More than 70 percent of the world’s population is not ‘white’, and yet it is the fair and impossibly thin Barbie dolls that dominate markets across the globe. Taofick Okoya from Nigeria had not given it much thought until his daughter started feeling upset about her colour, and it broke his heart.
“It opened my eyes to the fact that all her dolls at the time and all her favourite characters were white, and looking in the mirror she doesn’t see the image she has as play tools or favourite characters.”
The toys that kids play with and grow up with don’t just teach them gender roles but also play an important role in developing their sense of identity and self-esteem. In a country as diverse as Nigeria, there wasn’t a single doll that a Nigerian kid could relate to.
To address this issue, Taofick got into the business of creating dolls that represent Nigerian women in all their diversity. Called the ‘Queens of Africa’, his dolls come in all sizes and appearances — tall and short; skinny and curvy; short haired and long haired.
But making it a successful business was easier said than done. When he started selling these dolls in 2007, it was difficult to convince shop owners to put them up for sale because they, like the children, were used to fair-skinned dolls. It took two years of campaigning to get the products on the market.
In the seven years since he came up with this idea, Taofick has gone from being ridiculed to making history; in Nigeria, Queens of Africa dolls sell better than Barbies, according to Brightvibes Africa.
The dolls presently on the market are inspired by three large ethnic groups in Nigeria. Taofick’s goal, however, is to go global, ensuring that women across the world find representation. Talking about the need to take this forward, in an interview to YourStory, he said,
“Children are on a continuous learning process and take in things around them quite easily, so we need to be conscious of what we expose them to through play tools or toys.”
At the same time, Taofick also empowers local communities by employing mothers, who braid the dolls’ hair and create outfits for them. According to Forbes, he said,
“We’ve made the lips fuller, and the nose rounder. We also offer different hair textures, ranging from wavy to short and curly, as well as coarse hair. We’ve given the body a bit more curves, and we’re planning on doing a fuller butt in the near future. It’s a way of showing also that ‘African’ isn’t just one look. We celebrate both skinny and curvaceous women.”
Gone are the days when the dolls from America dominated store shelves. Queens of Africa dolls are now available for sale not just in America but also in France and Australia.