Taofick Okoya couldn’t find a black doll for his niece in Nigeria.
This realization shocked the 43-year-old into action when he saw that in the booming economy of his country, there was a gap in the market with little competition from foreign companies like Mattel Inc., the creator of Barbie. So he set up shop and went on a mission to create dolls that looked like the children of his country, Reuters reports. Manufacture of the doll parts was contracted out to China, but then, once they were assembled, they were dressed in traditional Nigerian costumes.
It’s been about seven years since then, and now the entrepreneur sells between 6,000 and 9,000 of his Queens of Africa and Naija Princesses per month. He has a firm grasp on about 10 to 15 percent of the small but rapidly growing market.
"I like it," 5-year-old Ifunanya Odiah, as excited as you could expect any child to be, told Reuters. "It's black, like me."
According to the news site, big toy corporations are hesitant to invest a lot in countries like Nigeria, although the economy is doing extremely well. Even though the country has thousands of births every day, about two-thirds of the children are born into families that are unable to buy them these types of luxuries.
Infrastructure and corrupt port authorities are also some of the reasons multinationals decide the risk isn’t worth it. But that will be what gives locals like Okoya the edge. Moreover, Reuters points out, the longer that big companies wait to invest, the more time Okoya and others will have to build their businesses and shape them to the needs and tastes of their customers.
According to Reuters, Nigeria’s three largest ethnic groups, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, are all represented in the Queens of Africa dolls. The dolls sell from about $8 to $22 for special-edition models. Okoya makes a net margin of approximately a third of the price and sells in his home country, as well as increasingly churning out sales to the U.S. and Europe.
And his plans aren’t over. He intends to expand the dolls to include other ethnic groups from Africa and is currently negotiating with Massmart’s South Africa’s Game (part of Wal-Mart) to sell in 70 shops across the continent.
Okoya also has one more design plan that he is determined to undertake. He wants to make the dolls larger-bodied.
According to Reuters, Okoya’s dolls are similar in figure to Barbies (aka, incredibly thin), a body ideal that a lot of Africa does not like. Okoya said that he wanted to make bigger-framed dolls, but the children did not take to them. Still, he hopes that will eventually change.
"For now, we have to hide behind the 'normal' doll," he says. "Once we've built the brand, we can make dolls with bigger bodies."
Read more at the Guardian.