Behind Crayola’s Continued Push for More Inclusion in Its Products

Colors of the World collection elevates the line of skin-tone crayons that started in the '90s

a stack of many different hands
Crayola's Colors of the World line launched earlier this year. Crayola
Headshot of Doug Zanger

Key insight:

As the issue of race in America remains at the forefront of the national conversation, brands are increasingly under the microscope on how they view inclusion, both internally in their company’s staff and externally in their products.

Some children’s brands took the issue to heart years ago. In 1968, Mattel debuted its first Black doll. In the ‘80s, the toymaker added Asian and Latina representation. In later years, the brand released dolls addressing different abilities and body sizes.

Crayola started its own inclusion journey in 1992, launching an eight-color Multinational Crayons collection representing different skin tones. In May, on the United Nations’ World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, the brand expanded the line to a 24-count set dubbed Colors of the World.

The new set of crayons vastly expands the color palette to reflect a broader range of global skin tones. It was designed with help from Victor Casale, former R&D director at MAC Cosmetics and current CEO of MOB Beauty. Casale has over three decades of experience in creating foundation colors for a wide range of skin tones.

“I have spent my entire life trying to create truly global shade palettes because I know what it’s like to be with a person who has finally found their exact match,” Casale said in a statement the day of Crayola’s product launch.

Internally at Crayola, Mimi Dixon, the brand’s manager of brand marketing, strategy and activation, played a crucial role in seeing the eight month-plus project to fruition. While the brand has long evolved its inclusive position, she said it was time to look at today’s world and see how it was reflected in the product.

“Gen Z is the most diverse generation that we’ve seen,” said Dixon, a six-year veteran at Crayola. “It behooved us to take a look at the line, look at the world. [We saw] that there was more representation needed, and that was the genesis of Colors of the World.”

Key to the product’s success was ensuring accuracy, credibility and authenticity. To accomplish that, Dixon sought an analog that would be the foundation for creating true representations of global skin colors. In looking at who excelled in diversity and inclusion, she landed on Fenty, Rihanna’s makeup line.

“That’s where my head went first, and beauty does a great job of being more inclusive with color,” said Dixon, who grew up in Camden, N.J., and worked in various roles at Campell Soup Company, based in the city, for over 16 years.

Dixon long admired Casale’s work and sent him a somewhat cryptic message, asking for guidance on what she positioned as merely “a project.”

“I got a response to my inbox the next day from Victor, saying, ‘I hope this what I think it is,’” she said. “From the beginning, he was very excited and aligned. A week later, he was at our R&D offices starting the project.”

Starting with a skin’s undertone (the base foundation of a person’s skin color, which is either rose, golden or almond), Casale and the R&D team whittled down from 40 global skin tones to 24 (there is also a 32-color box).

“Whether you’re lighter or darker, people can find their color there,” said Dixon, noting that the colors are on the outside of the package. “A child can take this crayon box and put it up to their wrist or hand, and try to match and find their color.”

In addition to children, Dixon said teachers were an essential consideration in the product’s development. In testing various names for the collection, educators felt that Colors of the World represented the ever-evolving diversity in the classroom and had a more global feel.

“They felt that it was bringing everyone together,” Dixon said. “It was uniting, and the name kept coming back to us, so we knew that we had a winner.”

Though this project continues the tradition of inclusion at Crayola, it’s also personal and relevant to Dixon. Growing up, she said there wasn’t a color in crayon box that matched her skin color, and that she didn’t feel “100% represented.” But now, with Colors of the World, it’s a new era and one that is welcoming and authentic.

“Kids can now reach into a box and pull out their color,” Dixon said. “They’re representing themselves on paper, not be left out and be proud of who they see.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.
Publish date: July 6, 2020 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT