It’s often said that children are colour blind.
Most Parents in Africa and black people in the diaspora have no issues with buying their little girls Barbie dolls and Disney Princesses who look nothing like them based on this premise. But a new crop of black parents are increasingly becoming more race aware.
Recently, with the rise in debates about race issues in America, the issue of black youths feeling demoralised because of their skin colour has been pushed to the spotlight. Black parents are now beginning to turn to the basic foundations at home to inspire their children and reassure them that their colour is not something to be ashamed of, but something to be proud of.
Programmes like Disney’s Doc McStuffins and Nigerian children’s series including Bino and Fino, Obi and Titi have all been created to fulfil the need to give black kids characters they can identify with and be inspired by.
Now, a Nigerian entrepreneur has waded into this growing stream of diversity champions. Taofick Okoya is taking the toy market by storm with his Queens Of Africa line up dolls. Rather than the usual Princess themed garbs sported by most dolls, these contemporary models come in African prints and designs in what is popularly called Aso Ebi, worn by many Nigerian women to glamorous functions including weddings.
There’s no mistaken their identity or cultural heritage too, with names such as Wuraola and Nneka, popular Nigerian names in the west and eastern parts of the country.
Okoya says he began the business in 2007 after his daughter told him ‘she wished she was white’. This he says, inspired him develop the dolls in order to encourage his daughter to love and appreciate her appearance.
Despite the brilliance of the idea, it’s been a hard sell getting stockists to accept the dolls because, ‘black dolls don’t sell’, even in Nigeria. He says, ‘Children across the world have been conditioned to value the European standards of beauty.’ So he’s done what any smart entrepreneur would do, add the said features accepted by the market as standard, while still staying true to the core values of the business of promoting the African beauty.
Even in reality, it’s not uncommon to see women of colour sporting long conditioned hair that would normally be found in Caucasian women. The line has now extended to include a book series, featuring the dolls developed with the help of British children’s writer Judy Bartkowiak (JudyBee) and Yetis (LittlePinkPebble), a Children’s Illustrator from Singapore.
The dolls are represented as schoolgirls and together with them, children learn about the lives of ancient African Queens. “It was important for us to take the key messages of the lives of the ancient Queens of Africa and thread them through the stories in a way that children of today could identify with and be inspired by.” says Bartkowiak. “Using stories and imagery steeped in African heritage, with a modern twist we bring important messages forward for the young girls”.
You can shop the Queens Of Africa collection on Amazon. For more information, you can also visit the website.