When Ozi Okaro, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, couldn’t find dolls that looked like her daughters, she became inspired to make ones that did. Using her background in fashion design and toys, Ozi created Ikuzi Dolls
—a collection of beautiful Black dolls with different shades of skin, hair textures, hairstyles, and bright African print dresses for children of all races. Since then, Ikuzi Dolls have become more than just playthings—they are a positive teaching tool about acceptance and diversity for every kid (and even earned a shoutout and photo in an Oprah Magazine feature about race). We caught up with this inspiring mom of four to talk about the twists in her journey to becoming a mompreneur, the crucial conversations her dolls create in classrooms and at home, and her favorite Montclair bakery for picking up the most delicious homemade lemon cake.
Ozi Okaro of Ikuzi Dolls, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week.
Take us through your professional journey and how you came to create Ikuzi dolls.
I started my career as a computer programmer and systems analyst, but I’ve always been creative and believe this is why my career has evolved. I began building banking systems, and then transitioned into fashion and then to the toy industry, and when I left that job, I was a stay-at-home mom for several years. When I was ready to return to the working world, I wanted to do it on my terms so I could be around to raise my children. My idea for Ikuzi Dolls
came after seeing there weren’t any dolls with different skin tones that looked like my daughters. My children inspired me—I wanted them to have a choice of beautiful dolls that looked like them, that they could relate to and identify with. Through making the dolls, I’m letting my creative side flourish, and I love it.
Right now, many parents are having more in-depth conversations with their children about race and racial injustice. What have you heard from other parents about how Ikuzi Dolls help in those conversations and teaching moments?
Even before these past few months, I have always had parents and teachers reach out to me to say that they have loved introducing our dolls to their children. Our dolls have always been a conversation starter with kids because positive play in the early years has an impact on our acceptance of ourselves and people of other races. Whether it be about the hair texture or the variety of skin tones, or the African print fabric we use in the clothing, I am a firm believer that exposing children to dolls of all races helps build understanding, appreciation, and respect of our differences.
What has been the most rewarding part of building your business?
I have to say the most rewarding part is knowing that what I needed for my children—having dolls that would teach my girls to love who they are and what they look like—also filled a need for other parents, and has been overwhelmingly embraced by them.
What do you think your children have learned from watching you run your business?
My children have learned that when you’re building something from nothing, you need to be determined and put in the hard work.
Every doll in the Izuki Dolls collection comes with a pretty African print dress
What are some of your favorite New Jersey businesses to support?
There are so many businesses I love in my area. Clean Temple Body Essentials is one, the owner Martha is a nurse, and soap making is her passion. She now has other body items, but I love her handmade soaps. I can’t get enough of the lemon loaf at Little Daisy Bake Shop, and they’re now offering pick up and local delivery. Montclair Learning Center is the perfect place for STEM classes for the little ones, and all my kids have taken classes there at some point. Right now, they’re doing virtual parties and summer classes too. And I just love the food and atmosphere at Vanillamore—it’s a great casual spot for date night.
What is your best advice for an aspiring NJMOMpreneur?
My advice is simple—follow your dreams, start whatever you are passionate about, and enjoy the process.