A mother who struggled to find a doll that looked like her mixed race daughter set up a business to make her own.
Sonia Whiteley-Guest, 49, was determined to make sure her young daughter knew that there were dolls that looked “beautiful” like her.
But growing up, there weren’t any toys that looked like little Lila – as she is mixed race, with her dad being white and her mum being originally from Pakistan.
When Sonia travelled to Chicago on a business trip in 2014, she stumbled into a massive doll department store that sold a range of diverse toys.
She was inspired to create a similar product back in the UK so that her daughter, then six years old, and other children around the country could feel included.
After returning home, the mum-of-two decided to leave her job as a brand director at Morrisons to pursue her dream and create her own company, All About The Doll.
Sonia, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, said: “I am from Pakistan and my husband is white and so my children are mixed race.
“My daughter Lila was six at the time and we had struggled to get a doll that looked like her. They were all blonde haired and blue eyed or black.
“I wanted her to know that there were dolls that looked like her that were just as beautiful.”
“We had bought a barn conversation in Baildon and I thought ‘it is now or never’ and so I took the plunge and put my money where my mouth was.”
Sonia researched doll suppliers in the Far East as she was determined that her dolls would be as natural looking as possible, but also not anatomically correct.
The business and marketing consultant said: “I thought about it for a long time and although I wanted the dolls to look quite real I still wanted them to be innocent and to prompt innocent play as they are aimed at four to 11- year-olds.”
She later launched All About the Doll online with a range of six dolls that cost £39 each.
One was a black doll, one an Asian doll, one boy doll and a red haired beauty, too. The other two were a blonde blue eyed and a dark haired, pale skinned.
Sonia added: “It is about giving children choice.
“They may not want the doll that looks like them. As parents you make assumptions about what children want. But quite often they go to the opposite of them.
“My friend’s daughter is a red head and she really thought she would go for our red-headed doll Ruby, but instead she chose the black doll.”
Over the last six years Sonia has doubled her collection of dolls and her business has grown over the last six months.
She said: “The boy dolls, and the darker skinned dolls are by far the most popular.”
Sonia, whose daughter Lila is now 14, has looked quite closely at the psychology behind children’s play.
She said: “We know that imagination, role playing and living out real life, dreams and fantasies are an essential part of our children’s development as they come to terms with how things really work in the big wide world.
“Our dolls have been created to support children as they go through the journey of self-discovery and emotional and social development.
“We’ve created dolls that never grow up faster than our children. Our dolls aren’t preoccupied with being grown-ups, they are just going through the process of growing up, alongside our kids.”
While All About the Doll also supplies a range of clothes and accessories, Sonia was determined that all the clothes should be age appropriate.
She said: “We’ve done our best to create dolls that reflect the beautiful diverse world we now live in.
“From porcelain skin and fiery red hair, to the most enviable black curls and dark skin, we know that friendship has no boundaries so whoever you want your best friend to be, we really hope we’ve got it covered.”
Sonia has tinkered with the idea of adding dolls with disabilities in her range of diverse toys but said it is something that “needs careful thought”.
She said: “I have been thinking about it but I am concerned that we want to provide what the children want, not what the adults think they should want.
“There are such a lot of different disabilities, how do you choose? It is something I would like to explore but it needs careful thought.”
In time, she hopes to add more clothes, shoes, equipment and accessories for all hobbies and situations imaginable.
Just before lockdown she was also looking at expanding into retail stores which has been put on hold for the time being – but the dolls are now available on Amazon.
The dream, however, is to one day open an American Girl-style mega store for dolls in the UK.
She said: “I think it would be every girl – and boy’s dream come true. We also want the dolls to be something that pass down through generations.”