How this Ivorian architect is inspiring African children with her new brand of Black dolls

Ama Nunoo Jan 26, 2021 at 12:00pm

January 26, 2021 at 12:00 pm | Opinions & Features, Women

Ama Nunoo

Ama Nunoo | Staff Writer

January 26, 2021 at 12:00 pm | Opinions & Features, Women

Sara Coulibaly, an Ivorian designer and creator of Naima Dolls brand of dark-skinned dolls checking out her product in her workshop. Photo: REUTERS/Luc Gnago.

Sara Coulibaly grew up playing with light-skinned dolls, and even as an adult, the idea of still seeing such dolls on shelves in Ivory Coast was unsettling to her, especially when Black people are claiming their roots now more than ever.

Every girl child at some time in their lives played with dolls and for African children, most of these dolls until recently were light-skinned.

Coulibaly decided to bring a much-needed representation to the children in her home country so she created her own doll company Naima Dolls which produces dark-skinned dolls for the local market.

Children are oblivious to the implications of not having dolls that looked like them to play with. Seeing how that shaped her social construct, this Ivorian decided to bring Black dolls onto the shelves so children can see themselves in the toys they played with.

Her office is in the capital, Abidjan, and according to Reuters, it is beautifully decorated with African masks and colorful wax prints.  

Naima Dolls currently has 20 employees and the company was birthed five years after Coulibaly conceived the idea of creating alternative dolls for children that looked more like them than their colonizers. The dolls received a lot of admiration and massive patronage during the holidays last December.

Inspiration for the dolls come from different ideas or people she has met. Coulibaly, who trained to be an architect, designs and styles the dolls, which are then produced in China or Spain. On average, she produces 150,000 a year. The young entrepreneur hopes to bring the production to her home country someday to cater to high demand.

The names of the evolutional dolls come from different regions of Ivory Coast and the most popular doll is a two-year-old girl with plump features that goes by the name Adjoba, a name given to one born on Tuesday in the Akan language of the southeast.

“Our hope today is to give children the means to make good decisions, Coulibaly said. “I want them to be conscious of the fact that they are beautiful, that their culture is beautiful and their culture is rich.”

Many people now appreciate the Naima Dolls and Black dolls in general as they are bringing diversity to the market.

Global giant doll company Mattel, producers of Barbie, have also in recent times leaned towards creating more dolls that drive diversity and inclusion. The first doll was created in 1959 and it was light-skinned. The first Black doll by the company was Christie, which was made ten years later. It took another two decades before another Black doll, “African-American” Barbie was released since Christie, People reported.  

As recent as last year, Barbie released a set of looks for its Black doll collection for Black History Month as part of efforts to bring the much-needed representation in the homes of the young ones who love the dolls.

Mattel worked with costume designer Shiona Turini, the creative mind behind the movie ‘Queen & Slim‘, to outdoor a set of Barbies in 10 different hairstyles, skin tones, and body types to create Barbies with braids, finger waves, and everything in between.

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