Alumna Helps Lead Creativity and Design at American Girl


Each year, the products designed and created by Apparel and Textile Design alumna Rebecca DeKuiper for the American Girl company are highly anticipated and sought after by thousands of young girls around the world. 

DeKuiper is a Lead Designer of the “Girl of the Year” brand for American Girl, a popular doll manufacturer headquartered in Middleton, Wisconsin, which has sold more than 32 million dolls since the company began in 1986.

A woman in a pink sweater sitting next to dolls in astronaut suits and a toy space lab.
Rebecca DeKuiper with the 2018 Girl of the Year, Luciana


"My role is to help create a character doll through generating product concepts, creating the character’s design direction, and designing the product,” DeKuiper said. “I also work closely with our editorial, marketing, and technical design departments to ensure the product is accurately represented in books, marketing, and retail.”  

Every year, American Girl introduces a new Girl of the Year character with its own story and 18-inch doll as well as several outfits and accessories to reflect the character’s lifestyle, interests, and activities. In addition to books, videos, and other products, the Girl of the Year line also offers activities to allow for further exploration of the character’s world, including online games, apps, learning guides, and retail events and experiences. 

A young girl wearing a bright pink dress standing in front of a rocket while holding a doll dressed like an astronaut.
2018 Girl of the Year doll, Luciana, and a girl wearing an American Girl dress
(Photo courtesy of American Girl)
 


DeKuiper has worked on the Girl of the Year line since 2009 and has been part of the design process for the last 10 Girl of the Year dolls. She was promoted to Lead Designer in 2016, the year the Lea Clark character, a budding photographer from St. Louis, Missouri, was introduced.

“When I started to take a lead role on the team, I became more involved upfront in the development of the character,” said DeKuiper, who has since developed and designed two of the groundbreaking characters for the Girl of the Year line: Logan, the brand’s first boy doll, which was released in 2017, and the 2018 Girl of the Year, Luciana Vega, an aspiring astronaut and the first American Girl doll to be immersed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). 

Research: From NASA to Blue Bird Café

As part of her research for Luciana’s character, DeKuiper traveled to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for a behind-the-scenes tour where she met with astronauts and space suit engineers and even got to drive a rover vehicle. 

It's great seeing girls respond positively to something I worked so hard on and believe in. And, it’s still pretty exciting to randomly see a girl walking down the street in a dress that I designed.

“At American Girl, we take a lot of pride in making our characters as authentic as possible. That involves doing a lot of research before we even start designing,” DeKuiper said. “With each character, we also use a panel of experts to help make sure we are getting all of the details correct. They are an invaluable resource in the design process and so much fun to work with.”

DeKuiper ’s research into other characters has taken her to a variety of places from the Blue Bird Café in Nashville, Tennessee, to a llama farm in Wisconsin.  

“It’s great seeing girls respond positively to something I worked so hard on and believe in,” DeKuiper said. “And, it’s still pretty exciting to randomly see a girl walking down the street in a dress that I designed.”

A smiling woman wearing an astronaut suit.
DeKuiper in a NASA space suit during a behind-the-scenes tour and research trip to
NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
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The American Girl mission is “to create girls of strong character” and DeKuiper says that is her favorite part of working for the company.

“I really believe in that mission and in the power that our characters have to shape girls’ lives,” she said. “I love to hear from girls about a particular story that helped them through a difficult time or shaped their lives in a positive way. That’s what keeps me motivated every day.” 

Career Path: From Child’s Play to American Girl

Growing up in Traverse City, Michigan, DeKuiper and her sister each had an American Girl doll, which sparked in DeKuiper a desire to design and create.

“We spent a lot of time making clothing and accessories for them, and they went with us everywhere,” DeKuiper said. “I had a Kirsten doll and at one point I cut her hair into a bob and got in big trouble. Now I get paid to cut dolls’ hair. I like to remind my mom that I was just training for my future career!”  

I love designing for American Girl because I get to work on such a diverse range of projects. One season I am designing a dance costume and the next it’s a space suit. I am never bored!

DeKuiper started working at American Girl in October 2006 as a Special Project Employee/Intern. Since then, she has been promoted to Associate Designer, Product Designer, Senior Product Designer, and now Lead Designer.

“I’ve been at American Girl for most of my professional career, almost 12 years. One of the reasons for that is that my job is always evolving,” DeKuiper said. “I love designing for American Girl because I get to work on such a diverse range of projects. One season I am designing a dance costume and the next it’s a space suit. I am never bored!”

A woman and a man standing in front of a NASA space rover vehicle.
DeKuiper and a colleague with a NASA space rover at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
 

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DeKuiper attributes her success to having a positive attitude and a willingness to take on any project.

“I love to branch out and work on projects that are outside my regular scope. When I started at American Girl, I was designing only clothing, now I work on everything from doll wigs to furniture pieces,” she said. “Also, having a great manager/mentor really helped me progress. I am able to have discussions with her about where I want my career to go, and she gives me projects that help me reach those goals.”  

Education: From MSU and Beyond

DeKuiper graduated from the Department of Art, Art History, and Design with a B.A. in Apparel and Textile Design in 2005. 

“I think there is sometimes a misconception about what careers are available if you study art and design. For me, and my parents I’m sure, the thought of graduating with an apparel design degree was daunting,” DeKuiper said. “I knew it was what I loved doing, but I didn’t know if I could actually get a job in the field. It wasn’t until I started job searching that I found there were so many possibilities to use the skills I learned in my degree.”

I knew it was what I loved doing, but I didn’t know if I could actually get a job in the field. It wasn’t until I started job searching that I found there were so many possibilities to use the skills I learned in my degree.

DeKuiper now utilizes those skills gained at MSU every day and credits her study abroad and internship experiences with helping her land the job at American Girl. Her last semester before graduating from MSU, she did a study abroad in London and an internship at Amanda Wakeley, a London-based lifestyle luxury brand.

“Study abroad was an invaluable experience that took me out of my comfort zone and prepared me for success in the industry,” she said. “When I got home, I felt like I could take on anything. I not only experienced a new culture, I was able to see different aspects of the industry. This ultimately helped lead me to my current career path.”   

DeKuiper encourages students to explore all the possibilities of their career.

“There are often unexpected options you can pursue,” she said. “I did not expect to be designing toys, but it turned out to be a perfect fit.”