As our regular readers will know, many of us at LeafScore are new parents. This guide on the top brands creating diverse dolls (that reflect the true makeup of our communities) is important to us, and our kids. We have some new things to say on this issue because, although there has been a major proliferation of diverse dolls on the market, there is currently a dearth of eco-friendly and non-toxic options.
Table of Contents
- The history of Black and Latina dolls
- Why sustainable and diverse dolls matter
- The big impact of diverse dolls
- The psychology of playing with diverse dolls
- Sustainability and diversity
- Apple Park Dolls
- Apple Park First Baby Plush Toy
- Organic Cotton Alex Plush Doll
- Apple Park Organic Cotton Plush Baby Doll
- Rubens Barn Ecobuds Dolls
- Plan Toys Dolls
- Liewood Organic Iris Doll
- Sewcial Studies dolls
- Cuddle + Kind Mermaid Dolls
- Lottie Dolls
- Boy Doll – Junior Reporter Sammi
- Mari Copeny – Kid Activist Doll – Little Miss Flint
- Doll with Glasses – Rockabilly
- Mia Doll – Wildlife Photographer
- Ikuzu Mermaid dolls
- Minikane dress up dolls
- The bottom line
Diversity matters. Sustainability matters. But what do these two things have to do with each other and why am I writing here about sustainable and diverse dolls for babies and kids?
Our focus at Leaf Score is to help you find products that are healthier and safer for your family, those making the goods, and the wider environment. Promoting more sustainable lifestyles and products is also an act of anti-racism.
The history of Black and Latina dolls
Many of the early Black dolls, such as the Chrissy doll of the 1960s, only differed in skin color and, perhaps, eye and hair color. They were made with the same mold and the same type of hair as the white dolls, meaning natural Black hair textures and facial features still weren’t being represented. Or, perhaps worse, some dolls were made as stereotypical representations of Black people, which only helped cement existing biases and didn’t appeal to kids of any race.
This simplification and erasure of Black and brown bodies, right from birth, continues to this day, though some have tried making things better.
Sara Lee, Bratz, and Mattel
In the 1950s, Sara Lee Creech worked with anthropologist and writer Zora Neale Hurston to create the Sara Lee doll. This realistic Black doll came in four designs with differing skin tones, hair textures, and facial features, to demonstrate diversity within the Black community. These collector’s items likely wouldn’t pass toy safety tests. So, if you do find one, keep it in reserve for when your child is older.
Bratz dolls were another step in the right direction for diversity. Launched in 2001, these dolls sported dark hair, golden skin, and a slightly more representative doll for Hispanic kids. The Bratz dolls were all equals, unlike the Yasmin doll relegated to white Barbie’s Latina sidekick. The trouble with Bratz dolls were the sexy outfits and makeup. Effectively, the dolls traded one type of toxicity for another, plus the toxicity of the vinyl.
Mattel (makers of Barbie) now sells around two dozen dolls with eight skin tones and a range of facial structures, eye and hair colors and hairstyles. This includes a Black doll with vitiligo (view on Amazon). They’re all still plastic though. And Black Barbie still has the same anatomically problematic proportions as the white dolls.
The dearth of realistic dolls of color is why so many small businesses have sprung up to offer Black and Hispanic dolls. Their aim is to better reflect real-life kids of color and, happily, some companies do a great job!
Unfortunately, many of these dolls are not remotely eco-friendly. In some cases, the dolls may even be unsafe for play. This is because the dolls could expose kids to toxic phthalates from their vinyl heads and bodies, as well as toxic dyes, heavy metals, and even choking hazards if the toys aren’t safety tested.
Why sustainable and diverse dolls matter
Representation matters, right from the start. To understand the world and their place in it, and to cultivate empathy and compassion, babies and young children need exposure to a wide range of people. This includes positive representations of people of all races, genders, abilities, and from different types of families.
The big impact of diverse dolls
Diverse toys and media are particularly helpful for babies of color, who are differently able, and who are part of an LGTBQ+ family. It’s essential, though, that ALL babies see positive representations of diversity.
To put it more bluntly, Black dolls aren’t just for Black babies!
Just as exposure to racial diversity is important for kids, so is exposure to people of different genders, sexuality, ability, socioeconomic status, and so forth. Again, books about gender-diverse kids and kids living with disabilities aren’t just for gender-diverse and differently able kids! And Pride rallies aren’t just nice for LGBTQ+ families; they’re a great outing (pun intended) for kids of straight parents too.
