Photo/Courtesy of Carmen Nibbs
Doll fashion designer Carmen Nibbs celebrates Black History Month with a doll collection inspired by her Caribbean and African heritage.
Carmen Nibbs was born in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands but spent most of her childhood on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. At age nine, she learned how to sew from her grandmother. After spending much of her career in radio broadcasting and advertising in the Virgin Islands and Orlando, Florida, where she currently resides, Carmen revisited her long-lost passion after receiving a request from her granddaughter Laylee.
The Birth of Laylee M Doll Clothes
Nibbs, a mother of two boys, said she was blessed with a granddaughter who, like her, loves to dress her dolls. So when Laylee requested a few outfits for her Barbie dolls, Carmen revived her love for sewing after many years. She designed and sewed wedding dresses, beachwear, and even a mermaid outfit for her granddaughter's Barbie dolls.
Nibbs decided to post her designs on her social media page and received positive feedback. The response inspired Nibbs to launch Laylee M Doll Clothes, an e-commerce store on Etsy with over 700 five-star reviews.
Laylee M Doll Clothes was named after her granddaughter, and the 'M' pays homage to her grandmother Mabel Nibbs.
Since launching her business on Esty in 2016, Carmen has designed over 3,000 doll apparel and has created doll clothing for customers worldwide, including England, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, and many islands in the Caribbean. Carmen Nibbs has also gained recognition on Instagram. Last year, Jerusalema singer Nomcebo Zikode reposted two of Carmen's dolls wearing traditional African designs. Her Toy Story-inspired designs were also shared on Instagram by the producers of Toy Story France.
Black History Month Showcase
While Laylee M Doll Clothes is building momentum on social media, probably one of the designer's most significant accomplishments came recently. Earlier this month, Carmen Nibbs showcased her creations at the 'Community Collage' Black History Month Artist Exhibit at the Hannibal Square Heritage Center in Winter Park, Florida. Nibbs created 11 looks for the exhibit, which included Black dolls wearing Caribbean madras and burlap attire, African attire, and a mocko jumbie outfitted in madras. Each doll was custom-made by Carmen Nibbs, specifically for the exhibit.
It was Carmen's first solo exhibit. She felt honored to have received the invitation, especially for such a significant event, which commemorated the lives, struggles, and achievements of Black people. "All I wanted to represent with this display was my culture," she said.
Barbara Chandler, Manager of the Historic Hannibal Square Heritage Center, also commissioned Carmen to create a dress for a hand-painted porcelain doll. She styled the vintage doll in a long African-print dress adorned with hand-sewn beads and a regal head wrap.
Designer Carmen Nibbs exhibits her Caribbean and African styled doll collection
The doll was also featured on the Visit Orlando website to promote Orlando as a tourist destination.
The exhibit runs through June of 2022.
Why Do Black Dolls Matter?
Back in the day, like most Caribbean girls, Nibbs grew up playing with White dolls that did not represent her accurately and favorably. She expressed that it is vital that her granddaughter Laylee sees herself in the dolls she plays with to reinforce a positive sense of self-worth. "Representation matters. When people see my designs, I want them to see themselves and see their cultures in them," Carmen told Unstoppable Yes You.
With children of color becoming the majority, the toy industry has taken notice. They have been taking steps to do a better job of representing girls of all different hues. Companies like Mattel are becoming more inclusive and have started to sell Barbie dolls that represent people of various sizes, skin tones, and hair textures. There is also a growing list of entrepreneurs and small businesses like Laylee M Doll Clothes that have taken up the mantle and created Black dolls. "It's amazing to see the diversity and variety these companies are offering," Carmen noted.
Dolls can help shape a child's self-image. That is why Black children deserve toys that look more like them. Carmen Nibbs shares this sentiment wholeheartedly. The doll fashion designer and enthusiast wants to leave a lasting and positive impression for Laylee and other young Caribbean and Black girls with her authentically Black doll clothing.
To see more of Carmen's one-of-a-kind Black doll fashion creations, visit @Laylee.m.doll.clothes on Instagram.