Clare Tawell is a mom and toymaker based in the United Kingdom. Back in 2017, she started making unique dolls with internal hearing aids for her daughter who was born with hearing loss. At the time, there were no toys that represented her little girl. Something had to be done, so she sprung to action and opened an online toy shop called “BrightEars.” Today, she has accessories and entire collections designed for children with hearing and visual impairments and other disabilities.
Bright Side conducted an exclusive interview with Clare to learn more about the importance of designing inclusive dolls like the ones she sells in her store and promoting inclusion through play.
Clare began the search for a toy that looked like her daughter.
No store would sell or make dolls that looked like Tilly. This really bothered Clare. It somehow felt as if the lack of interest in creating toys for children with a disability was a way of ignoring that they existed. “It was as if she didn’t matter because she didn’t fit into what society labeled as being ’normal,’ so why bother acknowledging her at all?” she told us.
Clare didn’t have enough time or patience to wait for someone else to come and start manufacturing a toy that she and her 4-year-old daughter needed. That’s how she first came up with the idea of designing the first inclusive doll for kids with disabilities. “It was a little rough around the edges! But at least this little doll had the same hearing aids as my Tilly. When Tilly saw it, she completely fell in love with it,” she recalls.
More parents began to ask for dolls that looked like their children.
Shortly after she finished her first doll, moms of other little kids asked her if she could make one for them as well. Clare, who works as a radiation technologist, said that she would give it a shot. So she began using her spare time to customize dolls and sell them to other families who felt underrepresented in the same way she did.
She decided to name her online store, “BrightEars” after Tilly’s hearing aids because before this adventure started, they used to decorate them with dinosaur or unicorn stamps to make them more colorful. “All of Tilly’s devices are purposely designed to be colorful and eye-catching, essentially. They are part of her and I don’t want her to be ashamed of them or feel like she has to hide them. She’s deaf and proud of it,” she added.
“We won’t hide with our ’differences’, we have the right to be accepted and we are proud of them!”
Over time, Clare’s store and project grew from having a doll with hearing aids to a whole range of dolls that not only empower children but also promote inclusion through fun and play. She explains that bullying often stems from ignorance, and only through awareness can it be overcome.
Clare keeps working hard from her dining room table, which is basically her only company at the moment. So far, she has made about 3,000 dolls.
While her business has grown steadily, her main goal remains the same as when she started making the dolls just as a hobby: “To shout out loud that we are not going to hide with our ’differences’, that we are here, we exist, we have the right to be accepted, and we are proud of it!”
Do you think the toy industry is inclusive enough? Do you have any more ideas or projects like Clare’s? What are they? We’d love to hear about them!