By Elli Villegas
Issue 127, November/December 2004
When her daughter, Veronica, was three years old, Margarita Maria Mesa Leal became pregnant with her son, David. She wanted to explain the arrival of a new family member to her little girl and felt the process would be easier with visual aids. Using a plastic doll, she proceeded to explain some of the basics of conception, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. Veronica grew more enthusiastic about being a big sister and one day asked, "Mom, can you make me a little brother for my mother doll?"
Margarita, who is from Colombia, applied her expertise as an industrial designer to the creation of the doll. Soon thereafter, she created a father doll, and then a girl doll that resembled Veronica. Margarita had been thinking about creating a home-based business that would give her more time with her toddlers, so she turned the doll project into a small business enterprise. The idea for the Amamanta Family of anatomically correct dolls had been born. (Amamanta, a Spanish word for breastfeeding, is composed of two words that mean love and protection.)
Margarita's dolls are unique not only because they come in family sets representing different cultural and ethnic groups but also because they are anatomically correct. The pregnant mother doll has breasts to demonstrate breastfeeding, and the baby comes out through her birth canal. The father comes complete with a penis and testicles--underarm and pubic hair included. Boy and girl dolls are also anatomically accurate. The sets vary in facial features and skin color, to represent African, Asian, and Caucasian as well as Hispanic families.
Through trial and error, Margarita sewed dolls day after day, night after night, until she realized that she needed help. Through her affiliation with a charitable organization, she recruited a few women to make the dolls by hand. Many of these women were on the verge of homelessness; their training in the process of making dolls would give them new skills with which to earn a living. Margarita resolved to work with these relatively unskilled women because she wanted to help her community, and because she couldn't afford to hire professional seamstresses. She borrowed money from some family members and, after a lot of legwork, was awarded a government-sponsored loan to help launch the business. She bought a few sewing machines and put the women to work creating the dolls' facial features and clothing.
At the 2001 La Leche League conference in Chicago, the Amamanta dolls stole the show. Parents, teachers, and therapists loved them. Margarita took careful notes on product modifications that would make her product gain more mass appeal. Meanwhile, back in Colombia, the dolls were selling incredibly well at artisan fairs. Within a year, Margarita had 42 employees, who are like her extended family. Because these women now depend on her for their income, she feels a strong responsibility to increase sales.
Margarita explains: "I didn't come from a rich family or marry into money. I am simply a middle-class woman trying to build a business with a product that will bring good things to families. It was no easy task dealing with the loan officers in my country, and one family member even charged me a fairly steep interest rate on the amount I borrowed." With no income flowing in, Margarita had to pay her staff from her own pocket for nearly a year.
Through networking with people at trade organizations and international gift fairs, Margarita met a fellow South American who is now the US-based distributor for her dolls. Margarita Maria Mesa Leal also sells Amamanta Family dolls directly to parents via the Internet (www.amamantafamily.com) and at specialty stores, and she has added undergarments for the whole family.
Anatomically corrrect, Amamanta Family dolls are great aids in teaching your kids about pregnancy birth, and breastfeeding.