For children of every gender, race, and ability playing with diverse dolls can help form a well-rounded worldview. It supports kids to acknowledge societal limitations and barriers and come up with imaginative solutions to help themselves and others achieve their full potential.
The psychology of playing with diverse dolls
It’s notoriously difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from tests on babies and young children, though it seems clear that kids as young as three have an awareness of race and the beginnings of racial bias.
A classic 1940s experiment (called the Clark and Clark doll studies) found that children given a choice between white and Black dolls chose the white doll far more often and ascribed more positive character traits to the white doll. The same was true for white and Black children participating in the study, even when the Black children said they identified most with the Black dolls.
The Clark and Clark study helped demonstrate the negative impact of segregation and helped affect the Brown vs. Board of Education case that led to school desegregation. Similar studies have found the same patterns again and again with children from a wide range of races.
Dolls can help young children negotiate racial identity, their own and others’. Roleplaying with dolls helps children develop a healthy self-image, work out problems, ask questions in a safe way, and learn from other children. It also lets kids take back power that they might lack in real life, helping them to imagine the world differently, feel empowered, and develop strategies for dealing with discrimination and inequality they already experience right from birth.
Sustainability and diversity
What’s the link, though, between sustainability and diversity? I love to highlight companies with a wider sustainability ethos that encompasses social sustainability, not just companies making a token organic product. Or, worse, a greenwashed product!
Every time anyone makes a more eco-friendly choice, whatever their budget, this puts pressure on companies to clean up their act. Long-term, this helps everyone. It’s a small part of dismantling systemic racism, but an important one. It also offers us something tangible to do while governments argue over the fine print of climate change policy.
Climate change, air and water pollution, unsafe manufacturing practices, unsafe housing, and environmental destruction disproportionately affect people of color and otherwise marginalized communities. This includes, disabled people, trans people, immigrants and refugees, and those in queer or same-sex relationships. Marginalized people are also more likely to work in jobs that expose them to hazardous chemicals.
Worldwide, billions of people live in poverty while working in dangerous conditions to produce cheap plastic products that are shipped overseas, used once, and then thrown away. And where does all that dangerous waste go? Back overseas to cause more pollution, or to incinerators in poorer neighborhoods in the US that are predominantly Black.
Buying your baby a sustainable and diverse doll is a drop in the bucket, but that drop can have a big ripple effect. And with all that said, now on to the product reviews!
Note: While I did my best to include dolls of different abilities, I only found one doll with a cochlear implant and one with glasses! If you know of any other diverse and eco-friendly dolls in wheelchairs or with visible disabilities, please let me know as I’d love to add them!
Apple Park Dolls
Apple Park is a fantastic eco-friendly company making super cute fabric dolls, including dolls of color. The company only uses recycled, sustainable, and non-toxic materials, including organic cotton and corn fiber fill or PLA.
Poly lactic acid (PLA) fiber is a great alternative to polyester fiber fill and is made from fermentable sugar derived from vegetable starch. This starch can come from sugarcane, tapioca root, cassava, sugar beets and corn. Most PLA is made from corn, including the PLA used by Apple Park. PLA is biodegradable and renewable, and requires less than half the energy to produce than petroleum-based plastics. PLA also degrades naturally without leaving toxic waste during production or at end of life.
All of the dolls are free of azo dyes and other harmful chemical dyes, phthalates, polyester or plastics, and pesticides. They are dyed with low impact dyes that meet Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS). The dolls meet or exceed ASTM F963 and EN71 American and European safety standards.
The dolls are shipped in plastic-free recycled and recyclable packaging printed with soy ink and the company is owned by a woman of color who is also a mom.
Highlights: 100% natural, GOTS organic cotton and corn fiber fill plush toy made by an eco-friendly company. A perfect first doll!
This is by far my favorite sustainable and diverse doll of color. It is inexpensive and a great first doll for a baby. The doll measures 9 by 4 inches and is made with ultra-soft GOTS organic cotton jersey knit. It is stuffed with hypoallergenic corn fiber fill (PLA) and the dyes are OEKO-Tex Standard 100.
The eyes, nose, and smile are embroidered, avoiding worries over choking hazards from plastic eyes and such. This doll can be spot-cleaned or handwashed with lukewarm water and can be dried on low.
Get this one on your registry to avoid well-meaning family and friends buying you a doll you don’t want!
Highlights: 100% natural, GOTS organic cotton and corn fiber fill plush doll with fun clothes made by an eco-friendly company.
