A seemingly unlikely source of your little girl’s favourite fashion doll, Lagos-based Taofick Okoya is hard at work – sewing tiny ankara dresses and geles in his small Surelere factory, to sell to children in his local area and abroad.
Okoya told The Guardian of how his current occupation – from which his profits margin at about a third – came about after having trouble finding his niece a black doll to play with. Spotting a gap in the market of his country, where there are more black children than anywhere else in the world, Okoya went to work, creating his Queens of Africa and Naija Princess dolls, in competition with foreign toy firms like Mattel Inc – the makers of Barbie.
With his seven year old business, Okoya brings low cost doll parts from China into Lagos and then gives a Nigerian twist – adding traditional Nigerian costumes to reflect Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba tribeswomen. His creations – fashion-forward, though rooted in tradition (even baring names like Nneka, Azeezah and Wuraola) – sell at a fast rate of up to 9,000 per month and are being shipped more and more to customers in Europe and the US.
Currently, the dolls are slim and model-esque of body – not curvy like many Nigerian women because apparently, children didn’t like them. However, there are plans to introduce more ‘realistically shaped’ dolls, with Okoya saying that “for now, we have to hide behind the ‘normal’ doll. Once we’ve built the brand, we can make dolls with bigger bodies.”
The dolls retail between 500 and 3,500 naira and are available locally, with plans to be sold through South Africa’s Game stores apparently in early stages.
While we at SPICE may be too old to play with them, we can still hope Okoya’s dolls sky-rocket and designer collaborations become a possibility. Because we’d love a Bridget Awosika, Iconic Invanity or Jewel By Lisa-styled doll…. For our niece. Obviously.