LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles toy company changed the way dolls were made by celebrating black beauty.
For two decades, Shindana Toy Company employed black employees to make dolls with features reflective of black girls and boys.
Billie J. Green has been collecting the dolls since the 1990s. She first found out about them as a mother who wanted her girls to have dolls that looked like them.
“I like giving my children positive images of themselves, because that’s what I grew up with,” Green said.
Shindada was created after the 1965 Watts riots. Operation Bootstrap partnered with Mattel to create dolls, and had an agreement that Shindada would have full creative control. They produced 1,000 dolls a day.
“The difference between regular dolls that were African American with other companies basically…they were really the same doll as the white doll,” Green said. “The features did not change, only the complexion of the dolls, whereas these dolls are based on the features of African Americans. And that’s why Shindana revolutionized the doll industry.”
Shindada created their first doll named Nancy in 1968. She was made with different hairstyles, to match the different textures of black hair.
They also made a career women doll named Wanda, who was inspired a real Black female flight attendant. She was sold in different job outfits to encourage girls to pursue various careers.
The dolls also reflected L.A.’s diversity. A doll line called “Little Friends” featured white, Asian, Black, and Latino dolls. Shindada operated until the 1980s.
“It’s really important because that’s part of Los Angeles history that is gone forever,” Green said. “I want to hold on to that and share it with my grandchildren and hopefully one day they will share it with their children.”
A lot of the dolls are now being sold online for hundreds of dollars. But not Green’s dolls. She won’t ever part with them.
“I will keep these dolls after I’m dead and gone,” Green said. “Hopefully my children will possibly turn my house into a museum and everyone can come and see the dolls.”
Green’s doll collection is on display at the William Grant Still Art Center until February 15.