Smash hit ‘Queens of Africa’ dolls coming to the U.S.
In 2007, Taofick Okoya founded a Nigerian brand of dolls called Queens of Africa with the idea of empowering young Nigerian girls. His brand is expansive and inclusive, with many different skin tones and hairstyles. You can choose black dolls with afros, braids or even extensions.
The thought behind his line of dolls is to give little African girls dolls and role models they can relate to. This is important and a cornerstone of Okoya’s business model.
This summer, he is expanding his company’s footprint by visiting several cities all across the US, where he will be meeting new clients and hopefully getting contacts in place to start selling his African dolls in the US.
Okoya told his story to Forbes:
I got into the doll business by chance. At that time my daughter was young, and I realized she was going through an identity crisis. She wished she was white, and I was trying to figure out where that came from. I used to always buy her white dolls, and it never got to me that it was relevant which color her dolls were. On top of that, we have DSTV in Nigeria where children watch the Disney programs, and all her favorite characters were white. I started to understand why she’d feel the way she did, ‘cause it was all that she’d been exposed to.
It was at this point that Okoya decided to create a brand of black dolls on his own to give little Nigerian girls a doll that looks like them. At the same time, he works to empower the women of Nigeria as well. He works with many women to get the hair just right on the dolls. They do the braids, and they make some extra money for their household.
While one might imagine it would be easy to sell black dolls in Nigeria, that has not always been Okoya’s experience.
“There’s still somewhat of a colonial brainwash present in the country, and store owners would tell me, ‘Oh no, black dolls don’t sell, give us more white dolls’ when I first presented them with the dolls. There’s somewhat of a bandwagon mentality here, where people simply follow trends without asking themselves why. They were used to dolls being white by default, so taking a chance with a black doll was quite difficult for them at first” he says.
Okoya did make a success of his brand, however. In recent years, there has been a decline in sales due to economic trouble in Nigeria, and that is one of the reasons he is looking to branch out to the US, saying, “The US market is structured in a more efficient manner, which allows us to reach more people. In Nigeria, apart from the more high-brow stores such as Shoprite and The Game Store, it’s difficult to be present across multiple stores across several states. The US has that distribution network however, and that network is power.”