September 16, 2015

Meet the maker of the African Barbie

The Queens of Africa Doll collection
Taofick Okoya is a man everyone outta know. But not for the reasons you might think (I mean when you think of his famous pedigree). This man is out to run the famous Barbie out of the market.  

Move over Barbie, it's The Queens of Africa coming through.

That's right! The Queens of Africa and now Naija Princesses where born out of a dire need, when he shopped around for a birthday gift for his niece, then all the shops carried mostly white dolls. Soon thereafter, he was confronted with the same issue head on when his daughter suffered from an identity crisis at 3 (that's how early it now starts people) asking her father "what color am I?" Then she had a "long face" when she learned she is Black, saying, "I wish I was white." Who can blame her when all the kids shows from Disney to Nickelodeon only feature majorly white characters and most toys are mostly slim and nonetheless, white.
Creating dolls that where not only black but African was not without its challenges, even African girls did't want to play with them, they weren't pretty enough, didn't look like the dolls they were used to and stores wouldn't carry them because there's simply no market for them (because not even the African girls would play with them... You get the gist). He did mention that at first, he did make more realistic prototypes to test the market with fuller figured bodies and traditional outfits. He realized that this issue runs deep, there's need for awareness on standards of beauty for Africans, especially the girls (not to rule the boys out), who are totally brainwashed from a young age and the unsuspecting parents who continue to feed the unfortunate cycle.

We had a long conversation on this topic so I'd let him do all the talking. I am proud to present: The Queens of Africa doll collection sold in major Nigerian outlets, online in the USA and the UK. Planned launch to stores like Walmart is soon on the horizon. So far the response is phenomenal, from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, you name it.

What I love about these dolls is what they represent, helping our young African girls to see themselves in the dolls they play with, as opposed to holding themselves to a standard of beauty that's never meant to be theirs, causing identity confusion in children as young as toddlers.Watching a little girl call herself ugly for not being fair skinned makes me weep. What parents don't realize is the role they play in such identity crisis when as adults, we hold ourselves to standards of beauty that is unreasonable and the kids are always watching. Plans are in the works to diversify further, these dolls to include many African ethnicities, different shapes and sizes, which would be more realistic than the standard already set by Barbie. Right now there's Nneka (Igbo doll), Azzezah (Hausa) and Wuraola (Yoruba). They can be adorned in many gorgeous ethnic inspired outfits made in the factory in Surulere. Each doll represent the queens of our past. Nneka is the running favorite among girls for being the fairest.

Right now the doll bodies are outsourced to factories in China and everything else, from the hair to the outfits are made in Nigeria. There are plans to change that with the growing market, to have every part of each Queen made in Nigeria. 

The Queens of Africa have been featured on major media outlets, to include Elle, BBC, US News and Reuters. There are not just dolls, the Queens of Africa have been characterized in books with roots in African history to help educate our Future. More can be found at Queens of Africa educational and empowerment books can be found on 

Check out my exclusive interview with company CEO over morning tea.


Images courtesy of Queen of Africa Dolls

August 2, 2015


In case you were wondering, that's how you say "what is it?" in Swahili.

I'm crossing off my mental bucket list. I must travel, travel travel! To Bali, see the Safari, Rome, Hong Kong, the list is long.

I made it to Kenya recently (yay!) I travelled through the city of Nairobi to Nakuru town, the countryside.  First thing to notice in Kenya is the fact that they drive on the left side, which means, the traffic flows the opposite way, at first, this can be disorienting if not used to it.

This is Africa? 

Nothing could have prepared me for my pleasant surprise. This place is beyond beautiful.

