By Kelly Westhoff
When Kristen O’Meally and Lamia Haley launched their toy company, Kids for Culture, in October of 2020, they never imagined that one year later they would be collaborating with Walmart.
“This is a story about the power of hashtags,” Kristen said. “A buyer from Walmart saw our products on Instagram and sent us an email through the contact page of our website.”
Kids for Culture hadn’t even been in business six months. Before she replied to that message, Kristen Googled the buyer’s name and email address to see if it was real.
Kids for Culture sells four products: a deck of ABC affirmation flashcards, a memory game, stickers, and a deck of emotional literacy cards that feature faces displaying different feelings. All the products are specifically designed for preschool-aged children. The flashcards and game pieces are large and thick, making them easy for small hands to grab and difficult to rip. Not only do the products showcase kids with a variety of skin tones, but they also make use of bold and soothing colors in a way that attracts children.
Before launching their products, Kristen and Lamia—sisters raised in Kentucky—tested them in the real world. They gave the flashcards and game pieces to their nieces and nephews. Lamia had a young child at home with whom she shared the cards. And Kristen, the director of a preschool, brought the items into her classrooms. There, she said, “kids, educators and parents all gravitated towards them.”
Among the Kids for Culture products, Walmart was most interested in the ABC affirmation flashcards. Each card prominently features one letter of the alphabet along with a positive affirmation: A is for Amazing—I am an amazing person; B is for Believe—I believe in myself; C is for Change—I can change the world. Kids for Culture started selling the affirmation cards through its own website in October of 2020. By March of 2021, the cards were also available on Walmart’s website and earning positive customer reviews.
“Walmart was a fan of the affirmation cards, and they asked us to put a spin on the product,” Lamia said. “They wanted a product pair that included a plush toy. They really left it up to us as to what this would look like. We did get some feedback, but it was minimal.”
Ultimately, Kids for Culture created two new products for Walmart. The first is an ABC board book. The 16-page book echoes the ABC flashcards and is filled with positive affirmations for young children. The second product is called Positive Pals. Positive Pals is a line of three different plush baby dolls. The dolls come in three different skin tones. Each bears a positive message on its soft belly: I am Amazing; I am Kind; I am Loved. Walmart plans to package the board book with a Positive Pals doll and sell the items as a gift set.
Kristen and Lamia are stunned by the trajectory of their young business, calling the entire experience “mind blowing.” At the same time, they are proud to be a Black-owned business breaking into the toy industry in the midst of a pandemic. And they are eager for the launch as they’ve had to maintain secrecy about the gift set.
“We’ve only been able to tell family, and we’re so excited to share the news,” said Lamia. “The book is beautiful. The dolls are beautiful. We can’t wait for customers to start interacting with the products.”
“We really want children to see themselves reflected in our products,” Kristen said. “But we also want them to be exposed to others. We don’t just highlight one race or one demographic or one culture. Our products are an opportunity for children to be introduced to diversity.”
Given the growing awareness around social justice issues, it’s important that young children see diverse faces in their literature, media, games and toys. But beyond that, said Kristen, drawing on her experience as an educator, today’s preschoolers are in a unique situation.
“So many small children have been isolated at home because of COVID,” Kristen said. “They’re just now starting to venture out into the world, and a lot of them feel very shy and insecure. … The affirmation cards, the book, the dolls, all of our products—they’re designed to boost self-esteem, to give kids tools they can use to feel confident and ready to meet new friends.”
PC: Kids for Culture
About the author: Kelly Westhoff is a freelance writer who always enjoys talking to women business owners. She finds their energy contagious and their stories fun to share.