START-UP STORIES: Lola Love Dolls

In the first of a new series honing in on new companies and fresh talent in the toy space, Tessa Clayton chats to West London-based Lola Ogundele, founder of doll brand Lola Love Dolls.

What do you do when you can’t find a suitable black doll in the shops for your four-year-old daughter? You start your own toy company, of course.

Lola Ogundele founded Lola Love Dolls in 2018 after several fruitless shopping trips to one of the biggest toy superstores near her West London home. “They had one black doll,” Lola recalls, “and it didn’t even look black. It had straight hair, and they’d obviously used the same mould as for a white doll. Even the skin didn’t look like black skin, it was grey and washed out.”

The lack of representation upset and disappointed her daughter – and left Lola shocked. “We had black dolls already that we’d bought online, so I thought we’d easily find some in the shops,” she says. “I never knew things were that bad. And it made me think: is this what other mums from other cultures go through to get a black doll?” The scarcity of representative dolls was all the more shocking given that London is incredibly diverse: black and ethnic minority people make up 44 per cent of the city’s eight million-plus population. “It baffled me that this was happening in 2018,” Lola says.

Although the experience was disheartening, Lola found herself galvanised by it. “I just thought, I’m not going to moan, there’s no point. I’m going to try and do something about it myself,” she says.

With no business background, but an entrepreneurial spirit and some useful contacts – a friend was able to advise her on the ins and outs of setting up a small business, getting a logo designed, and dealing with suppliers – Lola was able to take delivery of two boxes of her first custom-design dolls in late 2018. “I sold them from a market stall in Portobello Market,” she says, “and within two weeks they’d all gone. That’s when I realised there was a market for this.”

Over the months that followed Lola built awareness of her brand, liaising with social media influencers and being interviewed in local newspapers, while still holding down her day job. Business inevitably took a knock when the pandemic hit in 2020. “I’d been selling person-to-person, and suddenly I couldn’t do that any more. Plus, in terms of shipping the dolls from my supplier, during lockdown I was having to wait four months for deliveries. It’s since come back down to two months, which isn’t ideal, but it’s better than it was.”

Although it was admittedly “really hard”, Lola was able to cover the first costs with her salary. Last September, buoyed by the demand for Lola Love Dolls, she left her day job to concentrate on the business full-time. A new website is in the pipeline, and her energies are being poured into her hero range of 18-inch and 12-inch dolls, which have Afro textured hair and come dressed in jewel-coloured outfits. She recently invested in customised packaging for the dolls – boxes featuring patterns inspired by African prints and with the story of how Lola Love Dolls came to be printed on the side.

Finding investment to take the business to the next level is obviously a priority. Investment would allow Lola to buy her own moulds – a startup cost of around £5,000, but as Lola explains, “it would give me the freedom to decide the doll’s features and make them unique. Then that design would belong to me, it couldn’t be copied.” Eventually Lola would love to see other skin tones represented. “I have plans for Asian dolls, Muslim dolls… Ensuring every child is represented and can see themselves reflected in toys is so important. If you can’t buy a doll that represents them what kind of message are we sending our children?”

Lola’s daughter is now seven, and still a huge doll fan. She’s also a great barometer for testing new products. “When my daughter saw the new dolls in their boxes, she immediately said, ‘I want one!’” says Lola. “I had to remind her that she already has the exact same one, but I knew then that the packaging was a success; it really sets everything off and makes the dolls look so special.”

 

 

Lola Love Dolls can be purchased at Fashion Meets Music Collective, Unit 63– 64, Centrale Shopping Centre, 21 North End, Croydon. To find out more about Lola Love Dolls, visit Lola’s Facebook page

 

 

About Tessa Clayton

A former Chief Sub of Red magazine, Tessa Clayton is the Digital Editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. As a freelance journalist she specialised in writing about parenting and family life, and has contributed to a wide variety of publications and websites including Tesco online, Mother & Baby, Livingetc, Junior, Boots Health & Beauty, Practical Parenting and babycentre.co.uk. Get in touch at tessa.clayton@biz-media.co.uk

Check Also

Rocket Licensing to rep Miffy in the UK and Eire

Mercis, which manages the works of Dick Bruna, has appointed Rocket Licensing to represent global …