Kenya is a country blessed. It has a lot going for it, especially its natural resources. This is a place brimming with nature, many endangered species can still be found roaming around here among humanfolk, its greenery is lush, there are many lakes. Quite unforgettable is the late afternoon I came face to face with a baboon, distance couldn’t have been more than five feet (okay I was in the car). The creature must have just started his day and came out for some sun, it didn’t seem perturbed by the fact that I was literally screaming in excitement, it just sat on a mound on the side of a busy highway, looking left and right, scratching it's man parts and catching the afternoon breeze, as if to say “I’m used to screaming fans, enjoy the view!” To say the sight was unreal would be an understatement. This unusual sight would be strange to anyone not from Kenya, for different creatures roam around here. I caught a glimpse of the Massai herding cattle in usual tribal gear. There are cattle herders, sheep herders, goat herders, zebras grazing, donkeys galloping along, uniformed school children congregated on the side of the road by the bush, catching the afternoon sun. I wondered what their day was like.

Most enjoyable is sharing space with the wild. They roam free in the many national parks and lakes, due to time constraints, I couldn't explore them all. Beyond exciting is watching the giraffes, buffaloes, zebras, antelopes, warthogs, hippos. Each one gather together in different herds. I zoomed in on a couple of baboons, one meticulously groomed the other, reminded me of a happy couple.

There are alot of things and places named Kenyatta.

Kenyatta International Conference Center is an important landmark located in the business district of Nairobi. With one of its buildings 28 stories high, it is the third tallest building in the city, the top deck is a tourist attraction, providing spectacular aerial views. Named after Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president, it was completed in 1973 for events and exhibitions. It's amphitheater reminds me of the United Nations, a circular auditorium for at least 800 people with balcony mezzanines that spans at least 3 levels, look up and you will witness one of the best in architecture, it's where "heritage and mordernity meet." Unfortunately, no cameras allowed for security reasons. The amphitheater has played host to dignitaries from around the world, currently used for many conferences, exhibitions and different events all year round.

As I enjoyed spectacular views of the city of Nairobi, I'm reminded of the days on the observation deck on the 86th floor of Empire State Building in New York City, I also remember, I'm afraid of heights! I met the Balozi Family Chior, an organization that gives back to its country. They were in a recording session. They started this patriotic melody and although I couldn't understand what they were singing they commanded my attention. They were more than happy to explain.
I’m a Nigerian and proud of my heritage too, I would not trade my homeland for another. Matter of fact, I’ve gained greater appreciation for Nigeria in recent years that I simply want to stay connected, creating awareness anyway I can, collaborating with like minds on the goal of making Nigeria a place for which future generations would be proud. With that said, I call a spade a spade. Whoever dubbed Nigeria the giant of Africa must be talking about it’s geographical size (an inside joke of a friend), aside from that, Nigeria is yet to demonstrate that in any way else. Kenya, on the other hand gives Nigeria a run for all it’s oil money in terms of infrastructure. Good roads ease the burden of traffic. It could easily compete with the West.
I notice an uncanny difference between Kenya and Nigeria as I descended into it’s territory—LIGHTS! Twinkles outline the landscape like a settlement of fireflies, reassuring me we’ve arrived, holding a certain promise. I couldn’t help but wonder why a country that dubs itself as a giant cannot seem to get itself together. Why are there just too many inconveniences? The persistent lack of power supply in Nigeria is a cancer that have metastasized. It’s the fiber of our being. Will it ever be cured? I sure could use the internet, but we could start with steady electricity for now.

Another difference I noticed is at Kenya’s international airport—ORDER! There’s no haggling by vultures that parade themselves as authority figures with the agenda of collecting bribes. I really don’t understand why or how a country that portray itself as a giant cannot seem to get itself together. At the airport you can sense an order to things and the energy is peaceful, no feeling of struggle, no fighting, like that you experience Murtala Muhammed Airport and you swear you were the object of someone's nightmare last night. The luggage trolleys are free, staff greet you with smiles on their faces and go out of their way to help you, free of charge. In Nigeria, I had to assertively, sometimes aggresively ward off the vultures lurking at me, a lot of times, they think because you come from a foreign country with a foreign accent, you don’t understand their antics.
If you ever get a chance to head to Kenya, make sure you stop at a market or at least, a souvenir shop, you’d find many handmade materials you can’t find anywhere else. I admired the sheepskin goods crafted locally and quite supple, made into rugs, hats, and other accessories, it’s one of a kind. Milano Curio shop, a souvenir shop named after some Italians from many years ago that helped construct some of its roads and buildings. Although the Italians are gone for the most part, they left a part of them here. I encountered the tiniest church I’ve seen in my entire life, only fits two rows of church benches and and pulpit, with relics placed all around it. It made up for what it lacked in size with character. This Roman Catholic church was a spiritual refuge for the Italians who lived there back in the day, and couldn’t share a church with the British.

