Stacey McBride-Irby, cofounder of The One World Doll Project Inc., had 15 years invested in corporate America as a project designer at Mattel in El Segundo, California, before deciding to make a radical career move.
One simple question from the project’s cofounder, Trent T. Daniel, in 2010 changed the landscape of her life’s work with their creation of the Houston, Texas-based company.
“He asked me what my dream would be and I said to create my own fashion dolls. This was a huge leap of faith and this was the hardest choice I ever had to make. I was ready mentally but I wasn’t ready for the no benefits and paycheck,” McBride-Irby recalled. “The whole work-life balance with two children was difficult and corporate America took a lot of my time so I felt like I was growing [professionally] but I didn’t just want to be a doll designer.”
McBride-Irby spent more than a decade designing dolls for Mattel, which included many industry staples such as the Disney Princess Collection and Barbie Career dolls, as well as creating the company’s first African-American doll line, So In Style, in 2009. Her vision for the industry, however, stretched further than just doll design and play, which was why she created The Prettie – an acronym, which stands for Positive Respectful Enthusiastic Talented Truthful Inspiring Excellent – Girls! dolls for The One World Doll Project.
“I didn’t want to leave out other nationalities that are overlooked in the fashion isle. I can’t say all because there are only five [Prettie Girls!] dolls, but I want to create dolls for girls that don’t just have blonde hair and blue eyes,” McBride-Irby explained, noting that the ethnicities – African, African-American, Caucasian, Latina and South Asian – and physical characteristics are just as important as the stories behind each of the dolls.
“A basic Barbie doll looks more Caucasian and I wanted girls to know that it’s OK to embrace your fuller lips, and larger butt and curly hair,” McBride-Irby said, adding that each doll also stresses the importance of academics and community service as attendees of the fictional Dream Academy of Excellence.
“There are so many negative influences out there for our girls and with a story it makes them more relatable: one loves to cook, one to recycle, one is spelling bee champ,” she noted.
McBride-Irby credited her time at Mattel, especially her early years under Kitty Black Perkins, as well as her prior struggles to gain access into the industry, for her professional and artistic growth.
“I got my first job as a design assistant for an entrepreneur and then I started out as a customer service rep and then a design assistant and then worked at another fashion job but my jobs were only lasting for six months to a year. I began to wonder if I had chosen the right career,” she recalled. “[Working for] Mattel had never even crossed my mind but I loved toys and playing with Barbie. I cold-called the designer [Perkins] and got her voicemail and called her again after a month.”
McBride-Irby’s persistence paid off when Perkins brought her in for two rounds of interviews. “I had never designed a Barbie fashion in my life and I had to present it to her at my second interview. It was a red jumpsuit. They never designed jumpsuits for Barbie so it was really an out-of-the-box experience,” she recalled.
McBride-Irby credited the red jumpsuit design, her time at fashion trade school and her dedication to the craft for landing the job as an assistant designer at Mattel, as well as a mentorship under Perkins.
The scope and breadth of her designs have come a long way since her early days under Perkins, McBride-Irby said, adding that thankfully she only has to concern herself with the artistic side of the business at The One World Doll Project, while her cofounder handles the financial aspects.
“We always say that we each stay in our own lane and Trent’s lane was to get funding for the dolls and mine was to get the dolls built and their sculpting and the fashion. I didn’t have to worry about how to grow the business and get funding and he didn’t have to worry about the design,” she explained.
Such delineation allows her to make her own schedule and create quality time for her husband and their two children, ages 13 and 11.
“You can have it all, you just have to know how to create a balance. With Mattel it was very difficult and you have to have a support system; I have my husband and my mom and dad live close,” McBride-Irby said. “With One World Doll, I am able to work from home and set my own hours … the kids love me being home. It’s just a balance of support systems and you create date nights with you and your husband but you need personal time too.
“I think that women are happier when they are doing what they are passionate about,” she continued. “I encourage women who have that 9 to 5 to find something on the side and then grow it into the business.”