Toya, the first Patois-speaking doll, is making an international stir thanks to the inspiration of one Jamaican-born, U.K. immigrant, who while on maternity leave realized there was a severe lack of Black dolls.
Saffron Jackson, an English teacher, found that most doll manufacturers avoided creating Black dolls. This didn’t stop her from turning to sources outside of the U.K.; particularly to Jamaica to find the doll’s unique voice and clothing; and finally to China to arrive at the finished product.
“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,” Jackson said.
The final product was Toya, an immigrant child who moved to the U.K. from Jamaica, wanting to tell people about her culture, her life and her adventures. Toya has dark skin, curly hair and wears Jamaica’s black, green and gold colors.
Almost immediately after it hit markets in November, the doll became a global hit with orders coming in from Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, the United States, Japan and, of course, Jamaica.
“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,” Jackson said, adding that this was her way of making a change to diversify the toy industry.
“I know for a fact that there are some parents who think that Jamaican Patois is actually broken English and so they fear that their children’s English will be distorted as a result. But the reality is that it is a language in its own right and knowing another language definitely doesn’t interfere with your main language at all,” Jackson added.
“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,” Jackson said, who continues to support her home country by using Jamaican companies to dress, market and sell her products.
The creator stated she had always wanted her daughter to have a doll that looked like her, and she hopes her Zuree Limited dolls will support a healthy self-image and empower little girls to be proud of their dark and beautiful features.
“Zuree Limited is going places,” the doll maker said about her company to Caribbean News Now. “I am breaking barriers, and everywhere I go, it is about Jamaica and being proud of who I am,” she added.