Evana Oli wasn’t inspired to go natural by a popping Instagram account or a Youtube tutorial but a comment from her six-year-old baby girl.
“I asked my mom why isn’t my hair straight like my classmates,” said her daughter Zoe. Oli’s family was constantly praising Zoe with words of love and affirmation but that wasn’t enough for the observant child. She wanted to know why what she saw didn’t match what she was hearing.
Oli recalled hearing the words that made her rethink her styling choices. “She looked at me, and back then Mommy had her long weave on, and she was like ‘Mommy, you know, your hair doesn’t look like mine’,” she said. “It stopped me in my tracks.” Zoe even had receipts. “She even called out the brand of the pack of hair that I had in my hair, she was like ‘You have that Jamaican bounce in your hair.”
“She got me thinking you know like ‘Wow I really need to, I need to be not a hypocrite and I need to change and be the example I want. I want my daughter to embrace her hair. I need to start embracing my own natural hair.’ And so she got me to start wearing my own hair.”
Oli was grateful for her daughter’s perspective. “It was very freeing for me,” she said.
Prior to being called out, Oli hadn’t considered the symbols that were being sent to her daughter from the outside world. “She had toys but I wasn’t paying that much attention to the diversity of her toy mix.”
As Zoe was presented with new toys, she gave her mother feedback on what she saw. “A lot of the dolls in the store have straight hair,” she observed. “She made this comment and she said, ‘Mommy, why doesn’t this doll have curly hair. It would be so nice if this doll had locks, or braids, or curls.’ And I was like ‘Oh that’s a cute idea.’ She kept kind of bringing it up and so she got me starting to do research into it.”
What they found was that the many of the Black dolls on the market did not look like the children playing with them and soon Zoe’s curiosity led to her forming her own company. Beautiful Curly Me.
No one in the family had direct experience developing toy prototypes so they used their research to find people to help them bring their concept to life.“We did a lot of kind of sampling back and forth, testing and things like that. You know, obviously working with design partners,” said Oli. It was a hands-on learning experience for Zoe who had an interest in the areas needed to complete their goal. “I like art and I like science a lot. I like science because it’s a cool thing to experience,” she said. She enjoyed the “experiments and different tests,” involved with selecting materials and shapes, as well as the artistic process of developing backstories for the dolls.
Initially only offering 18-inch dolls, the company quickly expanded into accessories thanks to their CEO and Chief Muse Zoe who insisted her doll’s hair be protected the way hers was at night. Today, Beautiful Curly Me offers matching sleep caps for children and their dolls, satin pillowcases, coloring books, printed face masks, and more.
“We have a lot of ideas of going beyond the dolls and really being a lifestyle brand,” said Oli.
The company even coordinated a promotional partnership with Bedtime Bonnet author Nancy Redd where they hosted a giveaway normalizing hair protection.
Zoe has hopes of taking the company from direct-to-consumer to global retail. “We want to be in Target,” she said. “We want to know how do we get into the homes of these girls at a young age,” her mom added. “Everything centers around girls and confidence.” The company attempts to support that confidence by donating 10 percent of its proceeds to organizations, including The Atlanta Mission, Cee Hope, and Room to Read.
Oli is looking forward to sharing the confidence her daughter instilled in her with others’ children. “I want little girls to be able to see these dolls and just feel affirmed and feel like, you know what, I’m beautiful. I have a doll that looks like me.”