Montclair business owner and resident Ozi Okaro was tired of seeing her children play with dolls. The dolls themselves were the problem: the dolls who were readily available in stores did not look like her children. Ozi set out to solve the problem herself, by creating a line of dolls that would represent her children and other children of color in 2014. Her children have inspired Ozi to not only get into the doll-making industry but also become a children’s book illustrator and fashion designer. Keep reading to learn more about Ozi’s multiple endeavors.
MG: What inspired you to get into the doll-making industry?
OO: My daughters inspired me to create Ikuzi Dolls out of a need to give them dolls that looked like them and that they could relate to and identify with.
MG: Why was it important to you for your daughters and other young girls to see representation in the toys that they play with?
OO: Role play with dolls in the early years helps nature and develop the acceptance of themselves and others. Having dolls that they can relate to helps them appreciate and love who they are.
MG: What kinds of dolls does Ikuzi Dolls have?
OO: Ikuzi Dolls are dolls of color that come in a range of skin tones, hair textures, and styles.
MG: What is the design process of the doll’s overall look?
OO: A lot goes into creating a doll, but the overall look is determined by the skin tone and hair color, which my daughters have input into. Our doll line is also dependent on what our customers want.
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MG: What would you say sets Ikuzi Dolls apart from other dolls in the market?
OO: I believe our dolls are different from other dolls on the market because of the excellent quality and variety of looks we offer.
MG: Tell us about your craft as a children’s book illustrator? What was your journey into that career and what kinds of illustrations do you do?
OO: My work as a children’s book author and illustrator also was inspired by my children, as I wanted them to have books to read with illustrations and stories that were of children of color.
MG: Tell us about the book you published, what it’s about, what inspired, and where readers can purchase it.
OO: My three children’s books are primarily stories about Africa and African culture. They are a fun way to educate children about the Continent of Africa and teach about African culture. They are available on Amazon. The titles are The Big Ceremony, My Africa Vacation & ABC’s Trip to Africa.
MG: You’re also a fashion designer. What inspired you to design clothes?
OO: I consider myself a creative person, so in the past, I have designed children’s clothing, but currently my designs are for doll clothing. My children’s designs can be found on my Etsy store ZbyOzi.
MG: Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration?
OO: My biggest source of inspiration is my children. I strive to set a good example for them so that they can be inspired by me as well.
MG: What are your goals for this year?
OO: I hope to continue to grow my Ikuzi Dolls brand.
MG: What’s a typical day look like for you?
OO: My typical day starts with getting my kids ready and off to school, then I can focus on my doll business before they get home. After school, I then shuttle them to their various activities and after that, I make dinner for my family and wind down for the evening. Typical Mom life.
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MG: What has been the highlight in your career/life so far?
OO: The highlight of my career is hearing the stories and reading the emails from my customers about how happy they are to have Ikuzi Dolls. Stories about the smiles they have seen when their child opens a gift containing an Ikuzi Doll, to their child saying how beautiful the doll looks and that it looks just like them. These stories make my day and keep me going, making it all worth it.
MG: What is your favorite restaurant in Montclair?
MG: What is your favorite boutique in Montclair?
MG: What do you love most about Montclair?
OO: The tight-knit and diverse community.
MG: What is your favorite thing to do in Essex County?
OO: Going for a walk at The Waterfront at the South Mountain Recreation Complex.
MG: Tell us about another business in the area you admire.
OO: Juniper Yoga
MG: What is your favorite outdoor place to spend time in Essex County?
OO: The Waterfront.
MG: What is your favorite place to work out in Essex County?
OO: Juniper Yoga and Montclair YMCA, although I haven’t been to both in a while.