Quite often, a lack of a certain product leads to an innovative idea that then becomes a success in its own right. This is certainly true of Taofick Okoya and his dolls.
43 year-old Okoya was looking to buy a black doll that resembled his niece, but couldn’t find any, so he ended up making one himself. Now he has a whole line of dolls, called ‘Queens of Africa’, and they are actually outselling Barbie in his native Nigeria.
Okoya, who started his doll line seven years ago, spoke to ELLE.com about his extraordinary journey as a doll creator:
“I happen to be the kind of person that doesn’t enjoy complaining and criticizing without taking any action,” he explained. So the businessman set about creating a range of black dolls that his niece could identify with.
His daughter and her friends already had toys such as Mattel’s Barbie, but Okoya thought that these had led to her not feeling proud of her black heritage. Okoya wanted to change that with his collection of dolls. He wanted to subtly alter his daughter and her friends’ perception that white was preferable, and get them to appreciate their black history.
“I don’t believe Mattel sees the Nigerian market as a priority, yet their product has great influence on the psyche of the children here and affirms certain values contrary to our society.”
“Even though we live in Nigeria, there was a lot of Western influence, which might have been responsible for her wishing she was white. It made me aware that I needed to make her proud and happy being a black African girl, and not limit it to her alone as this was a common trend amongst the younger generation. The Queens of Africa became a platform to achieve this.”
So why was it important for Okoya to create a black African doll for his niece in the first place?
“I quickly realized that my direct influence on her development was about 40 percent and the remaining 60 percent was from her surroundings, i.e., her toys, TV, friends, etc.”
Okoya campaigned for a couple of years to raise awareness of how important it is to have dolls in an African likeness. During this time he realized that there were other issues affecting children like his niece, such as low self-esteem, and this spurred him on to make a change in the next generation.
This is not enough however for Okoya, who says he won’t be happy ‘until it reaches every child of African decent all over the world and is a symbol of pride by making them appreciate who they are as an African’.
There are experts who agree that toys are important implements in a child’s development, and play a major role in determining future personality traits. As Okoya states:
“The power of toys and play tools cannot be underestimated. It could be a greater influencer than we realize.”
And he is not done yet. The accidental entrepreneur is already working on his next collection, and with toy sales growing at 13% in Nigeria, he is likely to have another hit on his hands.