Boy, What a Doll!
A diversity-themed toy startup celebrates brown boyhood


By Bob Woods


When Jennifer Pierre (BBA ’15) presented her business plan to the competition’s judges in the final round, she pitched more than just her facts-and-figures-filled idea for Melanites, a line of toys designed for boys of color. She also addressed a number of tangential social issues, including education, diversity and gender. Her presentation left no doubt as to her skills of persuasion. The panel bestowed the Best Presentation Award on Pierre.

“My presentation was more of a storytelling,” she says, explaining that in delivering her pitch many times before, “it really became a human story.” That story began the summer after she graduated from the School of Business, while tutoring and mentoring at a community center in South Miami – volunteer work she’d done every summer since high school. Years of interacting with multicultural families led her to notice the paucity of toys for children of color, especially boys.

“I started researching the market for boy dolls and talking to parents about the options out there,” Pierre says. She gathered focus groups of boys to play with different toys and watched which ones they gravitated toward. She scoured toy stores for dolls representing boys of color and came up empty.

Finally, Pierre made a prototype of one, showed it around and received overwhelmingly positive reactions. So she took the entrepreneurial plunge and created Melanites, a wordplay on “melanin,” the pigment that produces dark-colored skin. A Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign didn’t pan out, “but it got [the product] exposure and traction,” Pierre says.

She developed a website and expanded her product line to include storybooks and games based around dolls “celebrating brown boyhood,” Melanites’ tagline. Today, around her job as a marketing manager in Fort Lauderdale, Pierre is taking orders for an 18-inch, fully articulated boy doll named Jaylen, with plans to produce and ship later this year. Her ultimate goal is to design toys that empower all children to dream big.

Spring 2017
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