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Support AAPI Small Business: Samantha Ong at Joeydolls

At Joeydolls, we are proud to launch our new monthly series – Support AAPI Small Business! We want to use this series as a platform to showcase the amazing work of fellow AAPI small business owners and help them grow.

As an Asian-American owned small business, we recognize the hard work and dedication of entrepreneurs and want to ensure they get the recognition they deserve. Our goal is to provide a platform for these businesses to showcase their products and services, while also offering resources and support for them. Through this series, we hope to create more opportunities for AAPI small business owners and give them the support they need.

For the month of January, we are starting with us at Joeydolls! We interview Founder & CEO, Samantha Ong who created this business to provide the much needed Asian representation for young children. She strongly believes that representation matters! The Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community is often underrepresented in many ways, especially in the toy space.

Joeydolls is a start-up toy company that creates dolls to represent different Asian cultures and to fill the gap by creating more diversity in toys. Through her journey as an entrepreneur, Samantha Ong hopes to inspire others who feel underrepresented and show them that they can make their dreams come true. Join us as we learn more about how Joeydolls is making a difference and how Asian representation matters.

What does your business do and what are your goals?

Joeydolls is dedicated to creating dolls that represent different Asian cultures and to help young children feel worthy and loved. We hope that children can relate to our adorable and playful dolls which are designed with the intention of celebrating Asian culture and promoting diversity. As a young child, having dolls that look like you matter so much! It helps you feel more confident about your place in the world and that is so important.

Joeydolls is committed to creating diverse dolls from different backgrounds so that both babies and kids can feel proud of who they are and their culture. We also hope that in creating these diverse dolls, kids and adults alike can learn about how diverse Asian culture is!

How long have you been in business and how did it all begin?

I started this business in 2020 when the pandemic hit. I own a small business wedding photography and videography studio in Toronto, Canada, and when the entire world shut down in March 2020, I lost about 200K in annual revenue that year and then another $150K the following year. I didn’t know where my next income would come from and we were relying on our savings.

It was stressful but the good news is that it allowed me a lot of time to really enjoy being a mother. My daughter, Joey, was about 1 year old at the time. When I was running my business before, I often felt like I had no time to spend with her. However, with this downtime, my mind and body finally started to rest. I started to think more creatively than I ever had before.

As the rise in anti-Asian hate continued to increase, I felt really worried about the world Joey and fellow Asian kids like her would grow up in. I didn’t want her to feel ashamed of who she is or her background. It made me think back to my own childhood memories, and how I wanted to be like my blonde head classmates. This is because they looked just like the people on TV and the Barbies that I so loved playing with. Without realizing it as a child, the lack of Asian representation deeply affected me and my self-esteem. I remember thinking things like “oh I could never be a leader, or I could never be a famous actor in Hollywood, or I could never be a princess”. This was all because of what I saw around me and I was not blonde or blue-eyed.

As I tried to look for Asian dolls for my daughter, I was so surprised at how difficult it was. That really was not much out there that I wasn’t comfortable with. So realized that many of the Asian dolls were always represented the same way – white skin and black hair and weren’t representative of the different ethnicities and cultures within Asia. In particular, there was nothing out there that represented the South East Asian community. So that’s when I decided to create my own. This is when I did a complete 180 pivot from my wedding photography studio business.

What are some challenges you have faced in running this company, as well as an Asian-owned small business?

There have been a lot of challenges. Of course, the first thing was that I was primarily a stay-at-home mom at the time so my time was very limited. It was very difficult for me to find time to work on this. I was working with a lot of the administration of postponing and canceling wedding contracts, it took up a lot of my free time, although it did not generate any new revenue coming in. It was quite stressful.

I also did not know much about creating toys. I didn’t know anything about sourcing the right fabrics & materials, toy safety and compliance, warehousing and logistics. What was feasible and what wasn’t. We’ve been in the works for 2 years. It has been a huge investment in terms of both time and money.

Because I have been funding this whole project myself it has been challenging. As an Asian-owned small business, there are not too many grants out there to apply to for Asian businesses which would help us enormously. Also, because there are not many Asian-specific products in the mass market, it does not have a long history of proof of concept. I have been told that Asian products have not yet sold well and I should rather focus on my family instead. So there is a lot of doubt and skepticism around me on whether my business idea would even be successful.

What are your thoughts on the changing landscape in the industry?

I hope that I can prove that these dolls will prove that our community has been wanting and needing these dolls for a long time. That we do INDEED support and back each other. Right now I can’t imagine seeing our diverse Asian cultural dolls in a big box department store. But I want to someday go to one of these stores, walk in and see these kinds of products everywhere. I want it to be normalized. It should be normalized.

What are your favourite things about your company?

Despite the skepticism, what really helps keep me going is that these dolls will hopefully help young children. Although there have been naysayers, I have also received a lot of positive feedback. A lot of people have told me that they do not have children and that seeing these dolls have brought them to tears and will help them heal their inner child. Of course, they have also been many parents who have young kids to deeply resonate with my mission. It has been a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, but I always need to come back to my “Why”. Why I began this company in the first place.

We haven’t yet launched our dolls, but we hope to in the next few months! We are getting really close! But I love all the feedback we have received so far. Whether it is the tears of healing or the tears of happiness. These emotions prove that we are doing something really important!

What are your hopes and dreams at your company?

I hope that in creating this company, I will be able to inspire other Asian women to go for their dreams, in particular, mothers. That you don’t have to follow the path that was planned out for you. There is also a belief that when you hit a certain age that it is difficult to pivot and change your life path to follow your hopes and dreams. I want to prove that you can still do it! Most of all, I want to prove it to my children. Instead of telling my children that they can achieve anything they want to, I want to show them that it is possible!

My goal is to represent as many different cultures and skin tones, as well as gender-neutral or boy dolls in the future. I’d like to do different kinds of facial traits, different kinds of hair colours and types, and dolls in modern or regular everyday clothing.

I would also love to bring more awareness and education on Asian culture and diversity. Whether it is more education on the different cultures, but just to help people feel proud of their background in different ways. There are currently more resources for East Asian children but not a lot for South East Asian children. Being from Malaysia, this is a really important goal of mine. I have a bunch of ideas that I hope to execute!

Lastly, I hope we can make our products more environmentally friendly. One of the reasons our dolls were delayed was that I switched suppliers at the last minute because I really wanted to find someone that could help us fulfill my idea of having recycled PET bottle fibre as our doll filling. I’m working on getting more recycled materials even for our packaging. Being a leader in being environmentally conscious in the world is important more than ever.

How can we best follow and support you?

The best way to follow us is through our email mailing list which you can subscribe to on our website at www.joeydolls.com.

You can also follow us at:

Instagram: www.instagram.com/joeydolls
Facebook: www.facebook.com/joeydolls
Tiktok: https://www.tiktok.com/@joeydollsco

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