Watch Out Barbie: Nigerian Entrepreneur Looks to Bring ‘Queens of Africa’ Dolls to U.S. Retailers

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Forbes
Forbes

A Nigerian business owner is looking to bring his Black doll line to the United States. Taofick Okoya’s country faces an economic crisis, as sales of the successful brand Queens of Africa and its offshoot, Naija Princess, have not picked back up after Christmas. The creator of the successful brands – which sold between 6,000 and 9,000 dolls of various skin tones and hair types monthly in 2014 – has been meeting with American wholesalers and customers to carry the dolls in the States.

Okoya began the Queens of Africa collection in 2007 after he could not find a Black doll for his niece. His daughter’s identity crisis also influenced the launch.

“At that time my daughter was young, and I realized she was going through an identity crisis,” Okoya told Forbes. “She wished she was white, and I was trying to figure out where that came from. I used to always buy her white dolls, and it never got to me that it was relevant which color her dolls were.”

When he founded the company, Okoya outsourced doll parts from China and manufactured them in Nigeria. Three dolls in the collection are based on the biggest groups in Nigeria: Nneka is Igbo, Wuraola is Yoruba, and Azeezah is Hausa. Each of the dolls has an accompanying book that reinforces their culture, according to Atlanta Black Star. The company’s website says it is dedicated “to help empower children of African descent.”

Queens of Africa
Queens of Africa

This summer, Forbes reports the doll maker will travel throughout the U.S., stopping in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Houston during June and July to meet with potential clients. Okoya already visited Atlanta in April, where he meet with sellers on his Coming to America tour. American customers can currently purchase the doll from the Queens of Africa website starting at $24.99 or through Amazon, but the business owner hopes to recreate Nigeria’s high profits over Barbie doll maker Mattel, Inc. with in-store options.

“We’re planning on taking part in American toy fairs where we can meet with retailers,” Okoya told the magazine. “Our ultimate goal is to be sold by the major stores in the U.S. I personally believe it will be less difficult to sell the dolls in America, compared to Nigeria. In Nigeria the doll culture is still being developed, so it’s easier to sell within a market that is already there, as opposed to having to create that market.”

Nigeria’s doll culture believes dolls are only for the upper-class. It’s one of the reasons Okoya developed the Naija Princess line, which sells for $2.50 compared to Queens of Africa’s $6.50 price point.

Okoya also faced challenges when he first tried to get the dolls in Nigerian stores.

“There’s still somewhat of a colonial brainwash present in the country, and store owners would tell me ‘Oh no, Black dolls don’t sell, give us more white dolls’ when I first presented them with the dolls,” Okoya told the publication. “They were used to dolls being white by default, so taking a chance with a Black doll was quite difficult for them at first.”

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