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Breaking Boundaries: Joeydolls Founder Shares Journey on Asian Bitches Down Under

We were thrilled to connect with Helen Stenbeck, the host of the “Asian Bitches Down Under” podcast, where Samantha Ong, the founder and CEO of Joeydolls, recently shared her inspiring journey as an entrepreneur. In this enlightening episode, Samantha discussed the creation of the World’s Most Diverse Asian Dolls and the mission behind Joeydolls.

Listen to the Podcast

Podcast Summary

Samantha’s Background:

Samantha Ong, the visionary behind Joeydolls, began by sharing her multicultural background. Born in Malaysia, she moved to Australia at a young age and later relocated to Canada. Samantha’s childhood experiences of feeling different and facing societal expectations led her on a unique path, ultimately influencing her decision to create diverse dolls that combat anti-Asian racism and colorism.

The Creative Process:

Samantha described the evolution of Joeydolls over the three-year creative journey in creating a doll line of Asian dolls. Initially driven by the desire to represent different ethnicities, the first designs were rushed. However, as Samantha delved deeper into the production process, she learned valuable lessons about fabric choices, custom embroidery, and the importance of attention to detail. The dolls currently represent Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipina, Korean, Japanese, and Indian cultures, showcasing the beauty of Asian diversity.

Addressing Representation in the Toy Industry:

One significant theme that emerged during the podcast was the lack of representation in the toy industry. Samantha highlighted the challenge of finding dolls that authentically represent diverse skin tones and cultural features. She expressed her disappointment with major brands falling short in their attempts to introduce diversity and stressed the importance of creating dolls that genuinely resonate with individuals from various backgrounds.

Impact on Children and Society:

Samantha shared heartwarming stories about the positive impact Joeydolls have had on children and families. Notably, a Caucasian child expressed excitement about the Indian doll, eager to embrace diversity and share her space with friends of different backgrounds. Samantha emphasized that Joeydolls aim to foster inclusion and normalize diversity, not only among Asian children but for children of all ethnicities.

Conclusion: The conversation with Helen on “Asian Bitches Down Under” provided a profound insight into Samantha Ong’s passion for creating dolls that go beyond being mere toys. Joeydolls stand as a testament to the power of representation, emotional intelligence, and the potential for positive societal change through inclusive and diverse

Podcast Episode Transcript

Helen Stenbeck
Hi, it is my pleasure today to speak. I’m sorry. I’m going to start again. I missed the line. Hello, this is your host Helen and welcome to today’s episode about agent pitches down under. It is my pleasure today to speak with Samantha on is that did I pronounce it correctly? I should have asked him before Yeah. Um, so Samantha is the founder and CEO of joy doors. It is a boutique toy store offering the world’s most diverse agent dolls. I’ve came across with a mentor this work when I was scrolling through Instagram. Just looking for gifts ideas. For the end of the year for my nieces and nephew then also I’ve got a young daughter myself and so her products and they instantly caught my attention because you rarely see those that are ethnically specific on the market. And I’ve decided to click on a page and took a look through and we connect you know that way really amaze through with a range of the doors that the brand offers. Samantha is currently resides in Toronto, Canada and she was originally found the beautiful Melbourne. So without further ado, I would like to welcome to mentor thank you so much for joining me today our podcast today. Maybe Can we start with you telling us about yourself your background where you grew up and what was your childhood like?

Samantha Ong
Oh gosh we have so yeah, I actually I was born in Malaysia. And then my dad decided that he got a job in Australia that he decided he wanted us to emigrate to Australia to give me a better life and better education. So he got a job in Australia and I was about eight months old at the time so I pretty much like baby. So I yeah, I did want to say like I was pretty much born in Australia. I was like a baby. And so grew up in Australia, basically. Yeah, my entire childhood. It was only really until I started work that I decided to move to Canada. But before then, I would always be like a creative person. So I grew up in Melbourne. I do remember, you know, like being very conscious that I was Asian that I was like the other and I always I always thought like my classmates who were blond, blue. I was so much prettier. I wanted to be like them. I always felt that I couldn’t get like a boyfriend or anything like that because you know, I I thought they were so much prettier, right? So yes, I had that creative instinct I always love like love photography. I love like designing online. Internet was coming in I’d love designing websites. And then you know when it came to university, I was doing pretty well in school, you know followed that like Asian stereotype being good at math. All of that and like we’re even when I dropped chemistry, my teachers were like, I can’t believe you dropped chemistry. And like I just wasn’t interested. I wanted to I wanted to explore like digital media and stuff like that. And I remember like my teachers and my because my parents strongly like like dissuaded me from doing like that type of path. I remember them saying to me like that doesn’t seem stable, like you know all the things like why don’t you do something else? So I didn’t know what to do it at all because it just wasn’t interested in anything else. And so but I ended up just doing a commerce degree at the University of Melbourne. And I feel like when I did that I didn’t know at the time that it really wasn’t for me, but I just completely lost interest in studying. And I just felt like maybe I was burned out and I didn’t realize like that just wasn’t the career path for me. I just couldn’t like click in to like whatever was being taught to me. I tried and just like yeah, so I still continue down that path because I just thought like, that’s what I had to do. And so I ended up in I will say boring, all insurance. And I did that for oh gosh, too long. And that’s when I started to get really bored so that I did that for almost two years out of university and then it just completely didn’t know what to do with myself. So I decided to move to Canada on my own I just quit my job and then I just moved to Canada on my own and then started that immigration immigrant like journey on my own. Like not knowing anyone actually moved back right after the financial crisis. So it was like really tough finding a job. But I was just determined to make a new life on myself. And because it was so hard to find a job I ended back in and because that was all that I my experience I had to offer at the time. And so I did that like total I did that for like 10 years. Yeah, but in between, I started I just knew that it wasn’t for me like I remember, I just couldn’t wake up in the morning and like to go to work. The dreaded going into work, I just couldn’t take it anymore. And I just like I always loved photography. So my husband said Why don’t well he was my boyfriend at the time. And he said, Why don’t you try doing photography and I was like, oh, there’s no way you can make a business out of it. But I decided to anyway. And so then I thought of wedding photography business. And then I really felt like when I started doing that, like oh gosh, this is exactly what I was meant to do. My whole life. This all came down to this moment. I found my life like goal and my it was my passion. I loved it so much. I put everything I had because I loved it so much. I put everything I had into it. And then it really became my life so actually so much it overtook my life and then it was only until I became so successful and then, you know, I was working all the time. And then it was only until the pandemic happened. Like even when I had my daughter I didn’t stop like I didn’t take any leave. I was still working right through it. Like I didn’t take any break. And then it really took the pandemic to force me to like take a break. And I realized like what what I was doing and so it was like a blessing in disguise for me even though like It was very stressful financially because we relied so heavily on my income and you know providing for the family because my husband works but it you know we both contribute you know equally to you know, the finances and everything. So when I lost like very practically two years worth of income. During that time it was you know, pretty stressful. And then I just thought, well, if I can’t work out who am I? I really had to like peel back those layers and also rediscover myself as a mother that I didn’t give myself the chance to one I was so focused on working Yeah. And so I’m just like, sitting around, you know, taking on this like new motherhood journey. And I’m watching you know, the news unfold of you know, during the pandemic and you know, provides an anti Asian hate and like, all those like floods of feelings. of you know, being scared of how I look. being ashamed of where we come from because of all that that sentiment that that was happening, you know, around the world, and also what that meant for my daughter. I just was so scared that it what kind of world is my daughter gonna grow up in? So that’s when I started to look into adults because I couldn’t we couldn’t go outside and we weren’t we took that very seriously. So you know, we didn’t see anyone at all. So I started to look for like a playmate but my daughter was worried about her, like getting along with other people and you know, getting lonely as I felt. So, yeah, I was looking into dolls and I just couldn’t believe that. There wasn’t really anything out there that really represented us even to this day. And I just, you know, like I did mention thinking about my experience like playing with blonde dolls and then also having that connection to my classmates and saying, Oh, well they they’re so much prettier even on TV. We don’t really see people that look like us a certain way. You know, I was in a position or you know, like, I just didn’t feel like we were valued.

Helen Stenbeck
Yeah, I had so much questions from what what what prompted you to choose Canada was Canada, your first choice when you wanted to? I guess move out of the home or away from your parents. Did you have any other options?

Samantha Ong
Yeah, so actually, my goal at the time was to to work in finance in New York. So I thought like, let me get as close as possible to New York because it was during the financial crisis. So I knew that I couldn’t just like pick up and move to New York and find a job especially with a work visa situation and everything. And so it was good with Canada because of the Commonwealth arrangement I could easily come over here. The I came on like working holiday visa. So I was lucky that I could. I was young and young at the time, so I could apply for that easily. So I took advantage of that. And then I wanted to move to New York and then it ended up that I decided not to that I decided oh you know what? I really do enjoy being in Canada so then I stuck around in

Helen Stenbeck
Canada. Yeah. How was your How was your parents reaction of you moving so far away? It is quite a long distance compared you know, it’s not like New Zealand or, you know, somewhere near Asia.

