Source illustration: Dom Guzman
Toy company Healthy Roots Dolls has raised $1 million in seed funding to expand its line of children’s products, such as dolls and storybooks, that represent the beauty of diversity.
Yelitsa Jean-Charles founded the Detroit-based company in 2015 and launched the company’s first Black doll, Zoe, in 2019 that combines educational play experience with curly hair care.
“As a company, our goal is to be representation for all children,” Jean-Charles, a Black woman, told Crunchbase News. “Before Zoe, I could not find a doll that had the same hair texture and color of skin that I did. We are now building products for every child. They can see themselves, or their friends, in Zoe, and it also represents diverse play in early stages of development.”
Much of her entrepreneurial journey was chronicled in Crunchbase’s Female Founders Series last August, but she said her company’s growth since 2019 “has been pretty crazy.”
Healthy Roots partnered with Procter & Gamble’s My Black is Beautiful campaign in 2019 to further the mission of celebrating positive images among Black women. Each doll came with a curly hair kit featuring P&G’s hair care line, My Black Is Beautiful Golden Milk Collection.
“The partnership was intentionally mission alignment, and not about getting into stores,” Jean-Charles said. “We also launched a hair care line with it.”
The company’s current product lineup includes Zoe, which retails for $79.99 on healthyrootsdolls.com, as well as clothing and accessories for her.
Healthy Roots’ seed funding was led by Backstage Capital, which was joined by Lightship Capital, Broadway Angels, Alpha Bridge, The Community Fund, Sequoia Scout and a group of individuals, including Sahil Lavingia. The startup has now raised a total of $1.5 million, which includes funds from grants, pitch competitions, accelerator programs and crowdfunding, Jean-Charles said.
Brittany Davis, a principal at Backstage Capital, said in an interview that she met Jean-Charles during the firm’s Backstage Accelerator program and was one of Healthy Roots’ first investors.
‘We’ve seen her since Day One be heads down and focused on the product,” Davis said. “Now we are seeing that journey, and it has been cool to be a part of it.”
She said Healthy Roots “hits us all personally,” because previously there were hardly any Black dolls, and those that were nominally Black often had Caucasian features. Large brands tried to address the representation, but did not do it authentically, Davis added
“Yelitsa is phenomenal and builds representation in a product,” she said. “The future of this country will be a minority majority, so she is building for the future customer. She is going to be at a scalable size, meeting them where they are — more diverse.”
Jean-Charles said she intends to use the funding to meet demand, expand the company’s brand and product offering to more than dolls, and continue to focus on the customer base. While she does not have specific products in mind yet, she aims to create all types of products representing our multicultural world.
“We have never had a year where we consistently offered the product, then COVID happened, and brand recognition grew over the summer during Black Lives Matter,” she said. “We ended up going viral and selling out, and we have not been able to keep Zoe in stock.”
Going forward, Jean-Charles said there are so many things to achieve toward “total doll domination,” including her goal of representation in the toy aisle and with hair play.
Healthy Roots Dolls has a small team of under 10 people, but she would like to grow there, bringing on talent with skill sets in creative, marketing and technical, as well as a passion for the work the company is doing, she said.
“I’m looking forward to creating more value for our customers and listening to them to see what they like so we can design for the future,” Jean-Charles added.