A mother’s gift to her daughter has transformed years later into a socially responsible company by the name of Melinas.
Marelsy Castillo Ocampo and her family set out to help women in unfortunate circumstances in Mérida, Yucatán with the creation a company that hires women in order to build personalized dolls. Melinas was awarded with the Women for Mexico award by the organization Plaza de la Mujer for being a company with the most innovative and socially impactful business model.
In an interview with The News, Castillo Ocampo tells the story of when her mother gave her gift during a difficult time in her life.
“Like any wonderful mother, in an attempt to cheer me up, she started making a doll for me. Not any doll, though; she wanted this one to look just like I do … to mirror the curves of my body,” she explained.
This motivated Marelsy to go through a process of re-evaluation with the help of her sister Emily, whose knowledge on psychology provided the theory that served as footing for Melinas. They were joined by Maremy, their youngest sister, who translates and does community managing for the project. And so, a new product was born.
The project grew with help of a business incubator, which brought a wider and different perspective to the whole team.
“Today, Melinas dreams of becoming an international movement in which men and women pay more attention to their self-esteem than to the size of their underwear. And we’re working to get there,” said Castillo.
Thanks to the growth secured by the incubator, Melinas now has clients in the United States, Spain and even Austria. There’s also a potential client in Chile, and the team is looking for ways to make the export possible.
“The experiences have been very impactful and our biggest reward and motivation. They deal with self-esteem problems related to weight, scars, bulimia, breast cancer, and even suicide attempts and physical, psychological and sexual abuse,” said Castillo.
According to the company’s description, “las Melinas” are handmade cloth dolls personalized according to body type, hair, complexion, scars, pregnancy and many other characteristics, with more than 13,000 possible combinations, with the goal of celebrating beauty and reaffirming women’s self-esteem.
The ideology behind this project comes from trends like Body Positive and Curvy Activism, both of which promote the idea that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and we should be appreciate of all of them.
“Today there’s been a change in my life, you have made it so I can actually love myself. I see you and I thank every single one of your curves, your scars, your stretch marks, your fingertips,” read a letter written to a Melina. The letter came from one of the customers and they shared it with the creators of the project.
According to Castillo, the main problem that her project faces, as in most cases of social enterprises in Mexico, is a lack of resources available to ensure she breaks even.
“Most companies usually break even after approximately a year and a half in business. But in our case, being a social enterprise that puts back a higher percentage of income into human capital, means that this timeframe is extended,” she said.
Melinas hires women living in vulnerable situations to produce the dolls. This network is recommended by government agencies and civil society organizations to support women, offering them the chance of paid work and support in the various problems they face.
A percentage of the profits made from every doll sold will be invested in education, workshops and scholarships which will benefit women in vulnerable and low-income situations.
Marelsy Castillo, CEO of Melinas, said that “It is necessary to get rid of those false ideas of perfection we’ve been given since we were little girls. You don’t have to try and fit any beauty standard. It is best to focus on health, enjoy who you are as you are, be thankful for and live in love, and focus on the positive things in life.”
“You have to accept your body, each ‘imperfect’ centimeter of it, because through it you are capable of living and feeling. Your body is the shell of the most powerful and valuable thing you have: yourself,” she added.