There's no education quite like you get from traveling the world. There are so many misconceptions fed to us on CNN. When I'm in the U.S, people want to know updates on Boko Haram and the Chibok girls, when I'm in Africa, people want to know if I was there to witness all the shootings involving black men. The truth is, you probably know just as much as I do. Media outlets and now social media feed into our paranoia, they perpetuate all the bad news in the world, portray a whole country, continent as all and the same when it comes to bad news (don't get me started on folks that think Africa is a country). A verse in the bible uses this metaphor (or parable): a little leaven ferments the whole lump [of bread]. Kinda like that. If we listened and internalized every news we hear, Isreal and the rest of the Middle East would look like a desolate, war-torn area with a sign 'Do Not Enter' stamped at the entrance, the entire continent of Africa would be a desert or a rainforest with the most rudimentary of human beings. What we watch on the news for the most part, as bad as it is, happens in small geographical areas.
It was a blast hanging out with Tamara, George, John and Carol. Time wasn't on my side or we'd toured the whole country. John kept reminding me to ask questions and ensure I've crossed off everything on my must-see list. George, thanks for showing me your HIV/AIDS clinic in Nakuru town. It's admirable to hear how you single-handedly work on getting the street workers off the streets and educating them.We can all make a differece in the world, one individual case worker at a time. I will be back.

Here’s a tip:

  • If you’re not a Kenyan resident, make sure you have your passport with you at all times as a form of identification. This has its disadvantage, as Kenyans tend to raise their prices up to 75% to non-residents. So, it is also advised that you have a Kenyan show you around and help you shop. A day at the National Park is 1200 KES (Kenyan Shilings) for a Kenyan and 7500 KES for a non-resident. Souvenir shops jack up their prices for tourists.
  • Kenyans love their greens: kale, cabbage.  Kenyans also love their tea, they're tea growers, it's the offering of choice in their households. When a Kenyan offers you some tea expect to have milk in it, you can choose to add sugar.
  • The exchange rate is 1:95 (Dollar to KES, approx.)
  • It's cold in the Summertime. Be sure to pack a light jacket and sweater.
  • Kenyan families are hospitable, you should expect that, don't be shy, it might be an insult if you refuse an offering in their home.
  • Leave all the misconceptions you've heard about Africa at the airport and plan to have a good time!
  • When you hear "Karibu" in Kenya, smile because they just welcomed you!
Mural of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta during the colonial years, being released from prison. A prominent sight in KICC.


June 30, 2015

Tale of Africa's fashion week

AFWN wrapped up May 23-24 2015 at Eko Hotels, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria

I arrived at the tents at Eko Marquee to fashion enthusiasts, photographers, exhibitors and the media. The rain didn't slow anything down on the green carpet set outside. I grab my press pass and head inside the tent to the show in progress. It was the first day, the show’s opening, and it delivered some heavy hitters. Designs mainly by the up and coming and students. I tell you, we have some talented folks in Nigeria.

This year’s installment delivered as promised, there were a lot more designers rolled out in two days. As usual, I enjoyed it all—the pageantry, the models, the designers, the intricate fabrics of different colors, textures, styles, the ethnic inspired accessories with a with a modern twist, mingling with fellow industry professionals, meeting new faces, celebrities, fashionistas, collaborators. I got many compliments on my hair. Nigeria have really come a long way in fashion, the designers were really on point this year, had me wondering who to patronize at the end of the show. I’m just glad that as time goes, African inspired fashion have gained a mainstay and international recognition.

Day one delivered designers by the up and coming and students, namely Yaba Tech, FADAN, a Nigerian Student Fashion and Design Week winner. If the showcase was any indicator, I’d say the future is bright for these designers. Day two delivered more seasoned and well-known designers that have been making names for themselves and are recognized internationally, to include my good friend Adebayo Jones (more on him later).

