Dolls dressed in local attire are arranged on a table at a workshop in Surulere district, in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos

Taofick Okoya had a problem, so he ended up solving it himself.  Okoya was upset when he couldn’t find a black doll for his niece, so the 43-year-old Nigerian business man decided to take matters into his own hands and started his own doll making business.

Seven years later, Okoya sells between 6,000 and 9,000 “Queens of Africa” and “Najia Princesses” a month. 

From Reuters:

While Nigeria sees thousands of births every day, two thirds of children are born into families unable to afford anything off the shelves of most toy shops.

Multinationals also cite poor infrastructure and corrupt port authorities as reasons for steering clear.

South Africa’s Woolworths pulled out of Nigeria last year, blaming supply chain problems, though analysts said it also misread the local clothes market.

The longer companies such as Mattel wait, however, the more time Okoya has to build his business and shape consumer tastes.

At a small factory in Lagos’ Surulere suburb, his workers stitch brightly patterned West African fabrics into miniature dresses and “geles” – traditional head gear.

Nigeria’s three largest ethnic groups of Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa are represented in the “Queens of Africa” range so far, highlighting the growing sophistication of consumers – and the need to tailor products to local tastes.

The dolls go for between 1,300 Nigerian naira to the special edition 3,500 naira ($22), while cheaper “Naija Princesses” sell for 500 to 1,000 naira apiece. Okoya makes a profit margin of about one third, and as well as selling at home, is increasingly shipping to the United States and Europe.

Okoya is also in the process of inking a deal with South Africa’s Game, owned by Massmart, a part of Wal-Mart, to sell his dolls in 70 shops across Africa. Okoya also realizes that his dolls, although thin, should emulate different body types.  Previously he designed thicker bodied dolls but says the kids didn’t like them, but he hopes to attempt it again.

“For now, we have to hide behind the ‘normal’ doll. Once we’ve built the brand, we can make dolls with bigger bodies.”

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  • Courtney H.

    I agree with everyone. These are cute dolls! Black children should be able to play with dolls that look like them! And I agree — please let the dolls have natural hair!

  • SayWhat

    As a natural, I would not only like to see dolls with natural hair, but dolls with varying lengths of hair. I think it’s about time that we teach young girls that long hair is not the only definition of beautiful hair. I’m convinced that that is part of the reason why people are even putting 3 year olds (no exaggeration) in ponytails that reach their buts. Short healthy hair (chemicals or not, well…maybe no perms for the babies) is more beautiful then any length of damaged hair. I think that having brown dolls with wooly/kinky/coily/curly/nappy hair would go along way with helping the next generation embrace themselves.

    • eve-audrey

      why are people thumbing you down?

    • Vag Owner (@ProudVagOwner)

      wow, i’m not sure why you got so many thumbs down.

      and i am not usually one to nitpick about what others do with their body but with nigeria i’m thinking these women have been exposed to so much propaganda that beauty and modern women are one way that they aren’t thinking clearly.

      i like to watch nigerian shows and movies but they are usually cast with bleached out women wearing blond/brown straight weaves and faking american accents.

      asking for a little beauty DIVERSITY when it comes to a group of people that prides themselves on how diverse they are shouldn’t be a bad thing

      straight hair is not bad, and i would have no issue relaxing in the future…but i don’t like the idea of little girls being exposed to the idea that that is the only way to be beautiful and screw anyone who wants to promote that

    • I don’t get why people are thumbing you down either. I mean look at the way GROWN women are talking about Blue’s hair. It’s obvious that we need to make sure girls have dolls that NATURALLY look like them so they learn to love themselves as they are. A lot of us need therapy to undo our generational self-esteem issues.

    • Sharon Busey Yates

      Thank you!

  • Marie

    Dolls with bigger bodies and a range of skin tones. I want a dark chocolate one!

  • Kenzz

    I don’t know any little black girl with bone straight hair past her butt looking like Asian hair. When are we going to accept the fact that black hair is not typically long and bonw straight? If so, why are two of the dolls up there looking like Lucy Liu? We need to do better. Sorry. That’s Barbie hair to me still.

    • Lola

      I understand what you mean, but you’re mistaken. There are actually plenty of little Black girls with long hair, curly & straight. And the dolls come in a variety of hair types & lengths. Try to see the bigger picture (most little White girls don’t exactly look like Barbie either).

    • grandmomwithavoice

      There are plenty of young black little girls with long hair! I was one and I’m not a barbie ……black people come in so many shades and lengths of hair…..where have you been?