Made with the same all-natural materials as the simpler doll (GOTS organic cotton and corn fiber fill), the Alex plush doll from Apple Park is for slightly older babies who are more interactive. This doll has removable GOTS certified organic cotton clothing (an undershirt and overalls) and accessories and has hand-painted rosy cheeks.
Alex measures 12.5 by 9 inches and is great for ‘dress-up’ time and snuggles.
Highlights: 100% natural, GOTS organic cotton and corn fiber fill plush doll with a removable cotton onesie.
Another great choice from Apple Park, the organic cotton plush Baby Doll is super soft and made with organic cotton and corn fiber fill. The doll has removable cotton clothing (a cotton velour onesie and diaper secured with soft baby Velcro) and hand-painted and embroidered features.
This doll measures 12.5 by 9 inches. Like the other Apple Park dolls, this one can be spot-cleaned or handwashed with lukewarm water and dried on low.
Rubens Barn Ecobuds Dolls
Rubens Barn was founded in 1998 in Sweden by two moms. These days, the company has a homebase in the US, though their dolls are hard to track down outside of Europe. Rubens Barn’s cheeky faced ragdolls come in various styles but it’s the Ecobuds range we’re recommending.
Ecobuds dolls are handmade in a family-run factory in China using 100% organic cotton for the body, hair, and clothes. The eyes are embroidered, and the filling is 100% recycled polyester with Global Recycling Standard (GRS) and Oeko-Tex 100 certification.
The rest of the Rubens Barn dolls are made with virgin polyester plastic stuffing, but the company is aiming to switch all dolls to 100% recycled polyester filling. All dolls come in recycled cardboard packaging.
Ecobuds won the Swedish Toy of the Year ‘Eco-Friendly’ award in 2019.
Highlights: Giant eco-friendly plush doll made with organic cotton and recycled polyester from plastic bottles.
If you’re looking for a giant eco-friendly diverse doll for your little one, meet Basil! This 70 cm doll is made of organic cotton and recycled polyester fiber fill certified to Oeko-Tex 100.
The plush toy is super soft and ready to be dragged about on adventures. Basil has a pair of organic cotton removable shorts and has printed and embroidered detailing with no plastic parts or hazardous dyes.
The whole ragdoll can be machine washed and the doll is suitable from newborn up. The large doll is perfect for dress-up and has long arms for big hugs. The Giant Ecobuds are a limited range, so get one fast if you’re interested!
For every Basil sold, Rubens Barn has 10 trees planted in Tanjung Putting National Park in Central Borneo, though One Tree Planted. This means that your Basil doll comes with a Tree Certificate!
Highlights: Eco-friendly 18 inch tall doll with medium-brown skin tone made with GOTS organic cotton and recycled polyester filling.
Made with organic cotton and recycled polyester fiber fill, Poppy is a cute 18 inch tall plush doll with medium-brown skin and a cheeky, friendly smile. Certified to Oeko-Tex 100, Poppy is made in a family run factory in China and meets or exceeds all safety requirements of the European Union’s Toy Safety Directive.
Highlights: Super cute eco-friendly stroller or car seat doll made with GOTS organic cotton and recycled polyester filling.
This eco-friendly diverse doll is 9 inches by 6 inches and is made of organic cotton and recycled polyester fiber fill certified to Oeko-Tex 100. The toy can be attached to a car seat or stroller and is safe for a baby to gum as it is free from vinyl and heavy metals.
Plan Toys Dolls
Plan Toys is one of our favorite brands at Leaf Score. The company makes eco-friendly toys from rubberwood that would otherwise be burned as fuel (releasing the carbon sequestered in the tree). This wood comes from rubber trees aged 20 or more years that are no longer treated with fertilizers or pesticides. The rubber trees are still tapped for latex for three more years, helping to remove any residual chemicals from the wood.
The toys are wired or glued together using non-formaldehyde glue that is certified E-Zero formaldehyde-free. Any coloration comes from organic color pigment and water-based dyes free from lead or any other heavy metals. So, when your kid inevitably licks or gums these toys, you don’t need to worry (as much!).
The toys meet or exceed ASTM and EN71 safety standards, and the company also carries ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certification for product and service quality and environmental management. Plan Toys has SA 8000 and ISO 45001 certifications too, confirming a healthy work environment and social responsibility.
The rubberwood used for these toys is sustainably harvested close to the company’s factory in Trang, Thailand. An estimated 70% of materials used to make the toys are sourced from less than 30 km away. This helps to provide local income and keep the carbon footprint of these toys very low. The new toy packaging shows carbon emissions associated with each product and Plan Toys tracks and offsets its greenhouse gas emissions.
The toys are made in a factory powered by renewables including solar and biogas generated from the company’s canteen food waste. If any part of the toy breaks, Plan Toys will happily offer a replacement for a small charge, as part of the company’s mission to reduce waste.
Highlights: Highlight: Cute family of four dolls made of sustainable rubberwood and water-based paints.
Plan Toys offers sustainable and diverse dolls made with responsibly harvested rubberwood. These families of four wooden dolls are available in various models including a white, Asian, or Black family.
Intended to represent a mom, dad, son, and daughter, these wooden dolls are representational enough that they could work for gender diverse families and families with same-sex parents.
The 7416 model Doll Family has heads and bodies made of solid rubberwood and arms and legs made with wire that can be shaped to bring the dolls to life. Each doll measures 6 x 3 x 13 cm and the dolls fit the Plan Toys dollhouse perfectly.
Highlights: Cute family of four dolls made of sustainable rubberwood and water-based paints.
Plan Toys also offers another style of wooden doll family made with solid rubberwood. The dolls can be twisted to change postures but don’t have the same wired arms as the other model. Again, this doll family is available as Black, white, and Asian.
The dolls are a little smaller at 2.5 x 2 x 5.8 cm.
Highlights: This traditional looking ragdoll has light brown skin and is made with organic cotton and polyester fiber stuffing.
Made with 100% GOTS organic cotton covers and 100% polyester fill, the Liewood Organic Iris Doll is a decent choice for a diverse doll. It would be great if the fiber fill were PLA but polyester is at least inert and easily washed.
These dolls measure 30 cm tall and have a light brown skin tone with pink cheeks. Liewood also sells a very sweet lovey made with organic cotton in the same light-brown skin tone (view here).
Liewood is a well-regarded Danish brand that’s been around since 2015. The traditional Nordic designs include more muted colors and prints.
Highlights: Imaginative 2D dolls featuring contemporary and historic women of color. Made with cotton and polyester fiber fill (or buy a kit and make your own!).
Available as a ‘You Sew’ or pre-made doll, these Sewcial Studies dolls are created in the likeness of important contemporary and historic women of color. The simple 2D designs include dolls of Kamala Harris, Ellen Ochoa, Sojourner Truth, Septima Poinsette-Clark, Deb Haaland, and many other important figures (mainly in American history).
For older kids or anyone learning to sew, these dolls are a fun crafting activity. The cotton fabric measures 18 inches x 22 inches and comes in a zip plastic bag. The pre-made dolls measure 17 or 18 inches tall and are filled with polyester fiber.
These dolls are a great multicultural educational toy that helps celebrate diversity and bring historic figures to life. The front has a character illustration and the back is printed with educational information.
Highlights: Handmade under fair trade conditions in Peru and Nepal, these mermaid dolls have medium to dark brown skin and are made with cotton and polyester.
Cuddle + Kind offers a range of dolls including a few with darker skin tones. Their main range is made with some plastic elements, but their mermaid collection includes soft body dolls measuring 13 and 20 inches.
The dolls are handknit in Peru and Nepal by women working under fair trade conditions using cotton yarn. They are stuffed with polyester and can be machine washed on a gentle cycle and laid flat to dry.
The dolls are third-party tested to meet or exceed US, Canadian, and European safety standards for newborn toys. Cuddle + Kind offers a Happiness Guarantee, so you can get a replacement or refund quite easily.
For every doll sold, the company donates 10 meals to children in need. Since 2015, this program has provided more than 19 million meals to children in need.
Lottie is a UK company that released its first doll in 2012. The idea behind the company was to create dolls that had the average proportions of a nine-year-old child, rather than the peculiar proportions of a Barbie doll or adult proportions of most dolls.
Lottie Dolls intended to celebrate childhood and promote curiosity, learning, and empowerment, including through STEM dolls. The dolls have a variety of hair textures and skin tones, have varied interests and abilities, and have ball joints and bendable knees for imaginative play. These toys are intended for three-year-olds and up and measure 18 cm (7.5 inches) tall.
The dolls all have nylon hair and are made with phthalate-free vinyl. All of the clothes fit all of the dolls, regardless of gender. The dolls can also stand and have a lot of fun details on their clothing and accessories.
The company released a boy doll in 2013, and in 2017 Lottie launched the world’s first fashion doll with a cochlear implant. The latest doll, released in 2018, is Little Miss Flint, an African American activist doll. The range of seven dolls also includes a doll with glasses (rare in the doll world!).
