I don’t personally have a big history of playing with dolls, and as a large, bearded male who enjoys violent sports, I might not even be the sort of customer that doll manufacturers have in mind when creating their products. I’m not really offended by that.
But a story that didn’t sit as well with me comes from Nigeria, where, one day, Taofick Okoya’s daughter told him that she wished she was white. The comment didn’t sit well with Okoya either, and instead of lamenting the lack of dolls who could make his daughter feel content in her own skin, he got to work.
“All the dolls in the house were all white, and I was like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s a problem,’ ” Okoya said. “Because when you load a child with all this, it becomes an acceptable form of … how you should look. And so I thought, I want to use my dolls to teach Nigerian culture, African culture.”
Suppliers and retailers in Nigeria were initially skeptical about African dolls dressed in local fashion styles. “They said, ‘black dolls don’t sell,’” he told Elle South Africa. “I then embarked on an educational campaign via various media, telling people about the psychological impact dolls have on children, and (the effect) dolls in the likeness of the African child can have on them. It took almost three years.”
And Okoya’s persistence paid off. The Queens of Africa range of dolls is now stocked around the country, with orders from North America, Europe, and Brazil starting to roll in. Almost 10,000 dolls are being sold per month, each of which is assembled and dressed by hand in Lagos. That rate of sales is outpacing Barbie in Nigeria.
The three dolls in the African Queens range are styled after three of Nigeria’s main tribal groups, and represent peace, love, and endurance. In a music video created for the dolls, one of the dolls was even holding a #BringBackOurGirls sign!
The range of products is expanding, and will eventually include music, books, movies, and accessories. And it’s a good thing. Teaching young girls to accept themselves and their own beauty is important around the world, and the social values built into the Queens of Africa range will help to create strong, healthy communities.