‘My daughter couldn’t find a Black doll with afro hair — now we sell them’

Lola Ogundele wanted her daughter Isabella to have a doll which represented her (Photo: Mark Campbell)

Welcome back to How I Parent, where we get a glimpse into how the nation is raising their kids.

Walk down the doll aisle of a large toy store, and the products you’ll find are often depressingly similar. But Lola Ogundele, 40, and her daughter Isabella, nine, are on a mission to change that.

When Isabella was four, the single mum searched far and wide for a Black doll with natural hair for her to play with. And, coming up short, she decided to make her own.

Now, the mother-daughter duo have just opened their first shop, Lola Love Dolls, in the heart of London’s Portobello Road.

‘My daughter and I went shopping looking for a Black doll with natural Afro hair and dark skin and we couldn’t find one anywhere so I decided to make my own,’ says Lola.

‘I decided to call it Lola Love Dolls because people always used to call me Lola Love and it has a nice ring to it.’

The mum and daughter due recently opened their first shop in Portobello at 1, Thorpe Close (Photo: LLD)

Lola created the design of the dolls right down to the outfits and then found someone to make her vision. Isabella was ‘amazed’ when she first held her natural hair doll.

‘She would take it in in the bath, put all types of oils in the hair and then smear it all over the house!’ recalls Lola. ‘She would wash her and treat it like it was her baby.’

After seeing how happy the doll made her daughter, mum Lola began to think about how she could market the dolls to a wider audience and began with a set of 16.

She applied for a market stall close to home, on London’s famous Portobello Road, which has a footfall of at least 100,000 people on Saturdays.

Lola now has over 18 different style dolls in the collection (Photo: Mark Campbell)

‘I didn’t go to university and used to work as a mentor for secondary education so I didn’t know anything about Street trading,’ shares Lola. ‘But I did have a passion.

‘Originally I was laughed at, told not to quit my day job and told “all I sell is dolls and they aren’t any value to anybody.”

‘People would tell me what I should be doing and what I’m not doing right. Yet I didn’t allow the negativity to affect me and stayed positive and kept going.’

The stall license came through suddenly, so she had to set up fast.

‘I literally bought a piece of fabric from a man who had them in the back of his van to put on the table,’ she remembers.

‘I had a Sumup card reader and at the time Isabella was four, so she just sat with me as I put all the dolls on the table.’

The dolls have reached America, Spain, Germany and South Africa (Photo: LLD)

Lola wasn’t sure what to expect, but the instant sales from customers told her she was onto a winner.

‘The customer’s reactions were a bit shocking to me, because the children would run over and instantly touch their hair and then would want to take photos with the dolls,’ she says.

‘It was so different because a lot of my customers are not Black, and most of them are white. Since the initial launch, Lola Love Dolls has started to make their way all over the world to places such as America, Germany, Spain and South Africa.’

After the initial success, the business-savvy mum decided to find a regular supplier. While she had some challenges along the way, including a set of dolls who’s hair didn’t turn out like her design, eventually she got her production line sorted. She also started selling the dolls online, with prices starting at £30.

‘Because of the positive reaction, I was looking at the customers and realising it’s changing people’s lives and it’s certainly changing my life,’ Lola shares.

‘Because I frequently visit toy shops, I noticed that they simply don’t have Black dolls with natural hair on the shelves, so it’s bringing something new to the table.’

Her daughter Isabella was instantly in love with the dolls (Photo: Mark Campbell)

Working on the market stall provided quality time for Lola and Isabella and once the business took off, the entrepreneur was able to leave her secondary school role, which had previously seen her working from 8am to 6pm.

‘When working with Isabella I can also teach her, guide her, give her the skills and watch her do many things in the business which has been so much fun for both of us,’ she says.

As the duo became familiar faces on the Portobello Market, Lola’s daughter Isabella decided to create her own brand of lip glosses titled ‘Isabella Love,’ at age six.

‘She picked the colours and styles and puts the lip glosses together herself,’ says Lola. ‘Her collection includes lip glosses, nail polish, lip balms and keychains.’

Customers love the dolls and Isabella’s products (Photo: LLD)

One weekend a spare stall became available alongside Lola’s, so the pair took it on, with Isabella running the show.

‘Initially, people were excited about what was going on when seeing a young girl on the market selling,’ says Lola.

‘They wanted to take her picture as they could see that she’s very confident and knows what she’s doing. She knows how to sell and can show her full range, how it smells and what is in it.

‘She’s picked up what I say and now has her own business, which is lovely.’

Lola says the market trading even rubbed off on Isabella’s school friends who wanted to join in on the entrepreneurial action.

‘Three of her friends want to work in the shop and one of the mums is bringing her son on Saturday for four hours because she wants to train him up!’ she says.

‘They come up to me and ask, ‘Can I have a job?’ and another of her friends helped us at an event, which I paid him for. They’re all really enthusiastic.’

There are now over 18 dolls in the collection (Photo: LLD)

With their very first bricks and mortar shop, the business only looks set to get stronger and stronger and to top things off, Lola met with a department store this summer – so watch this space for further expansions.

For any single mothers wondering how she does it, Lola shares this advice: ‘Being a single mother, of course, can be very challenging. But the advice I would give to other single mothers is to never give up.

‘There’s no better satisfaction than working for yourself and being able to choose what you do.’

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