Awesome Atlanta Parents: Valerie Alva-Ruiz and Courtney Stillwagon, Founders of Selma’s Dolls
Local moms Valerie Alva-Ruiz (left) and Courtney Stillwagon recently launched Selma’s Dolls, after not being able to find the diversity of religion, culture and physical and mental disabilities in dolls for their daughters. Each doll comes with a book, helping to further celebrate and explain differences. Ages 2 and older. Available on their website for $39.99 each.
AP: Tell me about your idea for the products and what made you jump into production?
Valerie: About a year ago, I decided I wanted to start talking to my then 2.5 year old daughter, Selma, about the beauty of seeing differences in people. And as I was picking up her toys from the bedroom floor, I realized all of her dolls looked the same – there was no diversity in the dolls she was interacting with on a daily basis. I figured OK, no problem, I can easily hop online and buy Selma a collection of soft dolls she can play with, and we can start the conversation that way. But I was surprised that I couldn’t find what I was looking for. Dolls were either too expensive, made out of plastic or didn’t reflect diversity in an authentic way. I felt so passionately this was something that should already be out on the market – especially in 2017 – that I thought, why not do this myself?
Courtney: When Val approached me with the idea, I was at first a bit skeptical that this didn’t already exist. But after several days of searching, we still couldn’t find what we needed. And so we decided to take a leap of faith and go for it! Neither one of us had any experience manufacturing any kind of product – in fact, 99 percent of what we did we had to figure out along the way.
AP: How are your kids involved?
Valerie: Selma, the inspiration for the line, is now 3.5 years old and she loves to take the dolls to her big girl bed with her at night. She also loves reading “Selma’s First Day of School” to the three dolls in the collection whenever she can. She loves seeing how the dolls she’s holding in her hand are also the same dolls she sees in the book. Plus, it’s given her and I a way to talk about a rather delicate and heavy topic – diversity – in a fun, curious, kid-like kind of way. My other daughter, Haddie, is 21 months and loves to pick up the dolls and run around the house with them. She’s a bit too little to understand what they represent, but I love that she is getting exposure to different dolls at such a young age. I also have a third on the way, but he or she isn’t due until the end of May.
Courtney: My daughter, Madelyn is 3 and absolutely adores her dolls. She loves to take them places with her and I love that by reading “Selma’s First Day of School” and interacting with her dolls, she’s learning more and more about the world around her. She never hesitates to make a friend with someone who doesn’t look like her and it’s my hope that as she gets older she won’t be afraid to truly get to know those around her – not just at a surface level. My son, Collin, loves the dolls (and story) as well, and they have provided us a very tangible way to talk about one of his good friend’s brother who has Down syndrome. Both kids have also loved seeing their mom bring a passion project to life. We were recently on vacation in Disney and saw the dolls at the Sugarboo & Co. store in Disney Springs. It was a very surreal experience for me to be able to show the kids the dolls in a retail store.
AP: What do you feel is your mission with Selma’s Dolls?
Both: Our goal is to help parents start a conversation about differences with their very young kids. There’s a lot of research supporting the importance of talking to children early about topics of race and other differences. This isn’t to show how different we are, but instead to teach our children empathy and how to have real relationships. Often, we don’t begin talking about the importance of including people from all walks of life and backgrounds until much later. But we think the conversations need to start early! And for some parents, we hope that our dolls do look like their child, since we also completely understand the value of having a child relate to a doll that looks just like them!
AP: What do you hope to ultimately accomplish?
Both: We hope to ultimately be a helpful teaching tool for parents, but also a lovable and cherished toy for kids. We hope our products are helping parents and kids identify with dolls that look like them (where there was previously no doll in that market) or are helping start a conversation about including others in our daily lives regardless of what they believe in, look like or how they dress.
AP: Do you plan to create more products/ dolls with a similar message?
Both: Yes!! Our ideas for future dolls and storylines run a mile long! If we’re lucky enough to one day get there, we envision an accompanying accessory and clothing line as part of the Selma’s Dolls collection. But our message will never change: we’re about including everyone and appreciating the beauty and diversity that each one of us has to offer.