Enthusiast said...

Thanks for letting me and the readers of my blog know about your FB group. I have seen your fabulous recreations of the Pointer Sisters using the original Imani head sculpt and communicated with you recently about them.

dbg aka BlackDollEnthusiast

Rufus Q said...

Sun-Man is returning to toy shelves due to a new licensing deal with Mattel that will see The Rulers of the Sun toy line marketed and sold alongside He-Man and Masters of the Universe.

Black Doll Enthusiast said...

Thank you so much for sharing this great news, Rufus Q!