Taofick Okoya’s Black Doll Line, Queens of Africa now Outselling Barbie.

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tao thenet.ng

Often times, disappointments come, not to weaken us but to make us stronger. Sometimes, they are the gentle shove that sets us thinking, the hard punches that awaken us from our deep slumber or even the launch pad that shoots us into the land of possibilities that we never knew existed.

Now what do we do? Look for the silver lining and blessing, however disguised.

Taofick Okoya found his, in the most interesting way; he had gone in search of a present for his little niece; it wasn’t a box of chocolate or a lovely ball dress. He wanted a black doll!

His search led him to several toy shops, but he found that they sold mostly white dolls, which to him were very expensive and the cheap ones were the few black dolls which were of very low quality. At that point the idea hit him to make his own doll.

He soon found out that his niece wasn’t the only girl in his life who needed a black doll she could identify with — his own daughter had told him once that she wanted to be white.

“Even though we live in Nigeria, there was a lot of Western influence, which might have been responsible for her wishing she was white,” Taofick tells ELLE. “It made me aware that I needed to make her proud and happy being a black African girl, and not limit it to her alone as this was a common trend amongst the younger generation. The Queens of Africa became a platform to achieve this.”

Taofick Okoyas
Credit: www.owambe.com

The son of the successful Lagos industrialist, Rasaq Akanni-Okoya, Taofick knew he couldn’t rest on his father’s influence; he needed to break away, carve out his own niche and enjoy the process. Although he admits that the training from his father has helped to direct his entrepreneurial path.

“As they say, an apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. By the grace of God and by the training from my father; I believe he’s responsible for a lot of my business acumen. Then, if you now add my own creativity to it, I want to believe it’s a very dangerous cocktail (laughs). As you know, my dad is very business oriented. For him, he likes to fill a void.” He says in an interview with Thisday Newspaper.

Taofick was introduced into the family business at a very young age, that way; he learnt the tricks of the trade thoroughly, handled several responsibilities and eventually became one of the directors in his father’s multinational company, the Eleganza Group.

“My dad had an idea of imbibing in children from a tender age, certain values. While we were still in school, over the weekends, he would ensure that we went to the factory or we went to the stores to help them out. You can’t be caught at home on a Saturday morning at 9 am.” He explains,
“My dad would deal with you. On the softer side, we ended up travelling for summer and he’d give us shopping money. He entrusted us with responsibilities from a young age and never really monitored how we spent the money he gave us. It was my mum who monitored us.”

Credit: www.pagnifik.com
Credit: www.pagnifik.com

But then, he knew he couldn’t continue on that path, like his father, he knew there was a virgin land to plough and a void he was born to fill.

“That’s what I’m doing with the dolls. Take for instance, my dad’s production of coolers, biros and other stuffs. He goes into areas that are normally niche markets, that if those products are not locally produced, they would be expensive and out of reach for low income earners. I believe we are getting there gradually with the dolls. These days, we enjoy massive international press from the CNN, the BBC, Yahoo News and more.” He tells Thisday Newspaper “These things encourage us and keep us going. I even get a lot more credit and commendations abroad than I get locally. For me, it’s beyond just selling the dolls; I see a bigger picture. I see a global corporation and business venture that’s not limited to Nigeria or just Africa.”

Taofick Okoya’s Queens of Africa are unique, elegant and totally African. They are made to wear brightly-colored, traditional African dresses. Some of the dolls wear braids and head wraps, and each one represents one of the three Nigeria’s largest ethnic groups: Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa. Now Barbie has got a fierce competitor.

www.npr.org
www.npr.org

The entrepreneur made his first set of dolls in 2006, his early templates were larger bodied, and the kids didn’t like them.

“By the time I did the development and made some samples and I brought them to my daughters and cousins to play with I mixed it with some white doll samples too. They just told me they didn’t like the black ones. I had to go back to the drawing board to make adjustments and modifications.”

He named one of the dolls Azeezah after his daughter. The other two dolls in the Queens of Africa line are named Nneka and Wuraola. There’s also a line of Naija Princesses who appear younger, with fewer outfits and cost a bit less that the Queens of Africa dolls. Their names are Aisha, Chinyere, and Temilola.

Credit: www.owambe.com
Credit: www.owambe.com

In his entrepreneurial journey, the young magnate has faced several challenges. First, was the huge market resistance he encountered.

“By the time the finished product was ready, we began marketing and we faced another challenge because stores didn’t want to buy from us saying ‘black dolls don’t sell fast that they prefer white dolls.
The resistance was very discouraging and I started realising that it was more than just dolls; it was more like a socio-cultural change that needed to take place. Because if the average African woman does not begin to appreciate models in her own likeness, there’s no way they’ll appreciate their own beauty. I decided to use it as a medium to promote African culture with the black dolls amongst young children so that no matter where they are in the world, they’ll have a sense of belonging and identity within themselves.
“That’s why I didn’t just focus on doing the ‘Queens of Africa dolls’. I now also have the Queens of Africa project under which I now have the dolls and the focus is really about girl child empowerment.”

To solve this problem, he became his own public relations and advertising officer. He began attending school events, granting interviews, both in print and electronic, to sell the idea. He also created a website and also interacted with parents to tell them about the product. And this started to pay off as people began to warm up to the product; especially since they were lovely and very affordable.

Credit: www.9jamom.com
Credit: www.9jamom.com

Eight years on, Okoya sells between 6,000 and 9,000 of his “Queens of Africa” and “Naija Princesses” a month, and estimates he has 10-15 percent of a small but fast-growing market.

He has plans of creating dolls from other African ethnic groups, and is in talks with South Africa’s Game, owned by Massmart, a part of Wal-Mart, to sell to 70 shops across Africa.

With such great impact, Taofick insists that his journey to an exceptional business success and fame has not even begun.

“I’m not satisfied with the popularity and acceptance yet. This is because we haven’t even scratched the surface. One of the reasons we haven’t scratched the surface is because the dolls are more like play tools that can be very instrumental in the development of a child. But in Nigeria we don’t really have the doll culture. What we are doing is to make it affordable and accessible to all levels of income earners across the board and that is why we are not there yet. The irony is that we get a lot of demands and enquiries about the dolls abroad than we get here in Nigeria.”

Now I ask, what exactly are you willing to do with your disappointments? Will you let them drown your dreams or give you wings to fly? I chose the latter a long time ago, I suggest you do same.

{Quotes culled from Thisdayonline}

© 2015 – 2017, Lovelyn Okafor. All rights reserved.

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