I LOVE TowardTheStars.com so much, I interviewed the founder, Ines Almeida.
The pics I posted below include images of girls b/c that is what Reel Girl is about, and I love collecting these images. Check out Merida’s expression, how cool is she? And in all the Merida dolls, I never saw this one before. That’s why I love TowardTheStars, Ines culls through everything and finds the best. My oldest daughter is also into detectives and spies, so I posted some of those images, and a few other toys/ games that I’m buying. So this is my personal list. TowardTheStars has all kinds of great toys and products for kids.
Why did you start TowardTheStars?
I have an engineering degree in Computer Science for all of my life I have been part of male-dominated environments where I was a minority. My career progressed from engineering to management and executive roles and during this journey I was confronted with the gender biases from others and with my own limiting beliefs that sometimes stopped me from voicing my opinions or applying for a particular role.
As I started coaching my female colleagues, I found out that we shared a lot of common patterns: we struggled with the lack of female role models, and we were trying to overcome the “fairy tale syndrome”, a need to be perfect, congenial and at the same time highly effective. This left little space for taking healthy risks and for being audacious.
Six years ago a little girl came into my life, Ally, she was 2.5 years-old at the time. As I spent more time with her and started to look at the world through her eyes and started experiencing the messages she was getting all day long from society, toys, media and marketing, I started becoming more uncomfortable with what I was experiencing. I was looking at the root cause for all my own limiting beliefs; I was looking at the reason why my colleagues struggled to speak up, why women were risk-averse, why girls don’t pursue science, engineering, technology, math, sports and leadership.
Ally was surrounded by toys, books and media that were constantly telling her that her worth came from her external appearance. Everything related to science, maths, leadership, risk taking, audacity, sports seemed to be missing from products targeted to girls.
I decided to do something about it and started to raise awareness with parents and educators via social media. I created my own ipad app with empowering stories for girls 7Wonderlicious, I created a small website with a list of empowering books for girls and another focused on short youtube videos with all the PSAs and documentaries I could find about gender stereotyping and sexualisation of girls, it was all cobbled together very quickly. My community grew to 100,000 people online across several social media channels. This year I decided to leave my corporate executive role in IT to launch TowardTheStars a global online marketplace for empowering gifts for girls. It is a natural progression and I am now pulling together all the work achieved previously into one single site and committing all my time to this worthy cause that I am so passionate about.
What are your most popular items?
We have a couple of small clothing businesses with empowering messages that are doing extremely well turning over close to 1000 dollars in the first month.
Products that support charitable causes are also very popular, people love to know that by buying a gift they are helping to improve the lives of girls somewhere in the world. We have fair trade gifts that are handmade by Indigenous communities in Africa and Australia for example.
Of course my book site (now fully integrated with TowardTheStars) is also extremely popular, people love to discover books with young bold female protagonists. I also spent years compiling top quality resources for parents, our parenting books are a huge hit, parents are always very grateful and enthusiastic when they discover that there is expert advice in book form that will help them counter stereotypes, sexualisation, body image issues etc.
Do you mostly support small businesses?
My goal with TowardTheStars is to create a venue for parents, educators, businesses, independent producers and not for profits to come together to discover new innovative ways to put an end to the stereotypes that are so prevalent in our society and in products targeted at children. I strongly believe that small businesses, artists and craftspeople are central to this movement because until we create great alternatives we are stuck with media and toys that belong in the middle ages.
This is why I invested in developing a true multisided marketplace where people can setup their shop in a few minutes and list their items directly on the site. This was a huge software development project but now the movement can grow organically. New independent producers join every day. It is a real pleasure to wake up every morning and discover new delightful items listed on the site. This girl empowerment intension box was listed last week for example, I was delighted to discover Ann’s work for the first time because she found TowardTheStars and decided to join us.
TowardTheStars will always give more visibility, priority and support to small businesses; I consider them my partners in crime and will do anything within my reach to make them successful. These are the people that welcomed me into the community two years ago and inspired me to create this venue.
TowardTheStars also provides products from larger businesses via our affiliate model with Amazon.com. We do this for the following of reasons:
- To give access to parents and educators to our growing list of empowering books that was created more than 2.5 years ago. We want to ensure our amazing authors are represented within our community. I am privileged to be able to call some of these authors and experts my friends, many have supported this project from its inception.
- To ensure that our community has access to products related to STEM that are less likely to be produced by small businesses.
- To ensure our community has access to good alternatives being created by the large corporations. Great movies like Brave by Pixar, series like Doc McStuffins by Disney or anything from Studio Ghibli.
- By providing a comprehensive range of products that counter stereotypes and/or are gender neutral we keep our community coming back to the site, which of course will benefit our small businesses too.
How does a business join your site? What are you looking for?
As soon as they register and login they are able to create their own shop and list their items, it is very user friendly and a business can setup shop in just a few minutes. Of course all items must comply with the strict guidelines that we put together with the help of some of the top child development experts in the world. This site will remain free of sexualisation and stereotypes. I review all listed products myself.
This video gives an excellent summary of what we are looking for.
My hope and dream is that this movement will inspire many others to innovate and produce great stereotype free products. I am already quite impressed with the level of conversation between buyers and sellers. The community is keen to provide feedback and our small business quickly respond to the desires and feedback of the parents and educators. Several of our businesses have already adapted/evolved their products based on feedback. We had a number of awesome t-shirts listed on the site with really great empowering designs and quotes but they were only available in pink initially, after some feedback from the community our sellers were happy to provide new colour options.
What are your future plans for TowardTheStars?
Continue to provide great resources and options to parents and educators looking for media and toys for their children;
Continue to support and engage small businesses and independent producers, inspiring them to innovate and produce outstanding items;
Do as much as I can to drive visibility to the site and promote the great work of our businesses, make them successful;
Expand our community functionality on the website to enable real conversations and ideas to emerge.
Get help! This project is growing fast. I am looking to expand my team as I am literally working night and day. I barely get any sleep. I am tired but very happy!