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Patois-speaking doll promotes Jamaican culture

Monday, July 10, 2017

KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) – “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 for the past 15 years.

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,” Jackson reflected.

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,” Jackson said.

After an 18-month process of market research, identifying potential manufacturers, registering and trade marking 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 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,” Jackson said.

The teacher-turned-doll maker added 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 said.

She noted 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.

Jackson has in her collection a talking Rasta teddy bear and “Girls Champs” dolls dressed in the uniforms of the top-five schoolgirl teams.

“I also plan to do other black dolls that speak other languages, focusing on the African and Caribbean markets,” she said.

She added 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 dollmaker 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,” Jackson said.



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