Orijin Bees Is Buzzing With Success in Toy Industry
With strong family ties to West Africa — specifically, Cabo Verde and Ghana — Melissa Orijin and her husband taught their eldest daughter to be proud of her roots.
Their efforts worked until their daughter became the only Black girl in her class at school and her confidence began to drop. This experience led to her disliking her hair texture and skin color and, in turn, favoring Caucasian dolls. Orijin’s efforts to find a doll that looked like her daughter in the toy aisle of local department stores proved fruitless. Then a trailblazing business idea emerged when Melissa’s husband, Archyn, suggested, “Why don’t you just create the dolls you want to see?”
How an epiphany grew into a thriving business
That epiphany evolved into a passion project for Melissa. She says her then-four-year-old daughter, Esi, inspired her to launch Orijin Bees. The business is a collection of dolls authentically representing Black and Brown children. “From their facial features, variety of skin tones, and range in curl patterns, our Baby Bee Dolls are on a mission to encourage self-love and inclusion during play,” Orijin asserts.
Launched more than three years ago, Orijin Bees has caught on fire with retailers and celebrities. The toys landed on Oprah’s Favorite Things 2021 list and were included in Amazon’s ‘Toys We Love’ for 2021 and 2022. “Celebrities also showed love for the dolls,” Melissa Orijin says. Earlier this year, Orijin says Kandi Burrus suggested making Orijin Bees the “Next Big Brand for Kids” during a livestream. And Keke Palmer highlighted Orijin Bees during a Women’s History Month feature with Amazon. “Everyone loves Keke and having her include Orijin Bees on her list means everything to us,” Orijin says.
Expanding offerings to reach new customers
Orijin Bees now offers over 20 different Baby Bee Dolls for ages three and older. The company recently launched Nu’Bee Plush Baby Dolls, a line representing newborns, and a new ginger-hair doll has been a hit. It plans to unveil a male version of Baby Bee Dolls this year.
While the company is enjoying success, starting Orijin Bees was no easy feat. Orijin says she stumbled into becoming an entrepreneur in the toy industry, adding her firm is truly an extension of her focus as a mother. She continues to learn and gain experience as her business grows. In fact, one of her biggest challenges, she says, was leaving a stable career in financial services to operate Orijin Bees full-time.
“I was so nervous but kept walking in this direction, one day at a time,” Orijin says. “Those nerves still haven’t disappeared, but I look to my faith to keep me going.”
Challenges after launching
Another challenge was managing the overwhelming flood of orders after making Oprah’s Favorite Things List last year. She says it required additional logistical planning and forecasting to prepare for a successful holiday season. “We sold out a few times, but we had systems in place to restock quickly in order to not disappoint customers,” Orijin says.
The budding entrepreneur invested $50,000 to start her enterprise. Orijin says her startup costs included manufacturing, logistics, product sampling, and marketing payments. At every stage of development, Orijin stresses that she grew her company by keeping children at the forefront of strategic decisions.
The value of being a mompreneur
Her research and project management skills proved to be immensely helpful in her entrepreneurial pursuits and helped her overcome challenges. Being a mompreneur has been critical to the brand’s success by helping fill in industry gaps that she shares with other mothers. “Not only do mothers fail to get enough credit for overcoming the child-rearing challenges,” but Orijin also believes they simultaneously play the roles of CEO, COO, and CFOs in their households.
She expects company revenue to grow to the seven-figure range in 2023. To further sustain growth, Orijin plans to increase product distribution to additional domestic retailers and online stores, expand into international markets, and sell more accessories and clothing for both dolls and children.
Growing with Amazon
Orijin Bees’ expansion has largely been driven by product sales in Amazon’s stores since 2020, Orijin says. She notes that showcasing her goods in front of millions of potential customers worldwide has
proven invaluable. “Customers who may have not ever heard of our brand can learn about our products while shopping with Amazon’s store. We would have missed these new and potential customers otherwise.”
Last year, Orijin Bees began participating in Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator (BBA), a $150 million program commitment over four years geared to help build sustainable diversity and provide growth opportunities for Black-owned businesses.
“Programs like BBA give Black-owned businesses so many resources to support us and help accelerate our growth. From resources to specialists, advertising credits, media exposure, and other opportunities, we are so thankful to have been selected to be a part of this program,” Orijin says.
So, what are Orijin’s aspirations for growth over the next five years?
By 2027, she wants Orijin Bees to be a household name and reach a nine-plus figure revenue. “Five years ago, I wouldn’t have even thought this would be a possibility, but I’ve learned that if you follow your purpose, work hard, have the right team, and have faith, anything is possible.”