Farzana Rahman, founder of the Desi Doll Company, about educational toys for Muslim children, new markets and a better work-life balance.
Ms. Rahman, you presented your educational toys and dolls a few months ago at the toy fair in Nuremberg. What were the reactions of the trade visitors?
We had a great response – actually, the best reponse to date. We’ve been exhibiting at Spielwarenmesse for the last 3 years. This year we were fortunate to have a great deal of interest meetings, resulting in some new customers and new orders.
How does an investment banker get the idea of becoming a manufacturer of Islamic toys?
Yes, I was working for an investment bank, Goldman Sachs for 10 years. My daughter was 4 years old, and I was trying to teach her about her Islamic faith in a fun way. I searched for some Islamic educational toys to consolidate her learning, but I couldn’t find any. At the same time, I was looking for more of a work-life balance. Whilst on maternity leave with my newborn twins, I decided to leave my career and try my hand at designing Islamic toys. I felt that if I was looking for these kind of toys, then there must be other muslim parents who were also searching for this – there must be a market for these kind of toys. I was lucky that my first 2 toy designs, talking Aamina and talking Yousuf dolls were a huge success. They are still one of our best sellers. I continue to design and now have a range of over 30 unique and interactive toys.
Where are your toys made?
All our toys are currently made in China.
Shops in Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and France sell your toys. In Germany it’s not possible, why?
We’d love to sell our toys in Germany – but until now, we didn’t receive any request from there. Maybe Germans think our toys are speaking in English and Arabic only. However we have a few toys that are speaking only Arabic, and these toys appeal most to non-English speaking countries like France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, where we are successfully selling, eg. Moon & Stars Quran Cot mobile, Arabic Alphabet sound puzzle, My Quran pillow – these toys recite only Arabic and can therefore be sold in many territories.
Your company is positioned internationally. In which countries is the greatest demand for your toys?
We have huge demand in UK, which is where our company is based, but actually over 50% of our demand is from international markets. USA, Australia, and South Africa are currently our largest markets. We are also finding an increasing demand in France, Belgium and the Middle East.
There are over 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. Why are there so few manufacturers that offer educational toys for Muslim children?
We have actually seen an increase in the number of new companies venturing into Islamic toys in the last few years – and we think it’s fantastic. There’s plenty of room for everyone. Our children are very lucky to have an increasing variety of quality Islamic toys and books. It’s great for parents to have that choice too for their children! The Desi Doll Company is very proud to have been the pioneers of Islamic toys industry and to be the longest standing company in this arena. I honestly don’t know why there are not more suppliers of toys for Muslim children – maybe they have more confidence in supplying a mass market rather than the uncertainty of a niche muslim market. For me, it’s a passion, it’s not just about the numbers. I love that children learn about their beautiful Islamic faith with beautiful fun toys, and I design toys that do exactly that. My interactive toys teach children Islamic phrases, fun songs about Islam, Surahs from Quran, Dua’s, Arabic alphabet, numbers and much, much more!
What new products do you want to launch this year?
This year sees the launch of My Little Muslim Friends – 5 soft talking character dolls – each has their own hobbies, sing songs and have fun just like all children. This year also sees the launch of “I know the 99 beautiful names of Allah” – an interactive sound book, helping children to memorise the 99 names of Allah – it’s a huge hit already. This Ramadan, we are pleased to be launching My Daily Dua’s book 1 and 2 – beautiful interactive sound books which help children learn dua’s for their daily lives. We’re very excited for the year ahead as we focus on growing our brand and taking it into new markets Insha’Allah. Maybe Germany will be one of them?
Interview: Kemal Çalık