Samantha Ong
Yeah, my parents were like, Why don’t you just move to Singapore? Or, like, even when I was thinking about moving to Sydney actually for university I was planning to go to University of New South Wales. And they were even at the time like suddenly again, they’re like, why would you want to move and all this so they definitely felt that I was abandoning them. They were really upset that I wanted to go all the way across the like, you couldn’t be somewhere like close it. I had to be on the opposite side of the world. At the time, I just, I remember like, back then I had this obsession with me Oculina with that Gossip Girl and I

Helen Stenbeck
think we all did, yeah, I can

Samantha Ong
see, so that was you know, my dream at the time. And then I just realized, I think somewhere along the lines, I realize I just didn’t want to work in finance and have that life.

Helen Stenbeck
Yeah. And it worked out well. For you. I think. Yeah. Um, let’s talk about toys. That’s what we’re here for today. I don’t remember much of the toys that I had when I was you know, little. And because my parents they were more focused in academics. I wouldn’t say they’re focusing academic side but they got a lot more books for me and my siblings when we were growing up. Maybe one or two plushy toys for me and my sisters. My mom has this really extreme OCD about cleaners. So she’s like constantly cleaning in plushy toys or her is like, Oh, I have to wash it all the time. I remember I have this male or female cousin, who had a lot of Barbie dolls that I really envy back then. And I remember more of the social interactions with my friends playing games outside skipping ropes, so not much of the toys. What about you? What did you grow up with? Did you play with a lot of, you know, a specific kind of toys?

Samantha Ong
Yeah, definitely. Bobby was the one with the most. And of course, there was Polly Pocket, I guess. Yeah. So those are the two ones that I played with a lot. And I even remember my mom got me this doll that it had like you could it was like pregnant so you could put the baby in the belly and I can’t remember the entire functionality but even like pee like if you said it like water would pee and like so I think dollars were a big part of my life. But even I was going back of my childhood photos and I found a few photos of myself playing with the dolls and there were all blonde I think if I recall there might have been like one brunette on but definitely not like black hair or any of it like various skin tone. So I when I was growing up, I was like, a lot darker like being out in the sun. I’ll let that and I didn’t really think of it at the time. But now like as an adult, like how we see up on media and stuff like that and like especially in an Asian community like we have this whole like I should say we but there is a perception that you know, white is better like like there’s that. Like try not to get freckles on your face and always. And so in the last couple of years I started like doing like skin brightening and stuff like that. So and then even when I had my daughter before I had my daughter was told, like I hope you know she has your husband’s Korean fair skin and all this stuff. So like, you know, it’s like something that happens that that doesn’t really get talked about that much. But it’s it’s definitely prevalent and that I don’t want to continue that down the generation and hope that we can change that narrative that you know all all skin color is beautiful, no matter how you look and you know, also that whole like especially we saw this during the pandemic where you know, those that sentiment of like, you know, go back to China or you know, this whole this perception that we’re all Chinese. So, this is something that I because my family, my husband is Korean and you know I’m Malaysian Chinese like I really wanted to like really celebrate our culture through the dolls and that’s where that idea really came about. With my daughter was around like one years old and we would it was her birthday so we would put her in like Korean humbug and then Chinese outfit dress. And so I was like, What will we do this with? You know, our children like why can’t she see herself in the dolls that she plays with? Yes, yes,

Helen Stenbeck
I think ratio implications for the type of toys that parents or their guardian choose is very important. It you know, the kids want to play of what they eat actually represents themselves as well. Like you mentioned that when we were growing up, there’s, you know, rarely any dogs that actually represent us. So we can’t be what we can’t see. So, do you think that toy market’s current current society is to buyers? Do you think that they’re still very focused on a very monoculture or is a very generalized I do feel like it is very generalized, as in you know, girls should play justice boys should just play with that and there’s no diversity of race representation in you know, the toy industry. What do you think of that?

Samantha Ong
Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s so much excitement when you know, big brands, I bring out new dolls that are supposed to represent different cultures or races and always fall short in my opinion, because when they finally do bring them out, they don’t have that representation that I feel like we’re really craving for because they still don’t quite look like us still. And in doing so, it makes me feel like well then if we so doesn’t look like us. What are you trying to say? Like, it looks like us, is it bad? So it almost does like the opposite effect. Because I look at them and think well, they still look Caucasian. And what are we trying to say about that? Are we trying to say that, like, we should still look Caucasian? Yeah. So yeah, I hope that it will change that. That I hope that they will see that there is such a need for it, and that I’m thinking that maybe they’re too scared to like dip into what they think is like a niche market, but each market has been so it has been such a need for so long that I you know, to think that we’re so niche and that we’re not valid enough to have something that really represents us. It was also you know, telling.