Designers include:



























































More photos on Facebook
Designs ranged from haute couture to ready-to-wear, mens styles and children’s wear. There’s a little something for everyone and taste. There were artfully crafted evening dresses, cocktail dresses with cut-outs, thigh-high slits, long, short, asymmetrical hemlines, oversized, tailored suits, jackets, tops, pants and ethnic accessories, extensive bead work, sequins, patches, embroidery in delicate and durable fabrics and vibrant colors. It’s traditional-meets-modern, it’s afrocentric, it’s European, it’s regal, it’s edgy, it’s sophisticated, it’s classy, it’s a combination of things. Each piece is made to flatter and accentuate any curve and physique, the laces, silks and sequins just cascaded each model's body and bounced effortlessly, the fitted pieces were as if molded in place. The handbags and accessories are crafted using African textiles. Each is designed for today's man or woman, there’s hardly any design that’s not wearable.

Event highlights include performance by child models for Tinnah Stylings by designer Toyin Lawani. They sashayed down the stage with swagger, to a rousing cheer by the audience, it’s like they were born for it! Amarachi—Nigeria’s got Talent winner and former alum led the procession, performing on stage. Although children’s clothes are hardly ever boring, this designer’s is especially fun. One would be excited to dress a kid up in the morning. JPKoutrue by Hadassah presented designs for full figured women with sass. Entertainment and flamboyant personality Denrele Edun didn’t fail to do what he does best—give the audience a dose of his big personality! I give it up to a guy who can rock high platformed heels like sneakers and big hair like mine. I loved his crochet braids. Notable actors Uti Nwachukwu and Ikechuchu Ogbonna walked for Big Ben Kilani collection.
There was ample opportunity to catch the show as it was divided in three time slots, a 2pm, 5pm and 8pm. Day 1was a sensory overload as models kept sashaying down the runway in the packed tent until late in the evening. A day like this one is not without a few run-ins—with other photographers vying for prime real estate. A photographer has to double up as a hunter for great content, one has to be ruthless in the field, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Any hesitation and you miss all the good shots, any misstep or shift and another has already taken your place. There are not many second chances for the money shot, no grace. My hair drew attention for right and wrong reasons. For the general audience mostly positive, for other photographers it’s was mostly in the way or a distraction. It all played out to my advantage really, I generated fans. Photographers (and the rest of the audience) all wanted pictures—of me!

I was throughly spent by the end of the first day. I was reeling and expectant of what the finale show would bring—more heavy hitters. Attendees had the opportunity to catch the Pre Gala and the Gala Show. With my gear in tow, I stepped out in the late afternoon to the red carpet to members of the media and guests, the show's already started. They pull me aside for interviews on my personal style. I spend approx. 30 mins with a young protégé. My goal was to find the models backstage. I love to catch them out of their element, their different personalities during downtime. Backstage was organized chaos, everyone was everywhere. As a photographer, I'm always a little hesitant to get in a person's personal space. I thread softly, gaging body language, not everyone likes having their picture taken. As soon as they see me though they open up almost instantly. This was my chance to acquaint myself with all these human mannequins. "Oh yeah! I remember you from last year" some say to me. They're all smiles, posing as my lens flicker away. I catch the models, , makeup artists, other photographers, the designers. Everyone ever so curious about my hair. I laugh now as I recall these lines: "Is this all your hair?" “Can I touch it?” Apparently, Nigerians are not well acquainted with crochet braids—a hair trend that pretty much rescued women with natural hair.

