Meet Eritrea’s Sabelle Beraki who built a thriving toy business out of frustration

Stephen Nartey April 25, 2024
Sabelle Beraki/Photo credit: Bells Toys

Sabelle Beraki’s childhood was inundated with the lack of representation when it came to a selection of toys including dolls for her world. Since then she has always sought the opportunity to ensure Black children have dolls that reflect their appearance and culture.

In 2022, when her cousin’s birthday came up for celebration, she decided to get her a doll with curly hair and brown skin that resembled her.

“But there was no such thing. The dolls I found were either very light-skinned or had straight hair,” she told Okay Africa. This was once more a reminder of Beraki’s childhood.

“I’d grown up without dolls that looked like me, my sister had grown up without a doll that looked like her. Now, my little cousin was going to do the same, unless I did something about it,” she said.

That became her motivation to start Bell’s Toys to fill the gap by providing children of African descent with Black toys.

“Like many other young Black girls around the world, I grew up without seeing myself in toys and dolls,” said Beraki, who was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, to parents from Eritrea, in the eastern part of Africa.

“That lack of representation was a problem. It’s extremely important for kids to see themselves in the toys they play with, and it’s been confirmed by a lot of research and studies. My dad couldn’t find any dolls that looked like me in Sweden. It was the same problem in Europe as well,” she added.

She recounted how the lack of representation even with the toys she played with affected her self-confidence and identity. According to her, the only way she felt she belonged was to act and behave as white people would.

“I told people my name was Jessica – I wasn’t proud of my name. I also always had my hair in a really tight bun to hide my afro,” she explained.

She noted that since she began producing black dolls for the market, the feedback has been excellent. She said she has received a lot of commendation from parents on how their children are fond of the black dolls.

“That Black children are finally feeling seen and celebrated. It’s more than I could have asked for,” she said.

But funding to start her business was a problem. For half a year, she worked as a cashier at a supermarket and stacked up some funds to start Bell’s Toys, she said. Then there was another problem of finding the right manufacturers after going from China to Germany and across Europe.

“There’ve definitely been setbacks and challenges, but after each, I pick myself up and keep going.” Beraki said. “It’s been a year and six months and we have thirteen retail stores across Sweden, with most located in Stockholm,” said the entrepreneur who is the lead designer for her business and is set to unveil West African-inspired doll called Sade in May.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: April 25, 2024


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