A Familiar Face
When her 3-year-old daughter Jillian asked for a doll last year, Mak set out to find one that looked like her. “After going through all the toy stores in San Francisco, all the major retailers such as Target, and after doing extensive online research,” Mak says, “I discovered that there was really no doll that accurately and meaningfully represented Asian Americans.” She was reminded of her own childhood when her parents bought her a blue-eyed, blonde doll. “It was always beautiful in a way I could never be,” Mak remembers. “That was the start of it, remembering that experience and wanting a different narrative for children like my daughter.”
Mak, an economics major with an M.B.A. from Harvard, founded the Jilly Bing toy company—named for Jillian and one of her first words (bĭng means cookie in Chinese)—and introduced the Jilly Bing doll early this year.
When toy industry veteran Ned Ward ’89 came across the Jilly Bing doll, he was immediately enthralled. He helped connect Mak with trade publication The Toy Book, which featured the doll in its February issue. “She had such a strong vision and had this great start,” Ward says. “She created a product that isn’t on the market, really. It’s serving a need.”
Mak says that when she was a student, government professor Linda Fowler inspired her to “create something.” So Mak founded the student organization Agora, a forum for students, graduate students, and professors to meet for policy discussions. “That was my first taste of creating something from nothing,” Mak recalls.