The venue at Eko hotels had been transformed into fashion wonderland, models sashayed late into the evening, coming to a head at the grand finale—the Gala Show. Cool FM’s Mercy Ajisafe and Mr. Nigeria 2014—Emmanuel Ikubese kept the audience entertained, dishing out awards and transitioning the audience through the program. Socialite, business mogul and fashionista—Ms. Abiola Okoya (more on her later) introduces a cause close to her heart. As the Global Ambassador for AFWN 2015 she’s on a fight for the eradication of Sickle Cell Anemia with Sickle Cell Foundation Nigeria. SCFN is making access to treatment more attainable, continues on research studies that would make SCA more or less a chronic illness than a death sentence. The disease she knows all too well as it hits close to home with two of her children. A global awareness for a disease that affect quite a population in Nigeria cannot be understated—150,000 reported cases annually, with countless healthy carriers of the gene [more info here]. I’m especially proud a platform such as this one is creating awareness for serious issues in Nigeria, to include the fuel scarcity currently suffered by it’s citizens, it was especially hard for some attendees who navigated the jungles of Lagos to obtain fuel to be able to attend this event.
Fuel Scarcity by Apple art creations
The Gala show produced exquisite designs by those that have perfected their craft overtime, notable is the King of Couture— Mr. Adebayo Jones, a London based designer, whose collection—Adebayo Jones Luxury, closed the show. He just commanded attention, his attention to detail is impeccable. His designs spell opulence, it’s luxury and regal with the use of chiffon, organzas, velvets, brocades, silks, damasks. I was blown away. It’s no surprise for a designer with more than 30 years in this business.

AFWN 2015 Style and Fashion Awardees include: Emerging Fashion designer McStell, Emerging Stylist Damilola Oke for Fierce & Modish, Emerging Fashion Journalist Antonia Soares for Complete Fashion, Most Stylish Female Celebrity Yemi Alade, Most Stylish Male Celebrity Kunle Afolayan, Young Fashion Entrepreneur Olakunbi Oyelese for April By Kunbi, Fashion Icon Opral Benson and Contribution to African Fashion Lexzy Mojo-Eyes. One lucky audience member with a business card won a round trip ticket to Africa Fashion Week London 2015, courtesy of Travelfix.
With Adebayo Jones (second left), Yetty Ogunnubi (center) and friends
Special thanks reserved to AFWN team Ronke Ademuliyi, Abiola Okoya, Abiola Olatunde Aloba, Yetty Ogunnubi, thank you for sharing your platform with me. I loved Yetty’s artsy-inspired collection, Revolution by Yetty D, filled with geometrics and color. All the wonderful people in the media and press or otherwise that I got to meet, Rich Tankley, Sonya Banjo, Shade Oladipo, the one and only African doll designer to compete with Barbie, Taofick Okoya (more on him later), the models (inbox me!). The master designer himself Adebayo Jones, next stop—definitely another one of your shows.

It’s been a whirlwind and this article is long overdue. More pictures from AFWN 2015 on my Facebook page.


June 26, 2015

Meet the Brand Ambassador for Africa Fashion Week London 2015

Noella Coursaris Musunka

Noella Coursaris Musunka is an international model and the founder of Malaika. Noella was born in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The loss of her father at age 5, along with her mother’s lack of resources, led to her being sent to Switzerland to live with relatives. After achieving a degree in business management, she moved to London and began a career in modeling, where her first campaign was for Agent Provocateur.

Her success brought her to New York where she has been featured in a myriad of publications, including Vanity Fair, Essence and GQ. Alongside her active modeling career, Noella founded Malaika, a nonprofit that believes in empowering Congolese communities. Malaika’s work in the village of Kalebuka impacts thousands of people through their multiple programmes - a free school for girls, a community centre built in partnership with FIFA, and five fresh-water wells.

Fiercely proud of her heritage, Noella’s determination to help improve the lives of Africa’s youth has made her an international advocate for them. The success of Malaika has enabled Noella’s work to be known to a wider audience. She has been featured on Bloomberg TV, three different CNN programmes and the BBC’s Focus Africa.

