Bratz are everywhere. Yet Kristi Necochea has no plans to buy her 5-year-old daughter one of the dolls popular among girls for their funky clothes, but decried by some parents for their short skirts and heavily made-up faces.
Now, the Temecula mother of three has an alternative: her own dolls.
This month Necochea, 40, started selling a line of dolls, Friends Forever Girls, through her Web site, www.friendsforevergirls.com. Necochea aimed to make the dolls wholesome but fun and stylish without crossing the line into sleazy. In the process, she wants to provide an example for girls such as her daughter.
Necochea first thought of the idea two years ago as a volunteer in her son’s kindergarten class, where she saw that social differences between boys and girls had already developed.
“Girls talk about, ‘You’re my best friend,’ and the next day it was, ‘I don’t ever want to talk to her again,'” she said.
Necochea thought about how those dynamics would affect her daughter, then 3 years old, and started dreaming up a way to teach her about friendship and self-respect in a way that wouldn’t induce yawns.
Necochea sought an antidote to the Bratz dolls, which she thought were “sexualizing young girls.” She wanted to make a contemporary version of the American Girl dolls, which are set in time periods such as the Revolutionary War.
“I thought you could hip up the American Girl doll and make it more about friendship,” she said.
Necochea’s dolls are also characters in a companion book that tells the story of three young neighbors who become friends and make friendship vows called “butterfly promises” — nine pledges in which the first letters form the word “butterfly.”
The sayings include such standards as “Be the best I can be” and “Tell the truth,” but Necochea hopes they are packaged in a way that will resonate with girls.
“It’s things that all parents want, it’s just laid out in a different format,” Necochea said. “I’m not reinventing the wheel here.”
Necochea, who worked in the health care industry for nine years before becoming a stay-at-home mom, was inspired to start the business by the story of a former teacher who created the American Girl dolls. Necochea believes the wholesome image and higher prices of those dolls created a market for her own, which sell for $79 each.
Making the dolls a reality was an often-sleepless journey for Necochea. For instance, a consultant promised she could make the dolls in her factory — and promptly “fell off the face of the Earth.”
And the writer she hired through a Craigslist ad changed the story so much that Necochea had to start over.
“I was so green, completely wet behind the ears,” she said.
Necochea ultimately wrote the story with her sister. She found a family-owned factory in China to make the dolls and visited the factory in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, to look at doll prototypes and pick fabric for clothes.
The dolls are inspired by her friends and family. One of the three dolls now for sale, the artistic Marlee, is patterned after her own daughter, Madelyn. Much as Madelyn pulls together trendy outfits, such as layered skirts with Hello Kitty boots, Marlee is dressed in pink furry boots and blue tights.
“She knows Marlee is really Maddie,” Necochea said of her daughter.
Necochea has a lot riding on Friends Forever Girls. She and her husband have mortgaged their house to sink about $150,000 of their own money into the venture. So far, Necochea has sold about 50 dolls, which are also available at Bears, Buddies & Toys in Temecula. Barnes & Noble has ordered a handful of the books, which are not on the shelves but are available to order at the chain’s stores.
Necochea also has organized four mother-daughter parties, where children make necklaces and read parts of the book. She has received requests for more parties, bolstering her confidence that there is a market for her creation.
“The feedback has been unreal,” she said.
— Staff writer Rani Gupta can be contacted at (951) 676-4315, Ext. 2625, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.