Indian-American Harvard grad Neha Chauhan Woodward is the creator of a new series of dolls that represent ‘common’ girls with a diverse array of ethnicities and backgrounds
Indian At Large staff
Each of Neha Chauhan Woodward’s seven dolls has a different story to tell. While Cara, the first doll produced in full, is half-Latina and wants to be a CEO when she grows up; Rory taught herself how to code and finds a similar solace in choreographing dances for her friends.
In addition, Chauhan Woodward has made a concerted effort to create a friend group with a diverse array of ethnicities and backgrounds: Anjali is Indian-American, Maya is Colombian, Mackenzie is African-American, and Perry is Asian-American.
These dolls are providing more than entertainment; they are fighting against stereotypes, and providing girls the tools to shatter glass ceilings. They represent common girls with ethnic diversity and are celebrated for their brains, talents and leadership.
Chauhan Woodward is the founder of Willowbrook Girls, the toy start-up that’s behind the new doll series. Prior to Willowbrook Girls, the Staten Island native built her career in e-commerce, working at companies like Blue Apron, Diapers.com (Amazon), and DANNIJO. She named Willowbrook Girls after her elementary school, Public School 54, which was located on Willowbrook Road in New York.
“The toys I played with had such an impact on me, but they weren’t a great reflection of me or my friends, who were so smart and so diverse in their interests and backgrounds. I knew we needed to do better,” Chauhan Woodward, who now lives in Manhattan with her husband, told SILive.com.
Chauhan Woodward, 29, said the idea came to her while she was a Stanford MBA student — a degree she pursued after studying economics at Harvard and then working as an investment banking analyst at JPMorgan.
“Next door to the coffee shop I studied in was a very popular doll store,” she was quoted as saying, declining to name names. “The emphasis on appearances, with these doll hair salons and doll tea parties that parents were expected to bring their kids to really upset me. If anything, this company had a huge opportunity to empower girls,” she added.
When fully funded, each doll will have a corresponding book about their endeavours. The first one is about the Willowbrook girls starting a business at their school. The stories will give further depth to the characters, Chauhan Woodward said.
Growing up Indian-American, Chauhan Woodward also wanted to make sure the dolls appeared diverse. It was something lacking in the toys she grew up with, and hasn’t gone unnoticed by young people of color, she told SILive.com.
“A lot of girls I spoke to said that they wanted dolls that looked like them,” she said. “They wanted characters that were relatable. You have to see something to know that you can be it.”
Though Willowbrook Girls dolls aren’t for sale yet, Chauhan Woodward is nearing the end of her Kickstarter Campaign to raise money for the first doll, Cara. After that, Cara will be sold online. Chauhan Woodward hopes that sales from that and other sources will enable her to release more of the dolls.