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When Taofick Okoya was looking for a present for his niece back in 2007, he was surprised that he couldn't find a black Barbie doll in Nigeria.
That seems weird, right? It's so important for young children to play with toys that they can identify with and seems like such a shame that in Africa there were no black dolls!
Mattel does sell black Barbies, but sadly not in the region. Surely, it makes sense to sell black Barbies in the most populous country in Africa?
So, Taofick did what any good uncle would do - he decided to make his own range of dolls. Talk about a gap in the market!
There's two lines; The Queens of Africa and the Naija Princesses. The dolls are amazing! The Queens of Africa come with super-cool accessories that are traditional to Nigeria; each doll represents a different African tribe (Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa).
They're only £4.50 - which is incredibly cheap, too. That's less than half the price of a Barbie. The dolls are so popular that they're selling 9,000 a month - and not just in Nigeria. Customers are from all over the world, including Europe and South America. Unsurprisingly, business is booming!
Taofick told The Daily Mail that he thought Nigerian girls surrounded by white Barbie dolls would feel under pressure to conform to western beauty standards, instead of finding themselves.
Even in Nigeria, there's still a lot of Western influence, as Taofick said: "It becomes an acceptable way of thinking that's how you should look, so I thought I'm going to use my dolls to teach Nigerian culture."
The 43-year-old has a daughter, and feels responsible for making her comfortable in her own skin. He wants to create an environment where she feels accepted. He even named one of the dolls after her - Azeezah.
Taofick said: "It 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 among the younger generation. The Queens of Africa became a platform to achieve this."
He told Elle magazine that toys are so important for young kids, as he added. "The power of toys and play tools cannot be underestimated. It could be a greater influencer than we realise."
The Facebook page is full of women praising the Queens of Africa, saying their kids loved it because they finally had a doll that looked like them.
Initially Taofick created dolls that didn't conform to the usual standard of dolls - they weren't thin. But they weren't as popular and so he's slowly getting the public to accept that everyone looks very different and that's a good thing.
"What is really frustrating is the generalisation that Africans all have to look a certain way or be a certain colour," said Taofick. "That is stereotyping. There are slim Africans, plus-size Africans, dark Africans, fair skinned Africans, flat-nose Africans, and pointed-nose Africans. We will do our best to represent as much of the diversity of African."
You can check out the dolls here.
Words: Laura Hamilton
Featured Image Credit: Facebook
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