black dolls

This Former Teacher Creates Black Dolls To Help Normalize Black Beauty

Stephanie Dean has always loved dolls. Growing up, her mother went to great lengths to find Black dolls for her. She felt it was important for Stephanie’s self-image to have a positive reflection of herself during playtime.

Now, Stephanie is paying it forward. Her business, StepStitches, specializes in handmade Cinnamon Annie Dolls and companion products for children of color.

We caught up with Stephanie to find out more about her and StepStitches.

black dolls
Stephanie Dean

How did you learn to make dolls?

Doll making is an extension of my sewing hobby/obsession. When I began making dolls, I had already been sewing for a few years, mostly for myself making clothes, quilts, pillows, etc. I used all the skills gained from those sewing experiences to construct my dolls.

black dolls
Photo credit: Nikia Paden

What inspired you to start a doll making business?

In 2016, I started sewing Raggedy Ann style dolls for my own personal enjoyment. I named them Cinnamon Annie. I loved my dolls, but I couldn’t imagine that anyone else would be interested in such a vintage style doll.

I shared some of my dolls on Instagram and Facebook just for fun. When followers and friends started asking to purchase their own Cinnamon Annie Doll, I was so surprised but happy to have an excuse to make more dolls. As of now, I have made and sold over 400 dolls online and in person.

black dolls

Is there a reason why you prefer to make the Raggedy Ann style dolls? 

The enthusiastic response of my customers is why I continue to make Raggedy Ann style dolls. I always loved Raggedy Ann as a girl and it’s such a full circle for me to be making them for other children right now.

Raggedy Ann is an iconic American figure and I think it is very affirming to have one made in your own image. I am delighted that both the younger and older generations respond so positively to Cinnamon Annie.

black dolls

Why do you feel it’s important for Black children to have dolls that look like them?

A doll is a kind of mini-me to a child. Dolls provide a reflection of children’s humanity. They are a source of comfort and imagination. Children learn self-love from loving on their dolls.

Unfortunately, Black children still face a hostile world of degrading stereotypes, systemic racism, and negative expectations. Black dolls provide to them a powerful mirror reflection of their own God-given beauty and uniqueness.

Photo credit: Nikia Paden

Loving on a Black doll teaches them how to love on themselves. Playing with black dolls, talking to them, and creating imaginary scenarios allow children to express emotions and process situations in a safe way as well as develop imagination and creativity. Black dolls help normalize black beauty for black children.

Where do you see StepStitches 5 years from now?

I will continue to release my popular Cinnamon Annie Doll Christmas ornament. And I will launch girls’ shirts and pillows with Cinnamon Annie’s image on them in February 2020. In five years’ time, I envision StepStitches with an expanded product line, including more children’s books, clothing, nursery, and other products.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship is hard work yet so rewarding. Make sure you build your business on something you love and are good at doing and that people will pay for. You need to have a passion for it because you will eat, sleep, think, and work your business.


-Tony O. Lawson

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