The youngster hopes her creations help young Black kids "feel more beautiful and confident in themselves."
9-year-old Zoe Oli loves wearing her hair in different styles. If one day she's sporting an afro, the next day she might fancy some cornrows or puffs. "I love my hair because I can do different things with it. And it feels good," the youngster told Atlanta Journal-Constitution. However, it wasn't always like that. A few years ago, the then-6-year-old came home from school one day and asked her mom, Evana, why her hair wasn't straight and "pretty" like her classmates. The hair of her second-grade classmates at the mostly white elementary school cascaded down their backs and Zoe found it difficult to accept her curls.
"When I was 6, I had a lot of problems accepting myself, and I didn't like my hair," the young girl admitted. "Their hair grew down. Mine grew out." Determined to empower her daughter and to "remind her that she was beautiful," Evana set out on a quest to help her daughter see herself the way she truly was. From wearing her hair natural to positive affirmations and books, she tried everything she could think of to encourage Zoe. She also tried to find dolls that looked like her daughter and found some with the right skin tone.
While it helped to an extent, one day Zeo pointed out that the doll didn't have hair that matched hers. "I asked [my mom], why doesn't the doll have hair that looks like mine?" she recalled. "We should have dolls that have curls and braids, so other girls can see themselves and their dolls and feel beautiful. I told her I wanted to make dolls that have curls and braids, and I wanted to start a company." Speaking to PEOPLE, Evana explained that hearing her daughter's concerns was an eye-opening experience. "It was such an awful feeling," she said. "What mother wants to hear their daughter doesn't like their hair, doesn't like what they look like naturally. And so, that really hurt me."
"I sprung into action and I just was trying my best to do everything possible, to just make her feel beautiful because she is beautiful," Evana added. The mother-daughter duo then set about studying the market and explored how images have historically had a negative impact on the psyche of Black children. Now three years later, Zoe is the CEO of Beautiful Curly Me—a fledgling business that hoped to empower young Black girls around the country through its line of Black dolls featuring curly and braided hair. With her mother's help, she has also created a line of hair care products and apparel and written two books full of affirmations that tell Black girls how beautiful they are.
"With the business, I am starting to see that my hair is beautiful, and I have started to embrace it," said Zoe. "And I am inspiring other kids who want to start a business. A lot of people look up to me." Beautiful Curly Me also donates 10 percent of all its proceeds to girl empowerment organizations. For the holidays, Zoe partnered with My Sister's House at the Atlanta Mission to donate dolls and copies of her book, Beautiful Curly Me. "I really love giving, and I wanted to do something big for the holidays," she said. They shipped out about 50 dolls a day during the holiday season and aims to donate 5000 dolls and books this year. For the children receiving her creations, Zoe hopes that they "make them feel more beautiful and confident in themselves."
The youngster also hopes that young girls around the country remember this important message: "You are beautiful and you are smart. You can do anything you put your mind to." Meanwhile Evana, who was a marketing executive before devoting all of her time to Beautiful Curly Me, revealed that her daughter also helped her come to terms with who she is. "I didn't know how much the media had infused me... Being in corporate America, I used to wear a lot of hair weaves. I didn't realize that this was impacting her," said Evana, who has since gone natural. "Zoe has definitely come a long way. But she has helped me come into my own too."