Client stories

“You can’t grow, you can’t expand if you don’t have allies. You have to go out and find them.”

Those words of advice for women entrepreneurs are from Clara D. Lewis, who founded Brown Diva Dolls in Montreal. The former social worker saw a need for dolls that would more accurately represent many children and launched her company to meet that need.

Lewis got help along the way in building her business from The Scotiabank Women Initiative, a comprehensive program that aims to break down barriers to give women entrepreneurs, investors and leaders increased economic opportunity and empower them to be in control of their futures.

Since its launch in 2018, The Scotiabank Women Initiative has been focused on providing unbiased access to capital and tailored solutions, specialized education and advisory services and mentorship. All with the goal of increasing economic and professional opportunities for women now, and in the future.

The program offering has expanded every year since it launched. It has deployed over $5.9 billion in capital to women-owned and women-led businesses in Canada, supported more than 70 women in their career journeys and path to board governance, and helped over 2,400 women and their families manage their wealth during major life transitions. The Scotiabank Women Initiative has also launched chapters in Jamaica, Costa Rica, Chile, and most recently, Peru.

Lewis is one example of how The Scotiabank Women Initiative empowers women entrepreneurs. Read herfull story below.

What is your business?

At Brown Divas Dolls, we specialize in Afro dolls and dolls with atypical features. We have albino dolls, vitiligo dolls, dolls with special needs in wheelchairs. We have a redheaded doll. We are working on the physical bodies at the level of morphology so that it is representative at the level of the children.

What inspired you to start your company?

Through my professional experience as a social worker, I really wanted to make a positive impact on the development of children. As a social worker for 28 years, I saw children with low self-esteem and

children who are victims of bullying. So, I think that by having dolls or using this medium from a young age, we immediately raise awareness, counteract racism, counteract bullying, because they are in contact with the difference between people from a young age.Thanks to Brown Divas Dolls, children are able to have dolls that look like them with frizzy hair, curls, skin tone. Because before, yes, there were Afro style dolls, but the skin tone was sometimes gray, the hair was Caucasian, so that’s why I wanted to create something that was more representative. So I used the medium of dolls to help educate children at a young age about difference.


What drew you to being a part of The Scotiabank Women Initiative?

My first contact with the Scotiabank Women Initiative was when I participated in a pitch contest and among the members of the jury there was a representative of SWI. Afterwards, I participated in different networking activities where I was able to meet people who were able to help me or could possibly help me in the future. I was able to develop contacts and I have a very privileged connection with my financial advisors who support me, and The Scotiabank Women Initiative also supports me in terms my plans for international expansion.


"My legacy is seeing that this product impacts society, brings a change to society. As our slogan says, we change the world one doll at a time. And I believe it."

Clara D. Lewis, founder of Brown Divas Dolls

Diversity and inclusion are a big part of the values of the collection, tell us about that.

What I love about my business is creating a product that brings representation. It’s meeting a need for representation. It’s having a positive impact on children’s development and of course fostering a more inclusive society. I believe that playing with my dolls could reduce racism because our mission is based on two key words: inclusion and representation. For us, that’s what makes the difference.

Through games, we can work on many things, we can work on fine motor skills, we can work on awareness, so that’s why we used this medium. But of course, the goal is to impact the children, to impact society, to make a difference. We consider ourselves an inclusive company because our goal is to promote a more inclusive society.

What is next in terms of your growth and innovation?

We were pleasantly surprised to see that there were schools that ordered our dolls and these teachers explained to us that they used our dolls to do training, workshops on living together, on how to raise awareness about bullying and discrimination. We are working on an educational tool, an educational box with a 12-inch doll and a book with a proposal for schools, and we intend to bring this product to school boards and daycares. What I like about seeing young people play with my dolls is to see the joy they get from them. It confirms me in our mission, that they identify with this toy. And it’s like a legacy that I leave. When you look at me you see the businesswoman, but before the businesswoman, there’s the social worker. My legacy is seeing that this product impacts society, brings a change to society. As our slogan says, we change the world one doll at a time. And I believe it. Because I believe that the younger we introduce children to how people can be different, the better it will be later. So it’s really the social impact that it creates, that I appreciate.

Do you have any advice or tips for other women entrepreneurs just starting out? Something you
experienced when launching your business that you think would be useful for others?

First of all, I would tell them to go for it and take all the opportunities that are available to them. We have to get out of our comfort zone. We have to network. Because you can’t grow, you can’t expand if you don’t have allies. You have to go out and find them. I would tell them first of all to go for it, to act, to take action. Make your place!