Ivory Coast toy company creates dark-skinned Black dolls for children in Africa

Frustrated by seeing store shelves in the Ivory Coast lined with almost exclusively light-skinned dolls, a designer created alternatives so local children could see themselves reflected.

Ivorian designer Sara Coulibaly, created Naima Dolls – a brand of dark-skinned Black dolls for children – and the reaction from local people has been incredible.

Produced in a workshop in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the dolls are meant to provide better diversity for children and improve representation for African kids with darker skin.

Five years on from her original brainwave, Sara’s company Naima Dolls now employs around 20 young women. As a team, they now produce and package 32 different models of dolls, and they are currently dealing with a big Christmas rush.

‘Our hope today is to give children the means to make good decisions,’ Sara said in her office in Abidjan, which is decorated with African masks and colourful wax prints.

‘I want them to be conscious of the fact that they are beautiful, that their culture is beautiful and their culture is rich,’ she added, referencing the widespread use of skin-lightening creams across Africa.

The names of Sara’s dolls all come from different regions of Ivory Coast. The most popular is Adjoba – or ‘Born on Tuesday’ in the Akan language of the southeast – a cute two-year-old girl doll with plump features.

An architect by training, Sara says she draws inspiration for her designs from ideas and people she has met.

The dolls are manufactured in China and Spain, although she hopes to open a factory in Ivory Coast in the next few years to satisfy rising demand. She currently produces 150,000 dolls per year.

At a supermarket in Abidjan last week, Sara’s dolls caught the eye of many holiday shoppers.

‘We got used to white people’s dolls and now we can see Black skin, the African woman,’ said shopper Aude Koffi as she surveyed the selection.

‘That is what I liked and that is why I came to have a look.’

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