How did you come up with the idea to start the Tebalou online shop?
Within the first hours of meeting each other in 2016, we had come up with the idea to start Tebalou. As mothers, we noticed that reality has not changed very much since the 80s. We want to present our kids with a different reality in which they can see themselves. That is how our online shop Tebalou got started, out of our own experiences of being invisible in the toy and book worlds. We want for ALL kids to be able to see themselves in the products they consume, the things that stimulate their imagination and encourage their development.
Your goal is to bring diversity into the nursery. So, what does diversity actually mean to you?
Most toys and books depict a very homogenous reality. They show a healthy white child with its parents and siblings, maybe also a pet or two, living in a house with a garden. Usually, Christian festivals are celebrated, and the father has a job while the mom takes care of the wellbeing of the family and the household. However, in most families today, reality is quite different and much more diverse than that. There are so many characteristics of diversity such as skin colour, religion, physical impairments, education, the parents’ family status (married, divorced), and so forth. Further, we are talking about emotions and actions. Sometimes, kids get sad or angry, and maybe even do something prohibited such as stealing, but that is also reality. Financial aspects are also seldom addressed, but not every family can afford to buy a house. The topic of gender and the traditional roles of women and men are also very important, as girls can also be strong and rebellious, while not all boys conform to traditional masculine norms. Toys that pick up this diversity give parents and teachers the opportunity to talk about diversity, emotions, and the related actions.
How high is the demand for the products you offer? What sort of feedback do you receive from your customers?
The demand is continuously growing while the feedback is consistently positive. Parents and teachers encourage us and are thrilled by our product range. Many of our customers are teachers and educators who, in accordance with their mission during their work in day-care centres and kindergartens, want to support all children and encourage a sense of equality among them. Apart from that, we have many customers who felt invisible in their childhood, too, and are happy to be able to give their children toys in which they can see themselves. And of course, parents who would like to bring up their children in an anti-racist and diversity-aware manner.
Is it difficult to find new products while planning your product range, or do you feel like manufacturers are steadily offering more products that broach the issue of equality?
A lot is happening in the book world, especially with gender topics. The toy world, however, is still quite homogenous. We have many products by new and small manufacturers that pick up the topic, such as memory games with various family models or puzzles with cultural motifs. Big companies sometimes offer one or two products that fit our direction. There is a wide repertoire with dolls, but the proportion of Black dolls is much smaller, while the selection of dolls that are not designed according to stereotypical characteristics is drastically reduced. The variety of choice in classic board games is also very small, we are only at the beginning here. In terms of communication, we have already reached a point where things have to change, there is however a lack of proper execution. Much more is happening in other regions, such as France, so we unfortunately have to import a lot of products.
Before the pandemic, we would go to trade fairs and educational conventions and conferences to discover new things for our product range. Currently, it is more difficult. With the big companies, all we can do is flip through their catalogues. Our social media channel is becoming more popular though, so we receive product presentations from individual game producers and publishers that already know who we are.
What marketing strategy do you employ to put your company in the spotlight?
Our topic is very diversity-aware, and it is our mission to create consciousness towards diversity, to sensitise parents and teachers to the issue. That is why our marketing strategy is all about creating awareness. Social media is an important tool for us to help inform the people and convey the issue. In addition, we also have a newsletter and would personally go to many events before the pandemic. And lastly, we are very present in the media. That is not a thing we can directly influence but is due to the fact that we are also active in an advisory capacity in the early childhood sector.
What are you planning for 2021? Which goal have you set for yourself?
We have quite a few collaborations planned for 2021 and are in contact with publishers and game developers to promote more diversity. Our goal especially is to get in touch with educational institutions, so they acquire toys for all kids. That way, every child is supported and taught the importance of appreciation. We also hope that our products find their way into private households as well. What we wish for the most, however, is for new products to be introduced to the toy world that truly embody the diversity of the real world.
Thank you for the interview, Ms Fajembola.