Valerie Alva-Ruiz was picking up her two-year-old daughter's toys in her Atlanta home when she realized they all looked the same. “They were all white baby dolls,” she recalled.

She searched online for soft, affordable ragdolls that reflected the diverse world she was raising Selma in. After 30 minutes or so, she found and ordered an adorable African-American doll named Rachel.

When Rachel arrived two days later, Alva-Ruiz introduced her daughter, Selma, to her new friend.

“When she first saw Rachel, she frowned and said, ‘Mommy, I don’t like her’,” Alva-Ruiz recalled. “That morning, I explained to her that while many people may look, talk or dress differently, we all like to do the same things… and that differences are what make our friends beautiful and special.”

Over the course of the day, Selma fell in love with Rachel.

“I thought, if this can happen with one doll,” Alva-Ruiz said, “then why can’t it also happen with other dolls that represent different kinds of diversity?”

She continued her online search, enlisting the help of friend, fellow mom and Coca-Cola colleague Courtney Stillwagon. They browsed Amazon and Etsy, but came up empty. “Everything we found was either too expensive, too mature, or made out of plastic,” Stillwagon said.

Recognizing a gap in the marketplace, they decided to start their own company, Selma’s Dolls, with the mission of teaching children to love, appreciate and embrace differences. They worked quickly, hiring plush industrial designers to create a prototype and working through several iterations to perfect color, texture, size and safety specifications.

Selma's Dolls eventually launched with three soft, lightweight dolls – Ameena, (Muslim), Lola (Mexican-American) and Annie (Down Syndrome) – all made with kid-friendly materials. Each comes with an illustrated book, “Selma’s First Day of School,” in which a young girl dreams about meeting three unique friends on the playground who help her overcome her first-day-of-school fears.

The book also includes conversation starters to help parents talk to their kids about culture, religion and physical and mental disabilities.

“The greatest feedback we’ve gotten from parents is that their kids sleep with their dolls and take them wherever they go,” Stillwagon said. “These dolls were not made to sit on a shelf… we want them to be loved, taken on play dates and to the park, and talked about.”

Selmas Dolls

Alva-Ruiz concluded, “Our dream is for our kids or our friends’ kids to see someone wearing a hijab, or with Down Syndrome, and instead of asking ‘What’s wrong with that person, mommy?’ they say, ‘Look mommy, that person is just like my doll’.”

Selma’s Dolls can be purchased through Amazon and at a select retail locations. Learn more.