Detroit woman behind Healthy Roots black and brown dolls honored by Forbes

At 26 years old, Yelitsa Jean-Charles just found out she made Forbes' prestigious "30 under 30" list for her line of black and brown dolls showcasing their natural hair and curl power.

"I remember texting my friend thinking, 'This is so cool, what if I get on the list next year?' And here I am," she said.

But the image of the Healthy Roots dolls came from something the Detroit woman always wanted - a doll that looked like her.

"As I grew up I didn't see women with hair like mine being celebrated as beautiful," Yelitsa said. "So I didn't feel as cute and I realized a lot of girls feel like that."

She found out she wasn't alone. A study showed that only four out of 10 kids love their curls even though 65 percent of the world's population have wavy or naturally curly hair. So she said it only made sense to make products those kids could relate to.

"Healthy Roots started as a class project when I turned a little Rapunzel doll into a brown girl with kinky curly hair," she said. "And my class teacher said this looks like a doll, you should make dolls. So that was basically it. I applied for a grant at my institution and took $4,000 turned it into 50,000 dollars on Kick Starter and made my first doll."

Yelitsa Jean-Charles and one of her Healthy Roots dolls.

The toy company she created has dolls like Zoe and storybooks that empower young girls and represent the beauty of our diversity.

"So mommy-daughter doll bonnets so you can rock them together and protect your curls at night," Yelitsa said. "Her hair is full of curl power and you can wash and style it like your own."

Healthy Roots dolls that launched in 2019 have become so popular - they have already sold out for the holidays. Yelitsa already looking for ways to expand her brand.

"Have a store, have a salon, I think the possibilities are endless, the girls get their hair did, the dolls get their hair did," she said. "There is so much you can do. As long as we are reaching children and have a positive impact we will do whatever we can."

In the meantime, she says she is grateful to be recognized by Forbes because it means her company is making a positive impact and hopefully inspiring others.

"That's one thing I always appreciate, people appreciating me and the work I am doing because it is so challenging," Yelitsa said. "I believe there are so many women of color making, young entrepreneurs making great products and changing the world and that needs to be recognized."

>> To learn more: