A Conversation with Yelitsa Jean-Charles, CEO & Founder of Healthy Roots Dolls
I’ve admired Yelitsa Jean-Charles for years, first introduced to her necessary work through the powerful TEDx Talk she gave when she was still a senior at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. Since then, I’ve watched in awe as this young woman grew a Kickstarter campaign into a full-fledged entrepreneurial venture, passionately pitching her much-needed concept all over the country; and winning coveted investments from the likes of Backstage Capital and Venture for America.
Her work can be summed up in her quote: “Every girl should feel empowered by the beauty of the kink of her curl; and the color of her skin.” Clearly, we stand behind her mission 100% and it is my pleasure to share a bit of her story with the CRWN Fam.
Who is Yelitsa Jean-Charles? What are you on this earth to do?
I am a 23-year-old Haitian-American.
I’m a lot of things. I studied Illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design and that’s where I really developed my identity around my work. I’ve always been passionate about the role that artists and designers have in this world to educate and create social change.
So that’s what I make sure I do. I realized through my work with Healthy Roots that my goal is not just to empower Black girls, but to ultimately liberate Black women through education.
What is the origin story of Healthy Roots? Why was it important to create it? What makes you keep going despite the inevitable setbacks?
I started Healthy Roots because of my own experiences growing up. I never had a doll that looked like me growing up. This is a shared experience among the 6.5 million African-American and mixed-race girls in the US. Only 4 out of 10 girls love their curls and I, myself, didn’t learn to do my hair till I was 20. That’s insane.
So I started to wear my hair natural and in school work, noticed a lack of representation in children’s media. I saw an opportunity at the intersection of the growing number of children in the US and the number of women now embracing natural. Zoe was born out of a class project where I redesigned Rapunzel as a little Black girl with kinky hair.
Then the rest is history.
I decided that we need more than dolls that are just painted brown. We need educational toys designed to connect with children at a young age. Toys like Zoe.
What have been the major challenges/setbacks you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?
Finding your advocates. When you first start, you don’t necessarily know the landscape that well and are working to build relationships. As you do, you begin to recognize who is actually going to be helpful for you and who just isn’t going to get it.
The most valuable thing you have is time, and I personally don’t want to waste mine trying to convince someone of an opportunity and market that exists simply because they don’t believe in the buying power of African-American consumers, or the fact that “minorities” are now the majority.
What’s one or two things CRWN readers can do to support your work?
You can do two things to help!
We love when people buy our dolls for their little ones or for a friend’s kid and send us pics. We’re working on a motivation board of photos right now.
The other thing you can do is share our work with people who are looking for our product right now.
Where can we buy your products? Anything special happening for the holidays?
You can buy our Zoe dolls at www.healthyrootsdolls.com.
And we do have something special for the holidays! We have launched a new product called the Curl Care Kit. It’s a natural hair starter kit featuring some of your favorite brands, but for kids. We partnered with Shea Moisture, Cantu, Mixed Chicks and Oyin handmade to make this special gift from Zoe to little girls.
The kit gives girls all the products they need to start their healthy hair journey. This isn’t just for the kids, Moms! I’m sure they might share if you ask.
What music (artist, album, song. Etc.) do you have on repeat right now?
The appropriate answer is always Beyonce. I’ve been dabbling with some Summer Walker and Megan thee Stallion.
My heart always goes back to Beyonce, Ariana Grande and Cardi tho.
What is one practice (daily/weekly/monthly) that has yielded the best results for you in business?
Every morning when I wake up, I grab my notepad and jot down my high priority tasks and my low priority tasks. Every hour, I go back to that list and it helps keep me on track.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten, or advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
There’s 3 steps to doing anything:
Figure out what you want to do.
Figure out how to do it.