These Dolls Are Pushing Barbie Right Out Of Nigeria

The concept of the Western standard of beauty is slowly disintegrating, and in Nigeria, that slow pace is picking up steam, all thanks to a set of dolls.

The Queens of Africa dolls and Naija Princess dolls were created by a Nigerian entrepreneur, Taofick Okoya, after he realized that his three daughters were only playing with white dolls like Barbies. Since their launch seven years ago, Queen and Princess dolls have become so popular that Okoya is selling, as he claims, 6,000 to 9,000 dolls per month, and has gained about 10-15 percent of the market. But perhaps his biggest victory? The dolls are easily outselling their Barbie counterparts being sold by Mattel.

In an interview with the African News Network (ANN), Okoya shared his reason for creating the dolls back in 2007.

“All the dolls in the house were all white, and I was like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s a problem. Because when you load a child with all this, it becomes an acceptable form of … how you should look. And so I thought, I want to use my dolls to teach Nigerian culture, African culture. Like I said, as a father of a girl, an African girl child … I can only try to create an environment or platform within my power to make her find herself and be a contributing member of society.”

Rather than taking the Mattel approach of dolls that are lightly pigmented, ostensibly “perfect,” skinny, disproportionate figurines, these dolls aim to be as realistic as possible. The Queens of Africa series features three different dolls, each representing a different Nigerian group — Igbo, Yuruba, and Hausa. The dolls vary in proportions, are dressed in traditional garb, and each have a set of books that feature the dolls (not unlike the American Girl doll/book series sold stateside), to further reinforce local Nigerian values and traditions.

Since his launch, Okoya has faced an uphill battle both against the Mattel goliath, but even getting the dolls accepted in Nigeria itself. As he told Elle, “The first reaction we got from retailers was resistance. They said, ‘black dolls don’t sell.’ I then embarked on an educational campaign via various media, telling people about the psychological impact dolls have on children, and dolls in the likeness of the African child can have on them. It took almost three years for the idea to get accepted.”

The dolls have taken off like wildfire in Nigeria, and Okoya is already shipping the dolls to buyers well outside of Nigeria, including in the U.S.





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