When Queen Uwabuofu had her first son, she was financially desperate and could not afford to buy clothes for her baby. After training and working as a professional make-up and wig artist, she decided to learn to crochet to keep her son warm.
Uwabuofu spent days watching do-it-yourself (DIY) crochet and how-to tutorials on YouTube, constantly practicing. Over time, she made clothes and posted them on her WhatsApp status. She received good reviews and soon orders started coming in from friends and family.
This is how Clovekids International was born. Today it is an indigenous doll making business in Lagos Nigeria. “In the beginning, it was made-to-measure boots, caps, sweaters and dresses for children,” she recalls.
“It was difficult from there,” she adds. The company got into making dolls after a near-fatal incident when Uwabuofu saw his son nearly choke on a piece of plastic toy.
At that moment, Uwabuofu realized the need for eco-friendly, hypoallergenic, durable and washable toys for children. And again, her crochet skills came to the rescue.
Two years after starting her business, Uwabuofu expanded her products in 2019 to include crochet dolls. Adding dolls to her product line meant more to Uwabuofu than just toy safety.
For this entrepreneur, representation matters, which is why Clovekids dolls have varying black skin tones.
Along with a team of other crocheters in her business, 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. The crochet dolls, black in addition, are unique and the reception has been wonderful; it shows that we are filling a gap that many people did not know existed,” says Uwabuofu.
Reviews on the Clovekids website confirm this. One customer, Ms. Chioma, is as fascinated by the dolls as she is by the packaging.
“I finally took a look at the dolls, and they are nothing short of the most exquisite works of art. My kids would absolutely love them. They are so well packaged that I don’t need to wrap them up,” her review states.
The toy industry in Nigeria is in its infancy. There is an increase in indigenous toy companies launching their products in the market. Currently, Uwabuofu ships Clovekids dolls to customers in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Germany, UK, USA and 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 purchase ready-made and custom-made dolls from stores.
“We also plan to have our dolls in stores and e-commerce websites for easier distribution,” she says optimistically.
Today, Clovekids International also runs an academy, Clovekids Academy, which provides online training to budding crocheters in over seven countries.
Through the academy, Uwabuofu is making an impact with young people after realizing that many of them have dreams but lack skills, knowledge and resources. She also mentors some young women who have shown potential in the field of crochet.
Among them is Semilore Omobolaji, 18. The young protege believes she was destined to become an intern at Clovekids International after graduating from Clovekids Academy.
“I got lucky,” says Omobolaji, “in 2021 my goal was to get better at crochet. Shortly after, a woman from her church approached me, telling me she would like 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 taking physical classes at the time because their classes were taught online,” she adds.
According to Omobolaji, the Academy goes beyond teaching students the trade. It also aims to help them build a sustainable business afterwards.
“I currently run my crochet business, hooked by Jiwun, while interning at Clovekids. Sometimes when I need help understanding certain parts of my business, I go to her (Uwabuofu) for advice Omobolaji says Blessing Eyo, senior fashion designer at Clovekids International, is another person who sees Uwabuofu more as a mentor than a boss.
“Since I started working here two months ago, my ambitions are broader. I design the clothes for the dolls and I’m happy to do my designs,” says Eyo.
Uwabuofu helps other craftspeople gain exposure with his recently launched YouTube series, Crafty Hands with Queen TV Show, showcasing “Craftsmanship, Craftsmanship and Craftsmanship”.
For everything Uwabuofu does, the world takes notice. In 2021, she won the Creative Enterprise Cup for being the most creative entrepreneur, receiving a cash prize of Shs 8.7 million ($2,404). The Creative Business Cup Nigeria organized the program in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation and the Pan-Atlantic University Center for Business Development.
According to Enterprise Development Centre, Queen Uwabuofu “will represent Nigeria at the global Creative Business Cup event in Denmark this year.”