Helen Stenbeck
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a bit similar to the entertainment industry as well, you know, very long time. People of colors, actors and actors hasn’t been really presented on screen and now the past 10 years and it’s kind of blew up and you know, the production companies finally realizing that there’s actually a market for everyone, you know, craving for seeing different sorts of diversity represented on the screen. That’s about your creative progress when you design in the doors. How do you do the research and how is a develop and what’s the production like, you know, from start until we see a complete doll?

Samantha Ong
Yeah, so it has been like quite the journey has been three years at this point. And so it hasn’t been that long because I have done such, like so many iterations and it has been such a learning process for me. At the very beginning. I didn’t really fully conceptualize what I wanted for the dogs. I just wanted to get something out there. So I felt like the very first idea of the dog was very rushed. I just like had this idea I wanted to do a Chinese dollar Korean dog definitely, you know, have the different ethnicities, but I didn’t really go into full detail about what that would mean. Like you have a good vision for it. So only in time I started to really have a better vision. And I also know what our production capabilities were, because I had no idea I have no like fashion experience knows. I’ve tried sewing so many times myself. I am horrible at it. So like, but I tried to do all my own research so even though I didn’t sell them myself like I really learned like, all like the different processes and like what was like possible and what was like not possible, especially in a larger scale. Because initially, I actually had the idea of doing them all locally, like producing them all locally. And then of course, costs were like just enormous. Most of all, I struggle to find the right skin tones like you would think that you could in this day and age they go to a fabric store and go I want this color beige or this color brown. It just wasn’t available. And then even just finding like, for example, a Chinese dress I wanted like red and gold fabric. And like, you know, it’s very difficult to find that very specific fabric. So I had to take this idea overseas, and even overseas it was like hard to find like very specific skin tones on that we really customed So, yeah, that’s when, like, learning what we were able to achieve like and what we were able to do like and how it affected the end result I changed because initially I thought we could only do this type of doll and then and that’s why like the fabrics weren’t that great or like the design was very simple. And then realizing, oh my goodness, I could I can actually do a custom embroidery. I can do like print out like the gold pattern that is on the Indian dress right now. Initially, we thought that it wasn’t possible we had to find the right fabric and then do it or stitch it in a certain way. But like a lot of the designs were all custom made. And so that’s when I you know, I was able to redesign the doll in the way that we wanted it. And so

Helen Stenbeck
sorry, I’m just gonna Okay, you’re out to you at the moment. How many varieties of dollars that you have?

Samantha Ong
Yeah, so we have Chinese, Vietnamese Filipina, Korean, Japanese and Indian so six. Initially, I had like the grand idea of doing I think I had nine nine sketched out and then potentially doing like, non cultural ones like just like dolls and like everyday sort of outfit, commodity and or everyday outfits. But then it was just too enormous to do too many at once. Like even when I would talk to people like in the industry, I would say I’m doing six dogs, and they’re like, sick. Like, why don’t you just start with one, maybe three. But I really I was super stubborn about it. Like I’m like no, I’m gonna do six because like, of what I wanted it to represent that and what I wanted to represent is that if when you look at the dolls together you can really see that Asian diversity like that we’re not like one monolithic group that we’re all have different skin tones and yes, I still need a want to develop more skin tones. But of course more ethnicities, but at least I could say like look, even just with these six doors, how beautiful they are together and how different they are. They all have their own stories. And so I think like although it took much longer to do six like I see other people bringing out like products like so quickly, like maybe like one product, but it took us so much longer especially our production because we did have such diverse diverse products that we had to reduce. Yeah,

Helen Stenbeck
yeah. Um, what roles do you think that the emotional intelligence play in your work as a doll maker, you know, how do you feel when you’re creating these dolls?

Samantha Ong
Yeah, so I really do hope that these dolls I hope I help people and talk about like, our culture and also just like really normalize diversity among children. I really hope that these dolls aren’t just for Asian children that they are for all children to welcome into their home. I actually recently had a message on my Instagram. Other reached out to me and she said that she’s Caucasian, about her friend at school at all of diverse backgrounds. And so when she saw the Indian doll, she immediately wanted to get the doll and was so excited to get this because, like a lot of her friends were of Indian descent. Or South Asian descent. And that it would be so wonderful for hat to for her to have in her home to instead of just having someone that that like a doll that looked like her like and like that is so much more representative of the world that she she lives in but also we all live in. So I think that is so nice that these dolls aren’t just like a toy than they do represent so much more that they can give so much understanding and I really hope that it fosters a sense of like inclusion for all all all, all people and all different types of like, look, you know, even my children like if I ask them which doll they like, they they naturally I never push them on any doll, but they they love the Indian doll on the Filipina doll, which are the skintone dolls. And I don’t know if they’re like consciously aware that of what you know what they’re liking, but it like to normalize like darker skin tones at this age I think is so important so that we can like foster this world that really does embrace all colors. And what that could mean for you know, the for the future.

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