Barbie has her fans, but she’s not exactly known as the most empowering toy on the market. Despite efforts from activists and artists, the childhood staple doesn’t really hold her ground as a relatable, self-esteem-boosting model for ALL young girls.
So Nigerian entrepreneur, Taofick Okoya, decided, rather than petition Mattel for more diverse prototypes, he’d create his own dolls. Okoya dreamed up the Queens of Africa dolls, which have been, according to Reuters, selling at the rate of about 6,000 to 9,000 units a month, outstripping the sales of Barbies in Nigeria.
Okoya created the dolls based on Nigeria’s biggest ethnic groups—Igbo, Yuruba, and Hausa—and designed the figures with empowerment in mind. The 43-year-old dad credits his daughter with sparking the idea.
“All the dolls in the house were all white,” he said in a promotional video. “And I was like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s a problem. Because when you load a child with all this, it becomes an acceptable form of. . how you should look. And so I thought, I want to use my dolls to teach Nigerian culture, African culture.”
As the website for the toys states: “Queens of Africa celebrates being an African girl in the 21st century by drawing on the strengths and achievements of our ancestors and bring them up to date to empower and inspire today’s generation of African girls.”
Not only are they designed to educate kids about their history, but they’re also encouraging of traits like “endurance,” “love” and peaceful activism, in today’s world. For example, on the Queens of Africa website, there are images of the dolls holding “Bring Back Our Girls” signs—taking part (albeit as dolls) in the campaign to rescue hundreds of Nigerian girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terror group.
But Okoya’s dolls aren’t just educating children, they’re schooling adults as well. They’ve proven that there’s clearly a market for more diverse toys, and anyone who believes otherwise isn’t paying attention.
“The Queens of Africa definitely fill a void in the market,” Okoya told Elle. “I say this because the first reaction we got from retailers was resistance. They said ‘black dolls don’t sell.’ I then embarked on an educational campaign via various media, telling people about the psychological impact dolls have on children, and dolls in the likeness of the African child can have on them.”
If people weren’t listening then, they’re listening now. Okoya estimates that he has 10 to 15 percent of “a small, but fast-growing market,” according to Reuters. And with plans to ship more dolls to other countries, including the US, business is bound to grow, and more importantly, kids are poised to reap the benefits.