How an ‘American Girl’ Character Is Born

Photo by Terren, Flickr

The company is meticulous when it comes to product development, particularly for the BeForever line. “It takes about three years to launch a new character because you do a lot of research,” explains Opland. The BeForever books tackle a range of difficult issues—Addy Walker is an escaped slave, Samantha speaks out against child labor—and so American Girl enlists historians, museum curators, and linguists to carefully craft each character’s narrative. Research trips are taken (to Santa Fe for Josefina, New York’s Lower East Side for Rebecca) and advisory committees are formed.

In the case of Kaya, a nine-year-old Native American girl in the Northwest, American Girl worked with the Nez Perce tribe to ensure that her story, as well as her appearance, were as authentic as possible. As a result, she’s the only American Girl doll without her two front teeth showing; the tribe explained that Kaya would have never shown her teeth like that, as it’s considered a sign of aggression in the Nez Perce culture. They ensured that everything from the positioning of her braids to the patterns on her “pow-wow outfit” were historically accurate. A visit to the Rocky Mountains’ Lolo Trail also contributed to the development process.

Julia Rubin writing for Racked about the business model and enduring appeal of American Girl dolls.

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