Female Action Figures that Inspire Empowerment

Female Action Figures that Inspire Empowerment

Rutgers alumna’s fast-growing company, ‘ IAmElemental,’ gets applause from therapists, teachers, children and grandparents

IAmElemental female action figures encourage children to envision themselves as the strong and powerful centerpieces of their own narratives.

'The themes of empowerment, and of being your best self, resonate with me on so many levels . . . It’s amazing to be part of a conversation about how society is changing, to be helping to break down stereotypes.' 
 
– Veenita Bleznak

The figurines, with nary a jutting bosom or shapely calf in sight, are based on a series of virtues – persistence, ingenuity, energy and courage – each accessorized with cape, boots, mask or other symbols of mastery.

They’re about as far from Disney princesses as it gets.

And that’s exactly what 1991 Rutgers graduate Veenita Bleznak has in mind each time she creates the latest in a new series of female action figures –  superheroes who encourage children to envision themselves as the strong and powerful centerpieces of their own narratives.

Bleznak is chief operations officer of IAmElemental, a fast-growing company whose products have taken the toy industry by storm, earning a place on Time’s list of the Top 10 Toys of 2014 and being featured in such diverse media outlets as Forbes, Oprah Magazine, the BBC World Service, NBC and The Boston Globe.

And they won Bleznak and IAmElemental founder Julie Kerwin invitations to the White House earlier this year to participate in a summit convened by the White House Office on Girls and Women exploring how the practice of marketing by gender limits girls’ opportunity in the workplace.

 “The themes of empowerment, and of being your best self, resonate with me on so many levels,” says Bleznak, who received her bachelor of arts degree in political science and English from Rutgers-New Brunswick before heading to the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “It’s amazing to be part of a conversation about how society is changing, to be helping to break down stereotypes.”

Bleznak, who describes herself as a “recovering transactional lawyer,” joined the fledgling company shortly after a Kickstarter campaign met its $35,000 goal in an astonishing 48 hours, ultimately raising $163,000 from backers representing all 50 states and six continents.

Her years of experience in private practice and corporate law come in handy in all phases of the figures’ production, from design to safety testing, brand awareness and distribution.  She’s still adjusting to making the leap from practicing attorney to astute businesswoman.

“As an entrepreneur, you have to get used to not being risk-averse, to not being a perfectionist,” the Parsippany Hills High School graduate says. “I’m still using the same sets of skills I learned in law school, but I’ve had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Veenita Bleznak is chief operations officer of IAmElemental, a fast-growing company whose products have taken the toy industry by storm,
So far, the rewards outweigh the risks. Positive feedback comes in the form of testimonials from child therapists who use the figures in role-playing with patients, and from teachers who are introducing them into the classroom.

Then there are the sketches, photos and letters from children across the globe who incorporate the toys into their day-to-day play – and words of gratitude from grandmas and grandpas who scoop them up as gifts for budding feminists.

Bleznak’s most ardent fans are closest to home: her daughters Simi, 15, and Rani, 13.

“They think it’s incredibly cool that their mother has a toy company,” the Wynnewood, Pa., resident says. “They sit with me when I pick a design and when I choose colors for the figures.”

And although they’re older than the firm’s target audience – 4-plus – they get the empowerment thing, Bleznak says with a grin.