You can also buy a variety of accessories for the dolls, including a space astronaut outfit and soccer uniform (view accessories).
The dolls are manufactured in ICTI approved factories in China and are tested for safety to comply with regulations in the US, Canada, and the EU.
Highlights: A rare Black boy doll made with phthalate-free vinyl.
Sammi is a rare boy doll who is a junior reporter, dressed for the great outdoors. This Black doll has brown hair and brown eyes and comes with a messenger-style shoulder bag, notepad and pen, and an edition of his school newspaper.
Highlights: Real-life inspired activist doll with medium-brown skin and brown hair and eyes. Vinyl but phthalate-free.
This doll was inspired by the real life activist Mari Copeny, who campaigned for safe water in Flint, Michigan. The resulting Meg doll sports Mari’s signature tiara and a ‘Kids Voices Matter’ t-shirt, with a ‘Stand Up’ badge, campaign placard, and megaphone.
Meg has brown hair and eyes and a medium-brown skin tone. She measures 18 cm and is suitable for children three and older.
Highlights: Phthalate-free vinyl doll with cats-eye glasses!
One of the few dolls I’ve seen with glasses, this Rockabilly doll has a retro style, with a tutu skirt and vintage Varsity jacket emblazoned with ‘Be Bold Be Brave Be You’. She has brown hair and green eyes and red cats-eye style glasses.
Highlights: A Black vinyl doll that is phthalate-free and has a cochlear implant!
The only doll I’ve seen with a cochlear implant, Mia has fun spotted gumboots and a camera to take photos of wildlife and inspire other children to take care of planet Earth. She also carries the second edition of the school newspaper.
Mia has dark brown wavy hair and dark brown eyes and a medium-brown skin tone.
Highlights: Polyester hand-washable mermaid dolls offered in a variety of styles.
Made with 100% polyester, the Ikuzu mermaid dolls are a plush toy and arguably less toxic than their vinyl counterparts. These dolls are available in three styles and measure 10 inches tall. They can be handwashed and laid flat to dry.
Minikane dress up dolls
Minikane is a French brand that exclusively imports Paola Reina dolls from Spain’s Alicante Valley dating back to 1870. Minikane’s secured some exclusive designs from its manufacturer (more of these below) made of soft PVC vinyl that’s free of phthalates. They’re scented with vanilla to smell like a newborn baby – a step that is a personal touch, but ultimately not entirely necessary.
Highlights: One of few-available Asian baby doll configurations on the market.
Made in France, this 34 cm tall Asian baby doll has straight black hair with bangs. The doll is made with cotton and phthalate-free vinyl and scented with vanilla.
Highlights: A one-size Black doll shipped with a dress made of cotton.
A Black doll with medium-brown skin tone and partly curly hair, Charlie is made from cotton and phthalate-free vinyl and measures 34 cm tall.
Highlights: A one-size doll with fringed hair implanted by hand, and painted lashes and eyebrows.
A redheaded Latina or Hispanic doll with fair skin and fringed hair, Christi is 32 cm tall. The doll is made with cotton and vinyl and is phthalate-free.
Highlights: Probably the most eco-friendly dollhouse around! It even has a wind turbine!
That’s right. Once you’ve brought home some sustainable and diverse dolls, they’re going to need somewhere to live. Why not start them off right with an eco-friendly dollhouse.
This absolutely beautiful dollhouse is energy efficient, with a wind turbine, solar panel, electric inverter, recycling bins, a rain barrel, biofaçade, and a blind you can adjust for shade and air circulation. What a great way to introduce conservation and sustainability to kids!
Designed for play after the age of three, the Plan Toys dollhouse won the United States Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award. It measures 45.5 x 55.5 x 56.7 cm (17.91 x 21.85 x 22.32 inches) and weighs 7.04 kg (15.5 lbs.).
Highlights: An eco-friendly stroller made with sustainably sourced rubberwood from Plan Toys.
Take your doll for a walk in the great outdoors in this fantastic stroller from Plan Toys. Designed to face out or in, the stroller measures 34.9 x 51.2 x 49.6 cm (13.74 x 20.16 x 19.53 inches) and weighs just over 2 kg (4.5 lbs.). As with all Plan Toys products, this stroller is made with sustainably sourced rubberwood and is non-toxic and eco-friendly.
The bottom line
Diverse dolls are inclusive and educational for kids. The brands we highlighted here are non-toxic and sustainable for worry free play.