Africa-Press – Gambia. What you need to know:
What started out as a way to clothe her infant son, today, Queen Uwabuofu’s crocheted creations are the core of an international toy business.
When Queen Uwabuofu had her first son, she was in financial despair and could not afford clothes for her baby. Having trained and worked as a professional make-up artist and wigmaker, she made up her mind to learn how to crochet to keep her son warm.Uwabuofu spent days watching crochet do it yourself (DIYs) and how-to tutorials on YouTube, practising constantly. In time, she was making clothes and posting some on her WhatsApp status. She received good reviews and soon, orders started coming from friends and family.
That is how Clovekids International was born. Today, it is an indigenous doll-making company in Lagos Nigeria. “At first, it was custom-made booties, caps, sweaters and dresses for kids,” she recalls.It has been uphill from there,” She adds. The company ventured into making dolls after a near-fatal incident when Uwabuofu witnessed her son almost choke on a piece of a plastic toy.
In that instant, Uwabuofu realised the need for eco-friendly, hypoallergenic, long-lasting, and washable toys for children. And once again, her crocheting skills came to the rescue.
Two years after establishing her business, Uwabuofu expanded her products in 2019 to include crochet dolls. Adding dolls to her line of products meant more to Uwabuofu than just safety of toys.
For this business entrepreneur, representation matters, which is why Clovekids dolls have varied tones of black skin.
With a team of other crocheters in her company, she makes handmade dolls that African children can relate to. Some of the dolls have braids, afros, and patterned dresses.
“Our dolls fascinate many people. Crocheted dolls, black ones at that, are unique and the reception has been great; this shows that we are filling a gap many people did not know existed,” Uwabuofu explains.The reviews on Clovekids’ website give credence to this. One customer, Mrs Chioma, is as fascinated with the dolls as she is with the packaging.
“I finally took a look at the dolls, and they are nothing short of the most exquisite works of art. My children would absolutely love them. They come so well packaged that I do not need to wrap them,” her review states.
The toy industry in Nigeria is at its nascent stage. There is rise of indigenous toy companies launching their products on the market. Presently, Uwabuofu ships Clovekids dolls to customers in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Germany, the UK, the USA, and the UAE. She also sells them on Etsy.
However, she plans to expand her business with outlets in Ghana, Gambia, South Africa, Tanzania and Nigeria, where customers can buy ready-made and custom-made dolls in stores.
“We also plan to have our dolls in stores and e-Commerce websites to ease distribution,” she speaks with optimism.
Today, Clovekids International also runs an academy, Clovekids Academy, which offers online training to budding crocheters in over seven countries.
Through the academy, Uwabuofu is creating impact among young people after realising that many of them have dreams but lack the skills, knowledge and resources. She is also mentoring some young women who have shown potential in the crochet business.
Among these is 18-year-old Semilore Omobolaji. The young protégé believes she was fated to become an intern at Clovekids International after graduating from Clovekids Academy.I was lucky,” Omobolaji says, “in 2021, my goal was to get better at crocheting. Shortly after, a woman in her church approached me, telling me she would love to introduce me to her friend who runs a crochet business. It turned out to be Uwabuofu.”
“I started as a student at Clovekids Academy, the only one attending physical classes at the time because her classes are taught online,” she adds.
According to Omobolaji, the Academy goes beyond teaching the students about the craft. It also focuses on helping them create a sustainable business afterward.
“I currently run my crochet business, hooked by Jiwun, while interning at Clovekids. Sometimes when I need help to figure out some parts of my business, I go to her (Uwabuofu) for advice,” Omobolaji says. Blessing Eyo, lead fashion designer at Clovekids International, is another person who regards Uwabuofu as more of a mentor than a boss.
“Since I started working here two months ago, my ambitions are broader. I create the clothes for the dolls, and I am glad to make my designs,” Eyo says.
Uwabuofu is helping other crafters gain visibility with her recently launched YouTube series, Crafty Hands with Queen TV Show, showcasing “the craft, the crafter and the craftwork.”
For all Uwabuofu is doing, the world is noticing. In 2021, she won the creative business cup for being the most creative entrepreneur, receiving a cash prize of Shs8.7m ($2,404). The Creative Business Cup Nigeria organised the programme in partnership with Mastercard Foundation and the Enterprise Development Centre of the Pan-Atlantic University.According to Enterprise Development Centre, Queen Uwabuofu “will represent Nigeria at the Creative Business Cup Global Event in Denmark this year.”