Doll and toy manufacturer World of EPI is set to release Series 1 of its Fresh Dolls Fierce collection Oct. 1. The dolls depict the powerful characters Shuri, Okoye, and Nakia from the upcoming movie Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, arriving in theaters Nov. 11. Dr. Lisa Williams, the company’s founder, said that working with Marvel Studios to create the licensed dolls is “truly almost unbelievable. Even though we’ve been working with them for about a year, it’s still one of those ‘pinchable moments’ — you want to pinch yourself to make sure this is real, that I didn’t dream this.
“I, like so many other people around the world, was fascinated by Black Panther, the first film — totally enthralled with it. So much so that on our website, we actually Photoshopped our dolls as characters from the film. So fast forward a few years later and we’re literally making these characters? Pinchable moment!
“Marvel has a long history of inclusion, diversity, and telling great stories that include everyone. And that’s exactly what we’re doing in the toy space. We are dedicated to multiculturalism, but we make sure every child is included. Whether that’s Caucasian, Asian, Latino, African American, Afro-Latina, we have a doll that represents that. So in many ways, it was a perfect match for us to work together.”
Each of the 11.5-inch dolls is articulated for posability, wears a stunning fashion modeled on the film’s intricate costume designs, and comes with her own signature accessory. They’re recommended for ages 6 and up. Capturing each character’s likeness presented many technical challenges, especially when it came to producing Nakia’s dreadlocks. “Obviously we could have taken the easy way out by going with existing braid-like fibers, but we knew that was not authentic to Nakia,” Williams said.
“Nakia has ombre-color dreads, and we wanted to be authentic to that. That’s what we stand for — we are known for our authenticity, whether it’s our skin tones or our hair textures — and we were not going to fall short in this regard. We had a short amount of time and we had a huge challenge, because never before had dreadlock texture been created on the mass-production level.
“It was a huge feat. We ended up having to work very closely with the fiber manufacturers, and even they didn’t know how to do it. So we’re working late, day and night, day and night, and ultimately we came up with a technique, which we are now patenting, to actually mass produce this dreadlock texture. We’re super proud of it!”
Williams said Shuri’s hairstyle presented a different challenge. “Even though it just looks like regular short hair, because of the scale of the doll — their faces are only about an inch tall — getting those small curl patterns was also a challenge. If you look at the character, she has three ringlets that fall forward on her forehead. So it wasn’t just a short curly hairstyle, it was a hairstyle with a pattern to it. We had to get those three ringlets right in the front, and we had to get the curly texture right throughout the rest of the hair. And she has an undercut, so there’s a fade at the base of her head. All that had to be taken into consideration when creating that authentic hairstyle for Shuri.
“Now Okoye — it was a little bit easier to do her hairstyle, as you can imagine, because she has no hair! It’s a tattoo on her head, and let me tell you, that too, was a challenge! When we first went to our factory partner and said ‘OK, here’s the tattoo,’ they looked at it and said ‘Oh no, we can’t do that, that can’t be done.’ And we were like, ‘wait, what?’
“It’s a complex design, and it’s not on a flat surface, so you can’t just stamp it, because it has a curvature to it. So getting the proportions right, so it looked proper on the center of the head as well as on the sides, that too was a feat. It’s very intricate — it would have been difficult just to put it on a flat surface, but then we had to apply it to the curvature of the scalp.”
Reproducing the movie’s striking costumes at such a small scale was also a challenge. “We wanted to do justice to Ruth Carter and her amazing costumes, so it took quite a bit of revision to get it right. They have very elaborate, intricate costumes — it’s just stunning,” Williams said. “For Nakia — the green couldn’t bleed over into the blue, which couldn’t bleed over into the brown. And then there are parts of it that have an iridescent shine — not the entire suit, but just certain parts. So getting the iridescence in the right locations — when you look at it, it’s very thin slivers of brown, slivers of green. The iridescence isn’t just a square block, it’s part of a particular intricate design pattern, and when that pattern stops and another pattern starts, then that iridescence needs to stop, as well.”
The Fresh Fierce dolls won this year’s Toy of the Year (TOTY) Award in the Doll category. “We’ve been very fortunate, very blessed — this just means the world to us, because we worked so incredibly hard to be authentic to the characters in the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever film,” Williams said. “When you watch the film — I was so blown away by the power of the female characters, the inner strength of the women — all of them express their strength differently. The beauty and power of Marvel’s storytelling is that you can identify with the core intrinsic values that the character has that all of us embody, so there’s an instant internal recognition.”