She has addressed UNICEF and the Kinshasa Parliament and gave a TEDx talk in Paris. Noella has participated in many international panels and was invited to speak about the future of Africa alongside President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative’s Opening and Closing Plenaries in Morocco. In 2014, Noella was named one of the 100 most influential Africans by New African magazine

"We are so happy Noella is Brand Ambassador for AFWL 2015.  She has been a great friend and supporter of our event and ethos over the years and a compassionate, hardworking, beautiful individual who understands our drive to showcase the best of Africa."
Ronke Ademuliyi
Founder AFWL 

    "I am delighted to be serving as this year’s Brand Ambassador to Africa Fashion Week London and to help showcase the brilliant work of African designers. It has always been my belief that fashion can be a tool for breaking down barriers and transcending cultures. This industry has the ability to put Africa on the world stage and can provide for countless job opportunities on the ground and abroad, from local factories to international shops. It is time for the world to see the amazing talent that lies within Africa."
Noella Coursaris Musunka

AFWL 2015 will be held at London Olympia, Hammersmith Road, Kensington, London W14 8UX on  August 7-8 2015.  Ticket information can be found here.

Brought by AFWL.


June 20, 2015

Get to know Jennifer Gentet

Who is she? She's the founder and CEO Innovative Creations and Communications Limited (ICC), Author—6 Effective Steps to Your Better Self and Founder—Lagocians Expats Social (LES), the first Meetup group I found in Nigeria was about LES.  I met Jennifer recently at an exclusive red carpet event we happened to be in together.  Great minds thinks alike it seems as we were lost in conversation, talking about our great country, the need for more of us to bring our talents back home. She has single handedly created a platform that brings foreigners and locals together, big companies are courting her, some already on her roster, now that's a powerhouse! The ever so curious me want to know everything, so I ask her.
Jennifer at her book launch party recently, at a red carpet event with me.

Why LES?
I started the LAGOCIANS EXPATS SOCIAL as I moved to work in Lagos. Given that I have expatriation experience and history and a multicultural background. I have lived and worked in different continents around the world. Each place I lived I found blogs and or forums that enabled foreigners to interact with one another or forums that gave foreigners useful tips about a country which was quite interesting, I discovered similar things when I arrived to Lagos. However during all my years of traveling I never saw a forum, blog or platform that physically brought the expatriates/Foreigners and the locals together. Which means many expatriates would live in a foreign country for years and never get really to interact with the locals therefore would miss out on some amazing experiences. 
Upon my arrival to Lagos I created LAGOCIANS EXPATS SOCIAL (LES), a platform and a social network where expatriates in Lagos/Nigeria and substantial and classy Nigerians can come together and meet new people, interact with one another, have fun, share and enjoy various interesting activities, fabulous parties and fun events. LAGOCIANS EXPATS SOCIAL (LES) is also a great networking opportunity for professionals and entrepreneurs to come together and meet new people, whether to Improve their social lives or to network and communicate their businesses and/or brands.
LAGOCIANS EXPATS SOCIAL launch party took place at the Oriental Hotel VI Lagos on Dec 6th 2014. Since our launch we organized and have hosted some events and have had interesting turn up of members, media attention and sponsors, L'OREAL West Africa was one our sponsors. LES is indeed fast growing in its own right.  
We subsequently organize tasteful events and fun activities, to welcome new members and introduce them to already existing members. Our famous Red Carpet Events, Private Beach parties, Barbecue parties, Salsa nights, Game nights, and Jogging sessions, are to mention just a few of activities available on LES platform. I have discovered that the expatiates enjoy interacting with Nigerians and Nigerians welcome foreigners gracefully
Our mission to is grow into one of the largest platforms in Nigeria, with thousands of active members, a go-to platform that provides great tips and guidance, creates fun actives and events, and celebrates multiculture. Visit and join us! Don't miss out there is something for everyone.
The printed copies of my books are sold in major book stores in Lagos such as, the HUBS book store located in the PALMS MALL/SHOPRITE at Lekki, Terraculture book store in Victoria Island etc. They are also sold in Paris, France. The eBook version of my book is sold on,, etc. You could just type in the title of my book “6 EFFECTIVE STEPS TO YOUR BETTER SELF” on a Google browser to lead you to the lists of the online platforms where the eBook version are sold.
Well you read it here, head on to the link and get the latest, maybe next time you're in Lagos, check it out. We need a lot more of this back home. Don't forget to get a copy of Jennifer's book.

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