Issue 1 2022

Oct21560 Best Inclusive Doll Collection 2021 Leeds-based startup, Akila Dolls, is working to bring more diversity and inclusion to the UK toy industry. Mother and entrepreneur, Olivia Thompson, is both the product designer and business owner. Her vision, to use Akila Dolls as a vehicle to promote compassion, friendship and creativity in every child. 2020 may have been the most difficult year in which to start a business. Entrepreneur, Olivia Thompson, launched her brand, Akila Dolls, a week before the first lockdown started. Although things may not have moved as quickly as she would have liked, Olivia found her niche in the design and provision of educational dolls. Akila Dolls was inspired by Olivia’s own daughter, Amira who, at age 6, was diagnosed with autism. Seeing her struggle with areas such as social interaction and restrictive behaviour, Olivia soon understood the importance of play in learning. Using dolls to explain and enhance learning experiences helps children to understand many difficult concepts. But trying to find dolls that children can easily identify with was another matter entirely. Noticing the lack of diverse dolls on the market, Olivia decided to create her unique brand. She explains, “Akila means ruler of everything in the world, brave, beautiful, and intelligent. I started my business so not only my daughter, but every child, could see a doll that represents them. To teach them that we are all beautiful and to accept the skin they are in.” In the first instance, the company aims to design and supply a range of diverse and disability dolls with educational purposes aimed for girls and boys aged between 3-10 years old. Once established, Olivia plans to add clothes, accessories and storybooks based on the dolls to the product range. Olivia tells us, “Akila Dolls promote compassion, friendship, and creativity by providing dolls as unique and beautiful as our children. Our mission is to create ethically sourced diverse dolls to educate and entertain our children. In other words, we want to market innovative, realistic dolls that provide a practical ideal different from the usual standards of perfection currently on offer.” Olivia plans to name each Akila Doll after a real historical character and add a short story about that character to the package. Akila’s first prototype doll, Bessie, is named after American aviator, Bessie Coleman who was the first black person to qualify for an international pilot’s license. Olivia is very open to suggestions for future dolls and finds the feedback of her supporters invaluable. When asked about the culture at the company Olivia expounds, “The best way I can motivate my employees is by being passionate about my job. My enthusiasm shows my commitment. It gives them a sense of stability and motivation to enjoy the work we all love. Trust and communication will build a strong team. Employees need to feel connected, inspired and feel a part of a business culture that is innovative. As the leader of my company, everything and everyone is my responsibility. That means taking responsibility for everything within my organisation, even if it’s not my fault.” Also winner of Start-Up Company of the Year 2021/22 in Yorkshire, Olivia is currently seeking investment to scale up the business. She hopes to expand her range of diverse dolls and begin work on the first disabled doll. Akila Dolls is also working on a marketing campaign raising awareness around race, ethnicity, and disability. Contact: Olivia Thompson Company: Akila Dolls Web Address: