The homegrown toys gave young African kids characters that look like them. Unsurprisingly, they became extremely popular.
Image via Queens of Africa.
When Taofick Okoya’s daughter told him that she wished she was white, the Nigerian entrepreneur decided to help her fall in love with her natural black beauty. Sensing that her fair-skin worship was due to all of her favorite storybook, cartoon, and toy characters being white, Okoya began to imagine a world where Nigerian girls played with and looked up to black characters.
That was in 2007. Eight years later, the Queens of Africa dolls outsold Barbie in Nigeria. Modeled after the three biggest tribes in the country, the dolls each represent a different progressive value meant to empower black girls in their youth and in their careers: Nneka is Igbo and represents love; Azeezah is Hausa and is the queen of peace and, in the music video created for the dolls, is holds a #BringBackOurGirls sign; and Wuraola, the Yoruba doll, represents endurance — “Water is soft, this is true, but it can break a rock,” she sings in the “Queens of Africa” song.
The dolls were made available in various outfits, though the traditional attire seemed to be the most popular.
Though the project ended up successful, Okoya initially had a tough time convincing Nigerian toy stores to stock his dolls. “They said, ‘black dolls don’t sell,’” he told Elle South Africa. “I then embarked on an educational campaign via various media, telling people about the psychological impact dolls have on children, and [effect] dolls in the likeness of the African child can have on them. It took almost three years.”
He also said that in order to get little girls who’d already been conditioned to value European standards of beauty to buy his dolls, the Queens of Africa dolls were designed without the curvy bodies, “fuller facial features,” and rougher hair textures that many of his consumers have come to demand. He promised that these “identifying African characteristics” as well as an animated series and movie will be coming. He also hoped to expand the doll line to include at least one doll for each African country as well as a limited-edition doll range to raise funds for an African education charity.
The dolls were made available for sale in Nigeria’s toy stores and can also be found via the Queens of Africa website. Okoya also has made princess dolls and a series of books, comics, music, and cartoons that expand on the Queens of Africa world.