Queens of Africa, the black doll line that's outselling Barbie in Nigeria, started as a personal mission seven years ago. Taofick Okoya was frustrated that he couldn't find a black doll on the market for his niece. "I happen to be the kind of person that doesn't enjoy complaining and criticizing without taking any action," the 43-year-old businessman tells ELLE.com. So he researched making a doll that Nigerian girls could identify with: one with their skin color and traditional African fashion.
Okoya created two lines of dolls, Queens of Africa (which come with three outfits, four accessories, and cost 1,300 to 3,500 naira, or $6.75 to $18.18) and Naija Princesses (which come with two outfits, two accessories, and cost 500-1,000 naira, or $2.60 to $5.19). Each doll represents a different African tribe (Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa).
Okoya sells 6,000 to 9,000 dolls a month, Reuters reports—10 to 15 percent of Nigeria's small but growing toy market, by Okoya's estimation. The dolls have quite a few fans. Okoya shares one's testimony: "Usually the black dolls are so dark, I don't buy them because they look nothing like me. I think that if they had maybe a better variety of black dolls with different colors like yours, that would be a lot better. No two black people are the same color: Some have darker and some have lighter pigments. Like many other African Americans, I have never found a doll that really fits me 'till now."
And the dolls' Facebook page consistently gets new comments. "You can be sure my future daughter will be playing with those," one wrote on it. "Thank you for your hard work and keep on doing it, you are helping our girls in being more confident and proud of themselves."
Queens of Africa's reach is global thanks to the web, where Okoya accepts online orders for the dolls. He says after Nigeria, the greatest demand is from America, Brazil, Europe, the Ivory Coast, and South Africa. But despite this, he doesn't feel the brand has made it yet. It won't "until it reaches every child of African decent all over the world and is a symbol of pride by making them appreciate who they are as an African."