Kentucky-Born Sisters Create Kids Product Line, Kids for Culture, Focused on Diversity and Self-Love
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Soon after purchasing a house, Kristen O’Meally went on Instagram in search of decor and color inspiration. While scrolling through the site, she came across flashcards with images of children on them. It struck her that every flashcard only included images of Caucasian children.
“I thought, ‘This would be great if it represented all races rather than just one,’” O’Meally says. “At that moment, a light bulb went off in my head.”
She called her sister, Lamia Haley, and the two began to brainstorm. She brought up the idea of creating flashcards with different shades of skin tones including African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, biracial and multiracial.
They took it a step further, thinking how neat it would be if they could find a way to inspire kids to feel good about themselves by using words of affirmation. They decided to make alphabet flashcards with encouraging assertions for each letter. For example, “A is for ‘I am amazing,’” “B is for ‘I believe in myself,’” and “C is for ‘I can change the world.’”
“It’s all about affirming yourself every day,” Haley says.
The women, both moms, recognized the importance of positive daily affirmations, particularly for children so that they can start at an early age countering negative self-talk and self-thought.
“We wake up every day, and based off our thoughts and feelings we determine how our day is going to go,” O’Meally says. “If we teach children to wake up and have a positive take on who they are and where they come from, it could serve to really change their overall quality of life.”
It took the sisters about a month and a half to develop the final design of the affirmation cards.
“The only marketing we were doing was on social media,” O’Meally says. At the time, they had a small following – around 200 to 300. Now they have thousands. Their posts offered parents tips on how to treat their children with regard to diversity, self-love and self-awareness. For example, one of the best things a parent can do is cultivate diverse friends themselves. The sisters knew that research has proven that adults who engage children in culturally educational experiences help build self-confidence, increase appreciation and inclusion of diverse beliefs, and maximize children’s academic achievement.
In October of 2020, O’Meally and Haley began selling their affirmation cards on their website, kidsforculture.com. Four months later they received an email from the buyer for Walmart’s baby department. She had found Kids for Culture on Instagram through hashtags and was intrigued by the brand. She reached out because she was interested not only in selling the sisters’ affirmation cards at Walmart, but also expanding the line by adding a book and plush toy.
“Our minds were blown,” Haley says. “It’s true that Kristen and I had talked beforehand about what we would do if someone contacted us and said they wanted to sell our product, but we were joking. We joked about it but spoke it into existence!”
The company allowed O’Meally and Haley free rein over the design.
“We got to design the dolls, which was great because they suggested a baby doll or stuffed animal and we wanted it to be doll with different shades of complexion,” O’Meally says. “I knew I wanted to do dolls that look like actual babies, with baby hairs on the tops of their heads.”
The two-piece toy set called Positive Pals with the “ABC Affirmation” book sells for $14.83 and is marketed to build your baby’s confidence with positive words. The women decided to add affirmations to each baby’s onesie. One says, “I am kind.” Another reads, “I am amazing.” A third says, “I am loved.” The dolls come in brown, dark brown, and fair.
“We designed the affirmation cards to reflect a different skin tone with a pop of color to catch children’s eyes,” Haley says.
When O’Meally and Haley were originally contacted, the plan wasn’t to launch the product until February of 2022, but once the Walmart vice presidents saw the adorable dolls and colorful book, they decided they wanted to sell the product for the 2021 holiday season. That meant expediting the timeline, which might not have been difficult except that a pandemic was happening, which exacerbated shipping delays. The ladies finished all of their designs by mid-April, and then production started immediately. They officially launched on walmart.com on November 1, and sales soared.
“We actually sold out in various regions including Kentucky and Tennessee,” Haley says. The team immediately began working on getting more back in stock the following week.
“We’ve had a lot of great feedback from folks,” O’Meally says. “People are loving the dolls.”
One Amazon reviewer raved, “Love this doll and the book! The doll is super soft, and my daughter loves to cuddle it. The book is amazing, the affirmations are perfect for every child.”
Another said, “This is one of the best diverse dolls anyone could purchase. They are super adorable! The soft plushness was a thing all by itself. Would 1,000% recommend!”
One reviewer wrote, “The most important part IMO is the concept of diversity being incorporated with learning! What a phenomenal product!”
The sisters already have plans in the works to expand the line to create even more ethnicities and shades. They also recently released a new product – a skin career puzzle.
“There are 10 different skin careers with Kids for Culture characters,” O’Meally says. “You can have different kids from different backgrounds from different occupations. Whatever you are feeling that day, you can be that.”
They also have another book coming out soon and are working on apparel. In the future they hope to get into the digital space with all of their characters and cultures.
The Positive Pals are not named, as that’s half the fun of doll ownership. “We want the kids to be able to name their own doll after themselves, their friends or close family members,” Haley says.
The sisters hope that these dolls and their messages will empower children to love themselves for who they are and where they are from.
“Our goal is to start early in doing that,” O’Meally says. “We want children to look at these dolls and think, ‘Oh, this looks like me!’ We want them to embrace what they see in their dolls.”
The sisters, both born in Lexington, attended high school in Louisville. Now O’Meally lives in the D.C. area and Haley resides in Nashville, though their parents still live in Louisville.
“We are always there,” Haley says. “Our everything is in Kentucky. We are Kentucky girls.”
As if creating Kids for Culture hasn’t kept them busy enough, Haley had a baby during the process and O’Meally worked as a preschool director during the height of COVID-19.
“Building the brand was a nice creative outlet during such a stressful time,” O’Meally says.
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