By early 2015, things were tough in the home of daughter and mother Marelsy Castillo Ocampo and Merry Ocampo Aguilar. But it was also the beginning of something great.
For Castillo, years of battling her weight, dealing with job discrimination, bullying and a dysfunctional relationship had brought her to an emotional crisis. Ocampo, a teacher, had been injured in a car accident, that left her unable to work, forcing early retirement.
The turning point came when mother decided to take her sewing skills and new free time to make her daughter a cloth doll. Not just any doll, but one that reflected her daughter as she is, to look like her as much as possible. When Castillo came home one day and saw the doll, the impact was immediate. She could see herself in the doll as she is, not the way society wanted her to be. The gift changed her life and helped her to accept herself.
Very quickly the two decided to start producing the dolls and make a business out of it, calling them Melinas. By November of 2015, the two went to an exhibition with a number of the dolls. Initially their target market was young girls, but the dolls were a much bigger hit with women over the age of thirty. Encouraged by the response, they reworked the prototype to this new market and entered the project into a competition called Start Up México, sponsored by Universidad Anáhuac. Out of 26 entries, the Melinas won. The win not only earned them the right to be mentored in developing the business but it got the attention of media, including MTV which included Castillo in a documentary on entrepreneurs.
The women’s workshop is located on Avenida Alemán in the north of Merida, Yucatan. It is not only a business; it has a social side to it as well. It provides work to women who have been victims of domestic violence and discrimination. These women work five days a week and as part of their compensation receive psychological therapy. In addition, mother and daughter participate in conferences on discrimination and domestic violence, and some of the profits of the company are donated to women’s groups. The business has grown such that the dolls are now sold locally, nationally and internationally. They have sent dolls to Spain, the United States, Chile, Turkey, Scotland, Australia, Chile and Colombia.
The goal of the company is to provide an alternative to commercial dolls that promote stereotypes about perfect bodies and faces. Each doll is unique with its own “personality” and design and are made-to-order. The dolls come in six different body types, three skin tones, four bust sizes and can even come with only one breast. The dolls are dressed in underwear to show their comfort with their bodies. They have a heart for a mouth to symbolize love and closed eyes to symbolize dreams. Customers can order dolls which different hairstyles and even moles. The dolls cost between 750 and 1,250 pesos depending on the size (ranging from 40 to 60 cm). The workshop produces about 150 dolls per month as each doll takes about ten to twelve days to make.
The duo have since added a new version called a Yatzil, a doll based off the Mayan indigenous people of the Yucatan. The name in this language means “she who is loved.” Targeting the various tourists markets of the region, this version is a little different than others as she wears white knickers and along with a traditional blouse and jewelry. It is a homage to the company’s and family’s Yucatan roots.
Castillo is now the CEO and spokesperson for the Melinas company. She won the Women for Mexico award given to women entrepreneurs in the country. Women of Mexico. Her story has been published in newspapers such as Diario de Yucatán, El Excelsior, El Universal, Milenio on television In 2018, she did a Tedx talk sponsored by the Universidad Privada de la Peninsula to share her story.
Photos courtesy of Melinas