|Company||Pleasant Company, Mattel|
American Girl is an American line of 18-inch (46 cm) dolls released in 1986 by Pleasant Company. The dolls portray eight– to eleven–year–old girls of a variety of ethnicities. They are sold with accompanying books told from the viewpoint of the girls. Originally the stories focused on various periods of American history, but were expanded in 1995 to include characters and stories from contemporary life. A variety of related clothing and accessories is also available.
Pleasant Company was founded in 1986 by Pleasant Rowland, and its products were originally purchasable by mail order only. In 1998, Pleasant Company became a subsidiary of Mattel. The company has been awarded the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award eight times.
Dolls and accessories
The Historical Characters line of 18-inch dolls were initially the main focus of Pleasant Company. This product line aims to teach aspects of American history through a six-book series from the perspective of a 9- to 11-year-old girl living in that time period. Although the books are written for an eight to twelve year-old target audience, they endeavor to cover significant topics such as child labor, child abuse, poverty, racism, slavery, animal abuse, and war in manners appropriate for the understanding and sensibilities of their young audience.
In 1995 Pleasant Company released a line of contemporary dolls: American Girls of Today. In 2006 the product line was renamed Just Like You; it was changed again, in 2010, to My American Girl. This line has included over sixty one different dolls over the years. Each doll has a different combination of face mold; skin tone; eye color; and hair color, length texture and/or style. American Girl states that this variety allows customers to choose dolls that "represent the individuality and diversity of today's American girls." A wide variety of contemporary clothing, accessories and furniture is also available, and there are regular releases and retirements to update this line. Each year, a Girl of the Year doll is released who has her own special talent.
Bitty Baby is a line of baby dolls targeted to children aged three and older. They are half the price of full size American Girl dolls. The Bitty Twins line debuted in 2003 to represent slightly older toddlers and/or preschoolers.
A reboot of the Historical Characters line dubbed as BeForever was launched in August 2014, complete with redesigned outfits, a two-volume compilation of previously-released books, and a "Journey Book" for each character, with players taking the role of a present-day girl who found her way to the past and met up with one of the Historical girls. The line also coincided with the relaunch of Samantha Parkington, whose collection was previously discontinued in 2008.
In 2004, American Girl teamed with Julia Roberts' Red Om production company and to create the first American Girl direct-to-video movie, Samantha: An American Girl Holiday. The film spawned a franchise that was followed by Felicity: An American Girl Adventure (2005), Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front (2006), along with the 2008 theatrically released film Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. In 2009, HBO premiered An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong. In July 2012 American Girl released a direct-to-video movie, McKenna Shoots for the Stars. A seventh movie based on Saige Copeland's stories entitled Saige Paints the Sky was released in July 2013, and a television film entitled Isabelle Dances Into the Spotlight, based on Girl of the Year 2014 Isabelle Palmer, will be released in 2014.
American Girl Place is a store that sells American Girl dolls, clothes, and accessories. The flagship and first store debuted in Chicago followed by stores in New York City and Los Angeles. A number of boutiques followed which are smaller than the main stores; they feature rotating stock and some have casual restaurants. There are smaller stores in North Point Mall in Alpharetta, Georgia; Galleria Dallas Mall in Dallas, Texas; at the Natick Mall in Natick, Massachusetts; at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota; in the Vistas section of the Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree, Colorado, and as of September 2010 at Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas). A tenth store opened in June 2011 at Tysons Corner Center in Tysons Corner, Virginia (Washington DC region). There are also stores at Alderwood Mall, located near Seattle, Washington, Chesterfield Mall in St. Louis, Memorial City Mall in Houston, Texas and in Miami, Florida. On June 22, 2013 a new store opened in Columbus, Ohio at Easton Town Center. There are also plans to open a store at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California and at SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Mattel has announced in October 2013 that American Girl will be opening new stores in partnership with Indigo Books and Music in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada. The company has also expressed interest in other overseas ventures, as they are seeing orders from Europe and Latin America. They will also be opening an Orlando store in the Fall 2014 at The Florida Mall.
The American Girl magazine is run by the American Girl company. It was started by the Pleasant Company in Middleton, Wisconsin in 1992, with the first issue dated January 1993. Aimed towards girls ages 8 through 14, the bimonthly magazine includes articles, recipes, advice columns, fiction, arts and crafts, and activity ideas.
Online marketing and philanthropy
American Girl launched Innerstar University, an online virtual world featuring the My American Girl contemporary doll line, on July 13, 2010. Access to the online world is via a Campus Guide, bundled with purchase of a My American Girl doll, which contains an access code for the creation of a doll avatar that then navigates the various games, shops, and challenges of the virtual campus of Innerstar U. The launch was simultaneous with Shine on Now, a fund-raising effort Kids In Distressed Situations, National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions, National Wildlife Federation, and Save the Children charities. The company has also donated "almost $500,000" over several years to national non-profit homeless housing group HomeAid. These contributions are mainly through its Project Playhouse program.
The company has drawn criticism for the expense of the dolls, which, in 2012, cost $110 without accessories. Buyers can easily spend more than $600 for a doll, outfits, accessories and lunch in the company's store in New York. Some aspects of the doll's characters and history have also provoked controversy. Some observers questioned why Addy, American Girl's first African-American historical character, was portrayed first as a slave (in later stories Addy and her family gain their freedom after the Civil War). In 2005, residents of Pilsen (a neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois) criticized a passage in the book associated with the Latina-American doll Marisol, claiming it inaccurately depicted their neighborhood as dangerous. A senior public relations associate for American Girl responded to critics saying: “We feel that this brief passage has been taken out of context in the book." The 2009 limited-edition release of Gwen, a homeless American Girl character, was also controversial.
In 2005, some pro-life and Catholic groups criticized the company for donating funds to the organization Girls, Inc. which supports underprivileged girls and promotes abortion rights and acceptance of homosexuality.
The American Girl Place store in New York City was the center of a labor dispute with Actors' Equity Association (AEA). On August 3, 2006, 14 of the 18 adult actors at the store's now defunct theater went on strike. AEA reached a two-year contract effective April 1, 2008. All American Girl Place theatres were subsequently closed in September of that year.
In May 2014, the company was met with criticism on social media over its decision to discontinue four characters from the historical collection, two of them, namely African-American Cécile Rey and Chinese-American Ivy Ling, representing ethnic minorities. They, however, defended their move as a business strategy, as they decided to "move away from the character-friend strategy within the line". A petition has since been filed through the activist group 18MillionRising.org for the company to provide a replacement for Ivy.
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