Mattel Inc, makers of the Barbie doll, is the world’s biggest toy company – a position it has held onto for decades now. It may well be about to lose a share of that market, however, as Nigerian entrepreneur Taofick Okoya is set to storm America with his “Queens of Africa” – a doll line that holds a unique claim to being authentically African.
Years ago, Okoya went on a quest to gift his niece a doll that looked like her and dressed like her. That search was all the spark he needed to launch his doll company in 2007. The Queens of Africa doll line has since gone on to become a popular brand in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. In 2014, it even outsold Barbie dolls in the Nigerian market.
Although it is the world’s bestselling doll, Barbie doesn’t have a structured market presence in sub-Saharan Africa, where the price of the average Barbie doll is enough to put it beyond the reach of many households.
Okoya understands the market quite well, on the other hand. He spotted the disconnect between demand and pricing; dolls of whatever brand must be toys and playthings before anything else, and not luxury items. He outsourced the manufacturing to low-cost China, shipped them back to Nigeria for assembly and sells the Queens of Africa dolls for between 500-3500 Naira ($2-$12) apiece. Okoya still gets to make a tidy profit and everyone is happy.
Barbie has been producing a range of dolls with a darker skin tones for decades now, with mixed reactions from the public. The Queens of Africa line leverages its brand on delivering not just black dolls, but dolls that are authentically African. Okoya’s dolls are adorned in trendy contemporary designs made from African print fabrics.
Its claim to being authentically African notwithstanding, Okoya’s dolls appear to maintain the controversial slim/thin body proportions of high fashion models. Okoya explains that he needs the dolls to look that way until he gains an effective share of the market that would allow him the liberty to make dolls with bigger, curvier bodies.
Okoya expects his products to catch on quickly with the African diaspora in the United States, where diversity and cultural pride are popular values that have led to a healthy niche market for African-themed dolls, toys, books and much more. He hopes his Queens’ unique style and quality will will expand sales to many other potential buyers in the United States as well.