Jennifer Baker's line of dolls is meant to do more than entertain children. The 35-year-old former toy company costume designer wants her products to change the way girls think about themselves and their possibilities. Her five dolls have realistic bodies, proportioned like healthy, athletic young women, and the play sets that accompany them allow girls to imagine themselves in five careers: scientist, journalist, banker, artist and beauty salon owner.
"Growing up, I saw how meaningful my mother's job as a teacher was to her," says Baker, who lives and works in Philadelphia. "Work can provide a lot of personal gratification. It's important to teach children that work is exciting. This idea is missing from a lot of children's products."
Baker initially proposed the line of dolls in 1994 while working for Tyco Toys, but industry executives were unwilling to take a risk on a product they viewed as too unconventional. Baker felt so passionately about her idea, however, that she decided to produce the dolls herself. "In its advertisements, the toy industry shows girls combing a doll's hair and cradling it, but I knew from my own experience that's not how kids play with dolls," says Baker, a tomboy who liked to take her dolls on "camping trips," build furniture for them and use them as "surgery" subjects. "I wanted to help kids play with dolls the way they really want to."
Between 1994 and 1996, Baker invested some $30,000 of her own funds to secure a patent, buy office equipment and travel to Hong Kong to find a manufacturer. In 1998, as GetSetClub.com officially launched, she secured a $250,000 SBA loan, allowing her to create prototypes and begin marketing the dolls, which now are sold on the GetSetClub Web site and through other sites featuring children's products.
Baker, who estimates 2000 sales at $500,000, admits the venture has not been child's play. Tight financial circumstances and stiff competition from another major toy manufacturer have resulted in slow growth for the company. But Baker says she hasn't come this far to give up. She will soon be unveiling sports-related accessories for the dolls-to include hiking, camping and snowboarding gear-and the GetSetClub site will become more interactive, providing children with information on how to do various activities with the dolls, such as make furniture and create accessories. Maybe Baker should also add a very determined toy-designer doll to her lineup.
Pamela Rohland, a writer in Bernville, Pennsylvania, is anxiously awaiting the development of a freelance writer doll.