LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Dionna Douglas is a Louisville entrepreneur on a mission for more Black representation in dolls with her thriving business, Kimani Dolls.
Growing up, Douglas said she felt represented because her mom gave her Black dolls, and as an artist, their house had Black paintings on the walls. However, the mother of all boys didn’t realize her experience was the exception and not the norm until she had a stepdaughter, and they started playing with Barbies.
“We’d curl the hair with pipe cleaners and stuff like that, and it was cute, making like natural hairstyles and afros and stuff like that,” Douglas said. “With that, I kind of realized there’s not a lot of items like that in the stores, so it kind of took off from there.”
Those moments inspired her to start Kimani Dolls five years ago. She said business is going so well that she decided to hire her inspiration, stepdaughter T’Chyane Douglas, part-time to help fill orders.
“I learned how to sew with her. I learned how to use a heat press, to make like the faces on them, and things like that because we do everything basically from scratch. We just go out and get fabric and then start sewing,” said 15-year-old T'Chyane about making the business’s most steady product called an “Afro Puff Pillow.”
The handmade item is the face of a young boy or girl that is soft like a pillow with a storage pocket on top. Douglas said the girl pillow’s pocket is to keep head bonnets or scarves in. The wearing of one is a nightly routine for some Black girls and women to protect their hair and help natural hairstyles last longer.
“It’s cute. It’s something that represents African-American girls, and it’s something that also serves a purpose,” Douglas said.
However, Kimani Doll's most popular items are the personalized dolls, which Douglas started making for her stepdaughter. For $100, customers can send a photo of who they want a doll customized for and Douglas makes it happen.
Hundreds of orders later, rapper Remy Ma has a doll and the personalized dolls have been featured on the TV show Sister Circle Live.
Recently, Douglas also gifted a Breonna Taylor custom Kimani Doll to Taylor’s family. Douglas said she had the materials since July but didn’t want to add pain to the public grieving the family was already going through. However, the grand jury’s decision announced in September inspired Douglas to make the doll. Douglas said she has attended the protests but the doll was not made as a statement of protest.
“I have grown kids also and thinking about that heartache and pain that she’s publicly having to go through it just, it just really, really touched me,” Douglas told Spectrum News 1. “So then I decided, ‘Okay, if there is anything that I can do to make this family feel a little bit better, you know, even if it’s just for a few minutes, then I’m going to go ahead and do it.”
Douglas makes dolls of all races, but her focus is on making dolls for those who haven’t had representation.
“It’s still hard to find African-American dolls or products or things to make for other mothers who are having the same problem. So it’s just me trying to do my part you know maybe even the playing field a little bit and just make sure little girls are happy.”
Douglas has stopped taking orders for personalized dolls for Christmas, and there are currently 40 customers on a waitlist for when she starts taking orders again after the holidays. However, she is still selling the Afro Puff Pillows through the holidays.