Becoming a mother might be life-changing. For Tijana Petrović, as soon as she became one, the idea of changing the world and doing something new were born alongside with her son. “You want to change, you have a lot of ideas and my idea was starting something new., some kind of business. In 2011, it was only a thought, two years later I said to myself ‘this year I’m gonna make this happen'”, she tells us. And that is how Koba Yagi came to life. They are educational, handmade, ecological toys, locally made by women from vulnerable groups.
So, in 2013 Tijana decided to produce a batch of prototypes and did it out of her own resources. “It was not much, enough only to test, but I felt there was no money to do something that I see as critical: market research. What I could do was prototyping, testing, show people and see how they reacted, she recalls, telling how she replaced conventional research for a user-oriented approach. After getting hands on, she started working with customer feedback. “I had negative and positive answers”, she ponders.
Two years later, the brand still struggles to reach financial sustainability, but makes sure that the work is not considered ready simply selling the products. Koba Yagi, alongside with Vega, a grass-roots youth center, develops workshops for children and parents. “With these activities, we want to aware parents that they also have a role in their children’s education, many assign this function to schools and leave aside activities with their children”, she says. She recognizes that the toys are directed to a niche: parents who want alternatives to play with their children.
Besides that, work with the little ones aims at creating change makers. For Tijana, youth in Serbia are unmotivated and develop an apathy towards the hardships they face, somehow similar to the ones found in Bosnia & Herzegovina. In an attempt to fight this issue, Koba Yagi’s profit is expected to be driven to Design for Change‘s program in Serbia, supporting the development of children above 8 years old.
But, yes, there are difficulties. Introducing educational toys in the Serbian market, Tijana says, it is not an easy mission. “People think about Lego and that is it. What we are doing is something new, although the general idea of do-it-yourself is not new, it is new here when we speak about toys. Especially because Koba Yagi’s ones bring a new concept, in selling as much as in collaborating in playtime. It is not only giving the toy to a kid, it is about co-creating with them”, she explains. Therefore, the focus is not only in selling to parents, but also to schools, youth centers and companies that decide to co-create with the brand.
From the idea of toys through the way business is run, collaboration the rule. “I have learned that in entrepreneurship you cannot think about everything and know everything. It is important to rely on a network, then you start noticing things that you would have never imagined”, she argues. Nurturing that thought has already shown to be worth, such as a partnership with a children’s book publishing house.
This year, a collaboration with the recycling center at Center for Women at Uzice, a small city in Serbia, will result in an upcycle series of sensorial toys. The eco-friendly line’s name will be “EnimalZ” and its role will be helping emotional development of children from 4 to 7 years old.
Now, Koba Yagi has an online store which delivers in Serbia, but according to Tijana, the plan is expanding to neighbouring countries, entering Central Europe and reaching the world with her good toys, that “kids love”, she assures.