Diverse toymaker stars in Amazon Prime start-up show

A Yorkshire start-up that created a revolutionary new line of dolls to celebrate diversity and disability is set to star in a new Amazon Prime Show, Ready Set StartUp.

Olivia Thompson, 32, from Yeadon, is one of ten early-stage entrepreneurs from around the world featured on the series, which highlights the challenges of starting up a business. There will be a global launch of Ready Set StartUp on Amazon Prime on Wednesday 17 May.

Thompson set up her business, Akila Dolls, over two years ago with money raised from crowdfunding.

Thompson, who is Afro-Caribbean, said: “Akila Dolls is a start-up which currently has prototype dolls that celebrate African and Caribbean culture. Our dolls are designed to inspire children of colour by reflecting their beauty and culture.”

Akila Dolls aims to make dolls in a variety of skin tones and hair textures, with a diverse clothing range, designed to celebrate different cultures and disabilities. Each doll comes with its own story book that educates children about the doll they are playing with.

Thompson said: “Growing up I never had a doll that looked like me or reflected my culture. I wanted to create a brand that celebrates our beauty, and empowers young girls to be proud of who they are.”

Thompson left school at 16 and finished a National Diploma in Uniformed Public Services at York College. She then went on to university, but dropped out after a year. With no marketing background, she took part in the Prince’s Trust and subsequently NatWest startup programme and raised £6,000 to help make her prototype dolls. A single mum, Olivia has two children, a one-year-old and 10-year-old daughter, who has autism.

Thompson said: “Akila Dolls are inspired by my daughter’s obsession and love for dolls. Aged six, she was diagnosed with autism. She struggles with social interaction, restrictive behaviour, and many other symptoms. As a mother, it was important for me to support her, and a lot of her education was based on role-play learning. She loves to interact with her dolls.”

Thompson added: “It has become apparent to me, and more so now as a parent, that diverse dolls were and are still massively underrepresented within the UK toy industry. I believe it is extremely important that not just my daughter, but that every boy and girl can see dolls on retailers’ shelves, that both look like them and relate to their cultures and beliefs. The only way we can do this is with new toys and books. A greater diversity of the toy’s children play with will have a greater impact on how they perceive themselves, and others.”

Ready Set StartUp shows Thompson competing in various challenges within the series, with judges including Tom Blomfield, founder of Monzo.

Thompson said: “We as women can be much more, we juggle childcare, we are mothers and care givers, and also business women.”