“Wha gwaan…Weh yaa seh… mi come from the beautiful island of Jamaica…wi have the best beaches and sunshine all through di year…nuff respect…to di worl,” are some of the sentiments ‘Toya’ utters to her playmates at the press of a button.
She is the first-ever Patois-speaking doll and is the brainchild of Saffron Jackson, a Jamaican living in the United Kingdom (UK) for the past 15 years.
Miss Jackson’s dedication to promoting Jamaica’s culture, coupled with her desire to satisfy an existing need, propelled her to tap into the multibillion-dollar toy industry in 2015.
“At that time, I was pregnant with my daughter and noticed there was a lack of ethnic toys and black dolls in the UK. So, realising that there was a massive niche for the product in the marketplace, and being a very passionate Jamaican, I thought I needed something that would not just be a black doll, but reflect part of my culture; and so, that is how the Patois bit of it came in,” Miss Jackson reflects.
Her creation, Toya, represents an immigrant child who moved to the UK from Jamaica and is excited to tell people about her country, inviting them to experience its rich culture and offerings.
“Finding the voice for the doll was pretty challenging… . I had to get someone in Jamaica to try several kids until I found that distinct, authentic voice,” Ms. Jackson tells JIS News.
After an 18-month process of market research, identifying potential manufacturers, registering and trademarking her product, her business venture finally materialised, and then she was busy selling dolls to the many eager, excited buyers, just a week after the launch at the Jamaican High Commission in the UK.
Her dark-skinned, curly-haired dolls, attired in black, green and gold, are available primarily online at www.zuree.co.uk , amazon, eBay and a few small retail stores in the UK for £50.
The demand for the doll has been phenomenal, with requests for Toya coming in from Estonia, Germany, The Netherlands, Australia, United States of America (USA) and Japan.
“So, the doll is definitely making an impact across the world, and this is not just because it is a black doll, but a black doll that speaks Jamaican. Jamaica is a brand, and people love the culture and just want to have a piece of it,” Ms. Jackson says.
The teacher-turned-doll maker adds that the future looks extremely bright and profitable for her business venture, with a major toy store in the USA now knocking on her door with offers to sell the doll in its online store.
“The aim is to get the dolls into major stores and outlets around the world… . I also have other dolls that are non-talking, so the plan is really to compete with the likes of Disney and Barbie, being the first or most popular black doll and merchandise manufacturer in the industry,” she says.
She notes that she has expanded her brand, Zuree, to include merchandise such as T-shirts, bags, baby onesies and bibs. She is also thinking of adding rags, towels and sheets to the clothing line.
Ms. Jackson has in her collection a talking Rasta teddy bear and ‘girls champs’ dolls dressed in the uniforms of the top-five girls’ teams.
“I also plan to do other black dolls that speak other languages, focusing on the African and Caribbean markets,” she says.
She adds that a major commitment that she wants to fulfil is to create a ‘Zuree Park’ for children in the Bog Walk area of St. Catherine where she is from that will be fully equipped with swings, slides and all the necessary play outlets.
The doll maker also stands true to the Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference theme, ‘Partnering for Growth’, having forged business relationships with several Jamaicans.
“I try to engage and utilise the services of other Jamaicans, so my logo and website were done by Jamaicans and I will be using a Jamaican company, ‘Patwa Apparel’ to produce some of the clothing for the dolls, and will partner with other Jamaican companies to make sandals for the dolls,” Ms. Jackson tells JIS News.
She is encouraging existing and budding entrepreneurs to “seek out new opportunities, take risks, think outside the box and move into non-traditional markets”.
“Jamaica has given us so much, Jamaica has made me who I am today and it is important for me to give back to my country. And so, I am promoting the heritage and culture through my dolls,” Ms. Jackson says.
“Zuree Limited is going places, I am breaking barriers, and everywhere I go, it is about Jamaica and being proud of who I am,” she adds.