Today, American Girl, a cornerstone in the Mattel (NASDAQ: MAT) portfolio of purposeful brands, kicks off its yearlong 35th birthday celebration with the reintroduction of its original historical characters—Samantha Parkington™, Kirsten Larson™, Molly McIntire™, Felicity Merriman™, Addy Walker™, and Josefina Montoya™.
Since 1986, the cherished brand known for helping girls grow up with confidence and character has created engaging heroines who have transported millions of girls back in time—from 1774 to 1944—through books and stories teaching courage and compassion, confidence, and resilience. These same characters are about to inspire a new generation to make their positive mark on the world.
“For 35 years, American Girl has created powerful stories with smart, courageous heroines that have helped shape an entire generation of women,” said Jamie Cygielman, General Manager of American Girl. “As we celebrate this major milestone, we’re thrilled to recognize the very first generation of American girls who grew up with these beloved, original characters and made them the phenomenon they are today. Knowing many of these women are now moms themselves, we look forward to creating special, multi-generational experiences for families via their shared love of the brand. We can’t wait to inspire and empower this next generation with even more relevant products, immersive experiences, and timeless stories.”
How American Girl Has Evolved
Founded by Pleasant Rowland, a retired teacher, and writer, American Girl began as a catalog-only company. Over the years, the business scaled to create retail stores with cafes, magazines, and a well-known, global brand. However, Ms. Cygielman is quick to point out that this incredible growth didn’t happen overnight.
“Our first store in Chicago opened in 1998, and we established our New York flagship a full five years later,” said Cygielman. “We took our time to ensure we got the retail experience right and maintained all those qualities that make our brand memorable and unique. We currently have 12 retail stores in major U.S. markets, where girls and their families can immerse themselves in the total AG experience.”
She also acknowledged that while traditional print is still an essential piece to helping children learn, they also translate their popular series to digital platforms, like YouTube, where these characters come to life in animation, music videos, and more.
When asked how much of Ms. Rowland’s initial vision remains today and what has changed, Ms. Cygielman answered, “When Pleasant started the company 35 years ago, she celebrated girlhood in a way that was never done before. Today, while the world has definitely changed since 1986, we remain guided by Pleasant’s original vision. We are deeply committed to inspiring and empowering this next generation of girls with excellent products, immersive experiences, and timeless stories that feature intelligent, strong, and relatable heroines.”
This includes putting even more emphasis on America’s multicultural and multidimensional nature today. Some of these initiatives have already launched this year, like their Conversations for Change series, designed to amplify and celebrate more diverse voices.
“For American Girl, the company began from a place of real passion and, most importantly, purpose. It was mission-driven from the start—to do good things for girls—and that hasn’t changed,” Cygielman added. “We pride ourselves on having a solid pulse on girls’ lives today—from what they enjoy doing to where they’re spending their time and how we can support and encourage them throughout their girlhood. We also know we have an essential role to play in teaching girls about complex topics as our world evolves.”
This past year, American Girl particularly focused on racial equality, including their monthly conversation series to amplify their diverse dolls and stories. They are also putting more energy and focus into their creative development process on the multicultural and multidimensionality of girls today.
This June, American Girl plans to add a new advice book to their award-winning Smart Girl’s Guide series to help girls stand up to racism and build a better world. And in the fall, they are launching new diverse characters to their contemporary line and unveiling several exciting partnerships to help celebrate the past and reimagine our future.
Encouraging Girls Now More Than Ever
According to UNESCO, Covid-19 forced 743 million girls out of school in 185 countries. A corresponding increase in poverty, household responsibilities, child labor, and teen pregnancy may prevent many girls from returning to complete their education. It feels like, more than ever, to shine the light on girls is vital to their future, and American Girl is hoping to do just that.
“When the pandemic hit, we quickly launched a free Content Hub for families with digital resources, activities, and books to help kids (and their parents) during such a challenging time,” Ms. Cygielman shared. “We also made all our diverse books free to download on our online library, along with teacher and reader guides, as well as donated $500,000 in these and other titles to schools and libraries across the country.”
The plan is to continue this platform into 2022 to keep amplifying voices. This includes one young girl who founded Earth Uprising, an organization providing funding to support their new climate change curriculum coming this fall.
The Future of American Girl
With its roots in children’s publishing, American Girl has long-championed the belief that strong readers become strong leaders. This summer, to further support children’s literacy and ensure access to quality materials to help kids grow as readers, American Girl is partnering with Save the Children’s U.S. Literacy Program with a gift of more than $100,000 in American Girl books. This donation brings the brand’s total commitment to more than $9 million in books and funds to the organization.
American Girl has several other exciting events, and partnerships lined up this summer and fall to further celebrate the brand’s rich legacy and reimagine its future. Visit their website for more details about upcoming birthday-themed product releases, can’t-miss virtual events, and additional 35th-anniversary activities happening throughout the year.