Meet Yelitsa Jean-Charles, the founder, CEO, and creative director of Healthy Roots Dolls.
Her company creates Black and brown dolls with realistic hair that can be washed, detangled and styled. They aim to teach young kids how to take care of and love their natural hair.
In an interview with Women’s Health, Jean-Charles explained that the doll “simplifies that process for them so that they can understand and see how it works, so they don’t look at their hair as a challenge but see the possibilities of what their hair can do.”
Yelitsa Jean-Charles was born in Canada and raised in New York. Her parents are both Haitian immigrants. Jean-Charles credits her family for instilling in her an entrepreneurial spirit. According to Jean-Charles, her family owned a farm and property in Haiti and that helped her to “always see opportunities and to maximize things.”
In short, she’s an amazing powerhouse of a woman and entrepreneur.
Here’s what we know about her, and how her products are spreading the message of Black beauty and the importance of diversity to the masses.
She’s a First-Generation Haitian-American
Among her many goals, Jean-Charles hopes that her dolls can help contribute to the Haitian economy and inspire fellow Haitian entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams.
“I would love to make culturally-relevant outfits for our dolls to teach children about the different people that make up the African diaspora,” she told The Haitian Times. “I would also love to come back to my parent’s native country and sell dolls in Haiti as well.”
She Felt Pressure at a Young Age to Alter Her Natural Hair
Jean-Charles has said in past interviews that she was inspired to start Healthy Roots Dolls so that a younger generation of Black girls could have a toy that represented and validated them in a way she didn’t have as a child. When Jean-Charles was a young girl she often felt the pressure to uphold Eurocentric beauty standards, like straightening her curly hair.
“We’ve been conditioned to believe that our hair is difficult,” Jean-Charles told Women’s Health. “And our hair is not difficult. We’re just being difficult on our hair.”
Launching Healthy Roots Dolls was a way for Jean-Charles to teach young people to embrace their natural hair and see beauty in diversity.
“My whole purpose in life is to do work for the next generation,” she explains. “As long as I’m teaching kids to value themselves, put themselves first, and advocate for themselves… If I can do that by just making them feel powerful and love themselves with a toy, then I’m doing my job.”
The Concept for Her Dolls Began in College
Jean-Charles’s struggle with her hair and identity persisted until her undergrad year at the Rhode Island School of Design. It’s there that she credits being able to “step into and own her Blackness.”
“I began to recognize all of the incredible things about my culture that are beautiful despite being taught these elements were less than,” Jean-Charles told Her Agenda. “From wearing my natural hair and identifying with all aspects of my culture, I found comfortability with being who I am despite the thoughts of others. At the end of the day, the only opinion that mattered to me was my own.”
According to Jean-Charles, she was involved in a lot of social justice work as an undergrad and she wanted to find a way to combine her work as an artist with her activism. She realized she’d have the largest impact on the children’s entertainment industry. This led her to her first doll prototype, Zoe. After receiving a grant and reaching her Kickstarter goals, Jean-Charles was able to raise the capital to officially launch her company in 2019.
Her Entrepreneurial Journey is Just Getting Started
In addition to being the founder, art director, and CEO of Healthy Roots Dolls, Jean-Charles is also an active public speaker on all things race, identity, and diversity. She has hosted TEDx talks on the topic of representation and was named to Forbes 30 under 30 list.