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Kiki Bryant: Championing Black ownership in the toy aisle

Kiki Bryant’s lending journey is an all-too-familiar tale. Like many U.S. borrowers, she was hesitant to apply for a small business loan and felt she was unqualified.

“I, like a lot of Black female creators and entrepreneurs, have a little bit of imposter syndrome,” said Kiki. “So, when I was approved, I was overjoyed. And then when I got funded in a frickin’ hour? I was like… woah.”

Kiki was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. A creative soul from a young age, she wrote and illustrated her first children’s book on folded notebook paper when she was eight years old. Her early illustrations took the form of four-page birthday card ‘books,’ which she sent to friends and family, or short stories featuring uniquely personal characters.

As an adult, Kiki realized her creative spirit wasn’t just a childhood hobby. It was her professional calling.

“Growing up as a kid in poverty, I always believed that once I was making a certain amount of money and I had certain benefits, I would be happy. I had to take some time [away from work] and really think about why I wasn’t. That led to me starting a podcast… and that just opened up this whole world of visual art that reignited my love of illustration, books, and learning,” Kiki explained.

Aanu Design

Kiki started her design business, Aanu Design, in 2018. After just two years, she was entirely self-employed as a full-time freelance designer.

“I do a lot of work with Black women-owned startups. And I love that work. I feel like there is a quality gap between design for Black ventures and non-Black ventures, and a lot of that has to do with access to capital,” explained Kiki.

The word ‘aanu’ is a Yoruba word that loosely translates to ‘empathy.’ When Kiki works with her clients, she understands that they don’t just want beautiful design - they want designs that communicate and evoke emotions.

Related: Celebrating and recognizing Black History Month

The start of Lollipop Lola

Today, Kiki still lives in Chicago and resides with her daughter and her partner. Kiki describes her daughter as endlessly curious, like many young girls learning to navigate the world. Similar to Kiki when she was growing up, her daughter's favorite pastime is reading.

Unfortunately, children’s books that represent families like Kiki’s are scarce.

“I would always try to find books that were reflective of her and where she was and what she looked like. There are a lot of great books on the market for little Black girls, but there weren’t any books for little Black girls with two mothers,” explained Kiki.

“I was having a problem finding books of little Black girls learning lessons, having fun, and being imaginative,” Kiki said.

This motivated Kiki to create her first children’s book, Lollipop Lola and the Power of Yet. Kiki wrote, illustrated, and published Lollipop Lola in a single week. In the book, Lola’s two mothers use conscious parenting methods that reinforce kid-friendly life lessons.

The universe of Lollipop Lola is vibrant, engaging, and entirely built by Kiki.

Fundraising with Kiva

The funding Kiki earned in just one hour from the Kiva community of lenders will help her expand Lola’s universe and create an entire merchandise line. Specifically, the money will fund the molds for the first round of manufacturing of Lollipop Lola dolls!

“I feel like there needs to be more representation of us in the toy aisle, but I don't just mean that by putting our faces there and taking our money,” Kiki said.

Current work

Lollipop Lola is only just getting started. The second book in the series is already on its way to the shelves and can be pre-ordered here. In this book, Lollipop Lola: Pandemic Warrior, Lola takes on the stresses of the pandemic with a solution-oriented mindset.

Let’s commit to supporting Black businesses and Black voices in the U.S. like Kiki’s year-round.

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About the author

Ciara Middleton

Ciara is a content creator who joined Kiva in December 2020. At Kiva, Ciara supports creative strategy with both visual and written content creation. She graduated with a B.A. in International Business and Marketing from Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. As a first-generation American with parents from Ireland, Ciara has been surrounded by travel for her whole life and is deeply passionate about cross-cultural equity. She has two brothers, three dogs and loves to read, write, and photograph her way through her professional and personal lives.