Miss Possible hopes to leave Barbie far behind.
Miss Possible is a line of dolls that its creators hope will change the way girls think about pretend play and, more important, their place in the world.
The brainchild of Supriya Hobbs and Janna Eaves, both 21, who met through the engineering program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the first doll in the series will be the childhood version of Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist and physicist whose research led to breakthroughs on radioactivity.
If sales figures warrant continuing the line, the second doll will be Bessie Coleman, the first African-American female aviator and first American to hold an international pilot’s license. The third subject they’ve chosen is Ada Lovelace, generally considered the world’s first computer programmer for writing early instructions for Charles Babbage’s 19th-century calculating machines.
Each doll will come with a smartphone app with a set of experiments and activities the child can do in the spirit of the doll’s namesake. The Marie Curie app will have instructions on making a compass, creating a chemical reaction with glue and experimenting with magnetism. The app also delves into the biography of the woman.
“There’s something really powerful of having a real person behind it,” Hobbs said. “This is one woman. This is the story of her life.”
They are seeking crowdfunding through Indiegogo.com and will let their financial backers pick which real-life female hero to immortalize in doll form after Lovelace. They decided on a childhood representation of these women because they wanted the focus to be on the extraordinary accomplishments, not on the depiction of the body.
The dolls follow the trail blazed by the groundbreaking GoldieBlox, a line of engineering kits geared at girls. The founders of GoldieBlox captured attention through viral marketing videos, won airtime during the Super Bowl and raised enough money from donors to begin to stake space in the toy aisles alongside princesses and put it in the hands of future engineers.
Hobbs reached out to them and said the company helped mentor Hobbs and Eaves.
“I was surprised how much they were willing to help us,” Hobbs said. “We’re all sort of working toward the same thing. That makes it more of a collaboration than a competition.”
Neither Hobbs nor Eaves intends to launch a career in the toy business. But they know that following their specialty in college will put them in the minority in their fields, and that’s what they are hoping to change. Even though women represent half of all college-educated workers in the United States, they made up just 28 percent of science and engineering workers in 2010.
Typical engineers. They spotted a problem and came up with a way to address it.
Hobbs and Eaves researched and found a factory in China to produce their dolls, which they will sell for $45. They hope the Indiegogo.com campaign will help them raise the $75,000 they need to fund the factory’s minimum order of 5,000 dolls.
Both of Hobbs’ parents are chemists, and Eaves’ are engineers. The young women never learned to doubt their own abilities in male-dominated fields. They want their dolls to spark that same confidence in the girls who one day might play with them.
“If you look at Marie Curie, you can’t say, ‘I can’t be like that.’ You can. Because she was,” Hobbs said.