“Sometimes we think life is pieces of disjointed events that happen. Actually they’re not, everything is woven together,” says Dr. Lisa Williams creator of Positively Perfect Dolls.
Acting as the brain behind the doll line, Williams’ background in supply-chain management is what led her to the venture backed by Wal-Mart. After graduating from Ohio State with a doctorate in business, Williams went on to teach at her alma mater as well as Penn State. Eventually, she was recruited by the University of Arkansas. There she received an endowed chair also funded by Wal-Mart.
Conducting research on logistics and supply-chain management as it relates to partnership trusts, she wrapped-up her time at the University of Arkansas with a literary project. Williams found great inspiration in business leaders and decided to write a book about reaching and sustaining success.
Acting on Inspiration
“I interviewed military generals, CEOs from Sears, Proctor & Gamble and Wal-Mart,” Williams says. “Wal-Mart approached me and asked if I’d be interested in having the book in their store.”
Williams’ book Leading Beyond Excellence gained rave reviews and she was later asked to hire writers to create a children’s series. Through her company — of which she is CEO — World of Entertainment, Publishing and Inspiration, Williams accepted.
“Being African American, I wanted to make sure that the books were representative of our community and culture. There were children in the books that were African American, Asian, and Hispanic,” says Williams.
Gleaning that she understood the multicultural community, Williams was then approached by Wal-Mart to create a line of dolls in November 2008. Reflecting on conversations with past students and others who came to her for advice, Williams discovered a trend in self-esteem issues. By highlighting positive self-identity as the basis of the line, Williams is attempting to tackle such issues early on.
“I didn’t know anything about dolls. I didn’t know what they were made from, how long it takes to make them, I knew nothing,” Williams confessed. “What I had was the desire to produce a product that would uplift the self-esteem of our little girls. From that vision I worked to find manufacturers and learn. I researched how to do it.”
Breaking the Mold
Williams spent 2009 and 2010 flying back and forth from China perfecting the skin tone, hair and facial features of the dolls. After choosing fabrics and customized paint for varying complexions and rosy cheeks, Williams convinced reluctant factories overseas to break the mold of African-American doll production. Many of them had experience making multicultural dolls and offered to work of what was already available. However, Williams’ goal is to have little girls recognize the distinct lips, noses, and eyes of the dolls — a doll that is representative of them.
“I knew what was on the market and wanted to be respectful, but I wanted to offer another option. The hardest part was me standing up and holding strong to the vision,” Williams added.
Though she had to learn a bit more about the production process, she had a clear vision of what the dolls should look like. Each one — like Darling Dayna and Marvelous Maria — has a positive attribute to encourage young girls that they can attain the same. The dolls of the DIVA collection are distinguished straight “A” students — Diana a great writer, Abrielle a dancer, and Zair an artist.
Connecting the Links in Business
“The inclusion of Positively Perfect fills a niche,” LaToya Evans, Wal-Mart’s senior manager of corporate communications tells Madame Noire. “We’re the first in the United States to carry them and we’re very happy to have them in our holiday assortment this year.”
After a few years of trial and error, Positively Perfect Dolls hit the shelves in September 2012. Next spring, the line will be sold at similar retailers.
Interestingly enough, Williams founded World of Entertainment, Publishing and Inspiration in 2003, long before she’d lend her expertise to a project that is very fitting. Before working first-hand with manufacturers Williams had a firm knowledge of customs, freight forwarding, warehousing and distribution, which helped in her journey.
Williams’ full-circle in business is a testament to how taking chances within a familiar industry can further develop even those with the highest accolades. Williams is the first African-American woman to graduate from Ohio State’s marketing and logistics program. She is also the first woman to receive an esteemed multi-million-dollar endowed chair in her area of research.
“I knew I had this incredible opportunity to work with the largest retailer on the planet,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that opportunity was used wisely.”