Your name: Tina Pang Mayer
Business name: PenPalGirls, Inc., a maker of 18 inch dolls and doll products
Type of Business: Children’s Goods & Services
Business location: Fremont, California, United States
Reason for starting
The concept for PenPalGirls, Inc. came from my experience as a mother of two who realized my daughters were not fully aware of their cultural heritage and could not appreciate their uniqueness. When my green-eyed daughter of Chinese, German, English, and Irish descent told me that neither she nor I were Chinese because we didn’t speak the language, I felt a great need to introduce her to my customs and traditions. My vision was to develop a toy for young girls everywhere to learn about their own culture and others throughout the world, inspired by my experience as a Chinese immigrant growing up in America and raising two multiracial daughters. The PenPalGirls experience is inspired by real people and real lives—it is a celebration of girls from all around the world.
How do you define success?
Creating products that simultaneously represent my experiences and help other people discover something unique and non-stereotypical about themselves. Our doll Cady’s story is inspired by my childhood experience of my family owning gourmet Chinese restaurants and being a Chinese immigrant growing up in America. Through Cady, I am able to share my Chinese heritage and traditions within a modern day context where girls have a way of connecting with someone with unique heritages and stories like them. PenPalGirls is predominately made up of minority women with unique backgrounds and captures the spirit of the experience we provide. Being able to create this shared experience through the unique stories of people from around the world enrich and define not only our lives but our souls.
Getting our dolls Emma and Cady to look the way they do! It has been such a rollercoaster journey; you have no idea where these dolls came from. We have had Halloween, ventriloquist, I have had a brow lift, and Shrek versions of our doll—nothing like the beautiful Emma and Cady we have today! We went through doll plastic surgery, had to work with an incredible number of factories and send countless dolls back and forth. The evolution of our dolls reflects our growth as a business and brand.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
The biggest struggle has been finding the best resources at this stage of the game. It is very difficult to have all the resources needed as a start-up. But do you know what’s ironic? Our triumphs and struggles go hand in hand…our major challenges end up becoming our major successes. Working with manufacturers to create our dolls as a small start-up was a nightmare and one of our major challenges. Other ones were finding the right people, resources, and timing, but when we are able to overcome them it is most fulfilling. On tough days, it’s all about trying our best and giving it our all every single moment of the day. The other secret is surrounding ourselves with the right people. Their support helps us through tough times and there’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing the smile that your product brings to others’ faces.
Who is your most important role model?
Walt Disney. Everything he touches is transformed into something happy and beautiful, it is magical. He creates stories and characters that have moral centers. His work knows no bounds across cultures, genders, or ages, and he has truly created an experience that has captured the hearts of all. With his pure vision, he has created role models to millions of children around the world.