On Jan. 21, 2021, Kiki Bryant set a $2,000 fundraising goal on Kiva.org to launch a children's doll based on her original book character, Lollipop Lola. The goal was met that same day.
"That was a really insane experience, especially [for] a person who is a BIPOC and female business owner," Bryant said.
Bryant, a designer and entrepreneur from Chicago's South Side, self-published her first children's book in 2020;. It was about Lollipop Lola, a young Black girl being raised by two LGBT+ Black women. (Bryant's own family inspired the story.) Now, she is seeking to expand Lola's franchise through children's toys and animation.
Securing a loan on Kiva, a non-profit microfinancing platform aimed at people excluded from traditional banking, was only one strategy Bryant used to pave the way for Lola and her business endeavors.
Prior to being a professional creative, Bryant worked as an administrator for People's Gas, but the role made her unhappy and depressed, she said. In 2017, Bryant went on unpaid, job-protected leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act to prioritize her mental health.
"In the process of doing that, I realized that I had been neglecting the more creative parts of me and that in order to be happy, I needed to be able to create," Bryant said.
She began offering design services to friends and family and, in 2018, she started her own design company, Aanu. Most of her clients are Black women. Now, Bryant describes herself as a full-stack designer or all-purpose creative.
It was in early 2020, while enrolled in a User Experience Design program to bolster her graphic-design skills, that Bryant began sketching Lollipop Lola. Bryant has wanted to write a children's book for most of her life. Lola, she realized, was the character she had been trying to write all along.
"It just clicked," Bryant said. "I wrote, illustrated and self-published the first book all within a week." She began distributing the book on Amazon, and is starting the process to distribute it through Barnes and Noble. Recently, Bryant published a second book about Lola learning to deal with jealousy.
Lola's story offers rare representation for both Black children and LGBT+ Black parents. Bryant wanted to ensure Lola's adventures didn't only center on identity, but offered stories in which young Black girls could also see themselves living, laughing and learning. She also wanted her family to see themselves in a story for once.
"I don't see families like mine, at all, in media ever," Bryant said. On the rare occasions she sees Black queer women represented in media, Bryant added, they are either in an interracial relationship or, if they do have a partner of color, they don't have a family.
It was also important to Bryant that the books, workbooks and journals on Lola's website were geared toward helping children understand and control their emotions.
"I am from West Englewood, and I see every day the consequences of people not having emotional awareness and not having proper vehicles to deal with their trauma," Bryant said. "And that's a lot of the reason that Lola does focus on social and emotional health." She added, "That is a real key to people, especially from the community I'm from . . . being able to heal themselves and each other."
Once she feels safer with pandemic circumstances, Bryant also hopes to connect with her West Englewood community by hosting workshops with "little creatives" who have an interest in digital art. Ideally, she would host the workshops in the home she grew up in, which Bryant is renovating.
Beyond author events, Bryant has big plans for Lola Lollipop.
"I could definitely see Lola becoming a franchise in the same way that Sesame Street is a franchise," Bryant said. For the past few months, she has focused on taking Lola into the animation space: licensing music, hiring a voice actor and animator, and producing original songs, scripts and videos. Bryant hopes animation will connect Lola to the widest audience possible.
The Lollipop Lola doll Bryant acquired funding for in January had some hiccups with the first manufacturer, so Bryant is also working to finish that project. She is searching for a different manufacturer to produce the doll mold, with the hope of putting a Lola doll on the market by the end of 2022.
She wants her child to be able to see themselves represented in not only books, but toys and animation as well. Bryant's nine-year-old child is already in love with Lola, Bryant said. "They kind of view Lola as a little sister, which makes sense because Lola is like my second baby," she said.
To support Lollipop Lola's mission, check out Lola on her website, https://lollipoplola.xyz/ . Bryant said those who wish to support her can also still offer loans on her Kiva page, www.kiva.org/lend/2087456 .