Yelitsa Jean-Charles is on a mission to help children embrace their hair — and redefine society’s beauty standards along the way.
One Christmas, when Yelitsa Jean-Charles was 6 or 7, her parents bought her a doll whose brown skin was similar to her own, and she immediately burst into tears because she was looking for the blue-eyed blonde hair doll she had asked for. Years later, Jean-Charles realized how influenced she had been by what society deemed was beautiful.
In 2014, Yelitsa Jean-Charles posted a question on Facebook: “To any of my Black female Facebook friends, can you share your experience with dolls as a child? Did dolls influence you in any way? Do you believe that there is a lack of positive representation for young Black girls?”
The answer was a resounding “Yes.
Today, Jean-Charles is the founder and CEO of Detroit-based startup Healthy Roots Dolls, which launched in 2019 with Zoe, a doll with brown-colored skin, large brown eyes, and curly, voluminous hair that can be washed, braided or twisted. Healthy Roots Dolls products include Zoe, a doll with hair you can wash and style, individual fashion outfits, and The Curl Power Kit: a kit of products with beads, brush, spray bottle, and butterfly clips that kids can use on their hair and Zoe’s hair.
The idea for Healthy Roots Dolls was born during Jean-Charles’ time at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied illustration and dreamed of designing children’s toys. As part of a class project in 2015, she reimagined the fairytale princess Rapunzel as a beautiful brown-skinned girl with kinky, curly hair.
“I created Healthy Roots Dolls because I never had a doll that looked like me growing up. As a children’s illustrator, I understand that toys influence how kids think, act, and see themselves, so when little girls can’t find dolls that look like them, it negatively impacts their self-esteem. That’s why Zoe is more than just another doll painted brown. She is an educational play experience around hair care”, explains Jean-Charles.
Jean-Charles’ goal is to create a living, breathing community around the Zoe doll and Black hair. Data reveals that 65% of the world’s population has curly/wavy hair, and according to tohealthyroots.com, Dove conducted a study in 2016 and found that only four out of 10 girls love their curls.
Healthy Roots’ success includes securing a deal with Target and selling out entirely while expanding into their own brick-and-mortar retail space and earning many awards, grants, and support from companies such as Proctor and Gamble.
Jean-Charles’ believes that “no one should feel less than because of the kink of their curl or the color of their skin. All children should love their healthy roots”.