Australia

The Sydney doll designer helping Australian children to embrace diversity

Florence Org Bemiro is busy sewing a small light-colored headband at his home in West Hoxton, west of Sydney.

A former computer programmer and four mothers came to Australia in 1998 with her husband Solomon and three sons as skilled immigrants from Nigeria. She had a daughter, Shalom, shortly after.

“When I first came here and had a little baby girl, I was looking for a representative doll, and I couldn’t find it,” says 54. “So why not introduce those beautiful and vibrant Nigerian colors to Australia a few years ago through dolls?”

She started making herself with a design inspired by her hometown.

In 2000, daughter Shalom and Florence.

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“I started with three dolls, but the customer feedback was,” Oh, there’s nothing like this! ” Or “I want my daughter to have a doll like this.”

Since then, she has started a business, designed by Florence, has sold more than 130 dolls, and more than 500 are on display at home.

“Most of my customers are non-African. I say about 80 percent,” she says.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Florence shifted its focus to online sales.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Florence shifted its focus to online sales.

SBS

The doll clothes are hand-sewn by a local woman in Nigeria. Many are single mothers struggling to achieve their goals, which is a way of giving back to Florence.

“My main seamless is a single mother and her name is Emi. This means patience. [in the native Ibibio language]..

“She has a hard time raising three children after her husband leaves. She has a really small shop, but she can make money.”

Florence as a baby with her mother in Nigeria.

Florence as a baby with her mother in Nigeria.

SBS

Florence’s mother raised three children alone after she broke up with her husband when she was young. She later returned to Nigeria to become a social worker with a scholarship to study at Oxford University.

“My mother grew up believing that you could do anything, so I learned to be independent from an early age,” she says.

Florence, a former health manager, started her business out of concerns about her health.

“I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in March 2015, which was very difficult for me. I had surgery and radiation therapy and then lifelong treatment.”

Florence with her husband and four children.

Florence with her husband and four children.

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Due to the impact of last year’s COVID-19 pandemic, she was unable to sell dolls in the local market and went online.

She currently sells them through the Global Sisters Marketplace, a non-profit online platform that is a hub for hundreds of entrepreneurial women.

“When the market disappeared, many women like Florence lost their income,” says founder Mandy Richards.

“We have a lot of single mothers and older women who lose their jobs and can’t get another job when they reach the age of 50-55.”

“Our marketplace provides these women with an instant online presence and the ability to sell quickly.”

Mandy Richards and Florence, founders of Global Sisters.

Mandy Richards and Florence, founders of Global Sisters.

SBS

But the opportunity to increase the variety of dolls available to Australian children is what really drives Florence.

Her daughter, Shalom, is now 21 and says she wants an Afro-haired doll when she is young.

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“When I grew up, I always heard,’Oh, my hair is different,’ and people wanted to touch it.

“So having a doll that people can actually touch and see helps them understand how Afro hair looks and feels.”

Dr. Jonnell Uptin is an expert in cross-cultural identity at the University of Sydney and is raising an adopted daughter from Thailand. She says the lack of variety of children’s toys is not just an issue in Australia.

“We lived in Thailand when she was five and she wanted a doll for her birthday. Wherever she went, she couldn’t find a doll similar to her.

“So in Thailand I had to buy a doll that looked like me!”

Dr. Jonnell Uptin is an expert in cross-cultural identity at the University of Sydney.

Dr. Jonnell Uptin is an expert in cross-cultural identity at the University of Sydney.

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Last year, Dr. Uptin published a study on the experience of young African Australians raised in Australia.

Despite Australia being one of the most multicultural countries in the world, skin color remains a major partition.

Being considered “visibly different” affects everyday life, and a study titled “Peeling Black Skin and Integrating” was found.

Florence designs dolls of various styles.

Florence designs dolls of various styles.

SBS

Dr. Uptin welcomed the Florentine initiative to expand the range of dolls available to Australian children.

“Playing with Nigerian dolls opens up to the overall idea that children have a diverse world and there are other ways to see it. This is normal.”

“I believe that bringing more cultural diversity and more cultural awareness not only to children but also to their families will affect Australia as a whole,” says Florence. ..

“That’s my dream.”

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