I Couldn't Find Any Representative Dolls For My Daughter - So I Created Some
by Charlotte Francis, Founder of Biankha And Friends
When Charlotte Francis' daughter, Cali, started school, her self-esteem plummeted. Suddenly she didn't want to be 'brown' anymore and wanted to look like the 'other girls'. Charlotte set about to increase Cali's self-esteem. But, when she went to buy her some diverse books and dolls, she was shocked to find there were scarcely any to buy. Charlotte & Cali decided to create their own.
Fast-forward 4 years and Charlotte, a single-mum with a full-time job as a secondary school teacher, is on a mission. She's created a whole 'Biankha And Friends' world, of dolls, bags and she also has an animation series in the works. It's not been easy but in this blog Charlotte explains how her passion for making positive impact with her business keeps her going.
1. Charlotte, What inspired you to set up Biahkha & Friends Dolls?
My daughter started school as a very confident 4/5 year old, but within a year I noticed a change in her self-esteem. She began coming home and saying things like ‘Mummy, I don’t like my hair’, ‘ I want it straight and yellow’ and ‘Why do I have to be brown?’ After a bit more digging my daughter, Cali, revealed that she had received some hurtful comments from her peers in school and there wasn’t really anyone she could identify with there which made her feel isolated.
In my role as a secondary school teacher I had also seen the other end of the spectrum of teenage girls with low self-esteem and thought that if this had been addressed a lot earlier, I wouldn’t be seeing what I was.
I was adamant to change my daughter’s self esteem for the better, so decided to make some changes to our every day life. This included displaying empowering artwork at home, attending events which embraced natural afro hair , enrolling Cali into a pan African Saturday school and I also went to purchase some diverse books and dolls for her.
I was upset to find that no black dolls existed in our local toy stores and the ones available from America were costly with shipping. This led us to sitting down and sketching our own designs in our living room.
BIANKHA AND FRIENDS
‘Biankha and friends was created to empower, motivate and inspire, in particular, young girls of colour, to excel in the 21st century. Our mission is to educate and encourage young girls to embrace their culture and heritage, whilst succeeding in a modern and ever changing society, through dolls, role play, books, animation and everyday items.
Biankha is an advocate for black history, science, entrepeneurship, natural black beauty, black love and spirituality. She hopes to spread all of these things through her dolls and animation.’
2.How did you take your first steps to get your business off the ground?
If I’m honest I had no idea what to do. I just had such a strong inclination that this was something special, that it pushed me to not give up the idea of our sketches becoming a reality.
After sketching our initial designs I put them up on our kitchen door. I was very aware of the power of manifesting an idea and having it visually represented and I wanted to remind myself of our mission every single day when I passed them.
The initial steps had me trawling the internet for a possible manufacturer, which took months. The name/ concept of the brand was so strong I made sure I quickly trade-marked it and incorporated us as a business before anything was concrete.
I also invested in myself in the form of a business mentor as although I had an interest in entrepeneurship, I didn’t have any experience of the practicalities of the business world.
I also invested in a planner, which I still use today to use checklists and timelines to get all the jobs done.
‘After sketching our initial designs I put them up on our kitchen door. I was very aware of the power of manifesting an idea and having it visually represented and I wanted to remind myself of our mission every single day when I passed them.’
3.What were the key challenges you experienced in launching?
The challenges I faced initially were my confidence. I am quite an introvert so I never expected to have to put my face forward in our venture and I found it very difficult to do this.
As a single mum, with a full-time career in teaching and second business, my time was also a major challenge.
Other physical challenges included major issues with manufacturers, false promises and the costs involved in launching a business of this nature.
4.How did these challenges impact you and how did they make you feel?
These challenges have affected both my physical and mental health at times. I have been incredibly tired and overwhelmed at times, but something has continuously kept me going even when I felt like giving up.
The journey of entrepeneurship can also be incredibly lonely when you are doing everything yourself. You often question whether you are making the right decisions and whether it is worth continuing.
The financial implications are also very heavy. We started thus journey in December 2016, launching in August 2018 and I have invested thousands of pounds and thousands of hours without paying myself a penny so far. This can be very draining whilst raising a child simultaneously and has meant I have had to make sacrifices along the way.
I’ve also at times questioned myself as a mother because of the time I have had to invest into the business.
5.How have you managed balancing your Biahkha work with your career in teaching and being a mother?
My diary has been essential.
I have also tried to separate my roles where possible i.e. during the day I’m teaching, so Biankha isn’t touched and vice versa for the evenings.
I have become very efficient at multi-tasking and scheduling, so whilst my daughter is at an extra-curricular class, I’ll get through lots of emails/ calls.
I’ve also recently started scheduling all my social media posts which draws back some time.
My daughter is also heavily involved in the business so she accompanies me on a lot of events / tasks we have to do. I am rarely physically away from Cali and she is so understanding of what our bigger goal is.
6.What key lessons have you learned that could share with others going through all of these challenges?
* Reflect on your wins and often. It can be easy to get caught up on the difficult times as there are so many, but try to document the positives you are achieving.
* Try and make some time to look after yourself. I am still working on this and getting told off by family and friends because I haven’t been too successful, but it is very important.
* Be prepared for the losses. I have had people steal/ lie and I wasn’t prepared for that and not everyone having the same moral compass.
* Ask for help and allow help in when it presents itself. I also find this super difficult, but things have always been easier when I’ve accepted help.
* Don’t compare your journey to anyone elses. It’s easy to get swept up in ‘why hasn’t this happened for me yet etc’, but timing is different for everyone and many people will look at your progress wishing they were where you are.
7.What practices or tools have you found most useful in helping you overcome those challenges?
– When my daughter goes to bed, I often takes long, quiet baths to relax before starting work again.
– Using my planner efficiently to stay organized.
– Using apps such as planoly and canva to schedule in social media time in bulk.
– When I’m presented with something which requires me outside of my comfort zone. I always say ‘yes’ and then deal with the emotions afterwards e.g public speaking / interviews.
8.What advice could you give about how to manage your time when trying to launch a business whilst working full-time?
– Organise time in bubbles if you can
– Try and have 1 day off a week
– Use a planner to plan and execute (I get more done when I do this).
– Plan nice things to look forward to.
9.Have there been moments when it was hard to keep a positive mindset or when it all felt too much? What kept you going when things were tough?
Definitely! This happens often.
Things that have kept me going have been my daughter. She is a constant source of encouragement and the fact that I have told her we are going to be successful and do x,y,z reminds me of what I have to do.
Our mission to empower and inspire children is also at the heart of everything we do, so this also keeps me going.
Lastly, the same entity that spoke to me when I first had our Biankha idea, I believe is the thing that keeps me going when times are tough.
I don’t have failure in my mind as an option which means the only way forward is to keep going and pushing through.
10.What would your top tips be for someone interested in following your footsteps?
– Lots of research
– Be prepared for some of your toughest times
– Learn when to ‘give up’ for the day when things are difficult.
– Remind yourself of your wins and celebrate them
– Make visual reminders of your mission
– Be careful of who you trust
11.What are your plans for the future of Biankha & Friends?
We have very grand plans that sometimes scare me, but as I see them come to reality I smile knowing that anything is possible.
We will continue to expand our product line and are also mid production of our Biankha and Friends animation series, with the pilot episode almost complete.
One day I envision that a young child would go through the Biankha experience in playing with the toys, watching the uplifting animation and then as they grow into their teens embarking on our mentoring programme to create and support a well-rounded, confident young adult.
I also see Biankha and Friends as a source of employment for our community, where people will wake up wanting to come into work as they get so much from it.
‘We have very grand plans that sometimes scare me, but as I see them come to reality I smile knowing that anything is possible’
12. What’s been the best thing about your journey with Biankha & Friends so far?
The fact that I have done it all independently with my daughter. She has seen first hand what it looks like to make your dreams come true and she has such a positive outlook on what is possible in life.
The feedback has also been amazing and overwhelming. Knowing that we are a part of so many children’s childhoods in a positive way is so uplifting and rewarding.
13.If there was one thing you couldn’t do this without, what would it be?
My Faith and belief in our mission and the support / encouraging words of my small circle around me.
With many thanks to Charlotte for sharing her inspirational story and brilliant advice with us.
Did anything resonate with you? Let us know in the comments below.