News / Economy

In Nigeria, 'Queens of Africa' Dolls Outsell Barbie

Dolls dressed in local attire are arranged on a table at a workshop in Surulere district, in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, Jan. 8, 2014.
Dolls dressed in local attire are arranged on a table at a workshop in Surulere district, in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, Jan. 8, 2014.
Reuters
With a booming economy in Nigeria and more black children than anywhere else in the world, Taofick Okoya was dismayed some years ago when he couldn't find a black doll for his niece.
 
The 43-year-old spotted a gap in the market and with little competition from foreign firms such as Mattel Inc, the maker of Barbie, he set up his own business. He outsourced manufacturing of doll parts to low-cost China, assembled them onshore and added a twist - traditional Nigerian costumes.
 
Seven years on, Okoya sells between 6,000 and 9,000 of his “Queens of Africa” and “Naija Princesses” a month, and reckons he has 10-15 percent of a small but fast-growing market.
 
“I like it,” said five-year-old Ifunanya Odiah, struggling to contain her excitement as she checked out one of Okoya's dolls in a Lagos shopping mall. “It's black, like me.”
 
While multinational companies are flocking to African markets, Okoya's experience suggests that, in some areas at least, there is still an opportunity for domestic businesses to establish themselves by using local knowledge to tap a growing, diverse and increasingly sophisticated middle class.
 
There's no doubt about Nigeria's economic potential. Economist Jim O'Neill has this year popularized it as one of the “MINT” countries - alongside Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey - that he sees as successors to the first wave of emerging markets he dubbed the BRICs (Brazil, Russia and India and China).
 
With around 170 million people, Nigeria is Africa's most populous country by far, and its economy is growing at about 7 percent, vying with South Africa as the continent's largest.
 
Several multinational firms have been here for years. Drinks group Diageo, for example, now sells more Guinness in Nigeria than in the beer's traditional home market of Ireland. South African grocer Shoprite has seven profitable stores in Nigeria and plans to roll out hundreds.
 
While Western economies struggle, the appeal of emerging markets for toymakers is clear. Between 2006 and 2011, developed countries saw toy sales grow just 1 percent a year, versus 13 percent in emerging markets, according to Euromonitor data.
 
But in Nigeria, basic goods aside, consumerism is in its infancy, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs.
 
“When it comes to sectors like spirits or beer, or even cement, all the international players are already there,” said Andy Gboka, London-based equity analyst at Exotix LLP Partners.
 
“Other sectors, such as toys or less-developed industries, provide a huge potential for local companies.”
 
Tailored to local tastes
 
Mattel, the world's largest toy company, has been selling black dolls for decades, but said its presence in sub-Saharan Africa was “very limited”. Furthermore, the firm does not “have any plans for expansion into this region to share at this time,” according to spokesman Alan Hilowitz.
 
There are good reasons for foreign companies to be cautious.
 
While Nigeria sees thousands of births every day, two thirds of children are born into families unable to afford anything off the shelves of most toy shops.
 
Multinationals also cite poor infrastructure and corrupt port authorities as reasons for steering clear.
 
South Africa's Woolworths pulled out of Nigeria last year, blaming supply chain problems, though analysts said it also misread the local clothes market.
 
The longer companies such as Mattel wait, however, the more time Okoya has to build his business and shape consumer tastes.
 
At a small factory in Lagos' Surulere suburb, his workers stitch brightly patterned West African fabrics into miniature dresses and “geles” - traditional head gear.
 
Nigeria's three largest ethnic groups of Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa are represented in the “Queens of Africa” range so far, highlighting the growing sophistication of consumers - and the need to tailor products to local tastes.
 
The dolls go for between 1,300 Nigerian naira to the special edition 3,500 naira ($22), while cheaper “Naija Princesses” sell for 500 to 1,000 naira apiece. Okoya makes a profit margin of about one third, and as well as selling at home, is increasingly shipping to the United States and Europe.
 
He plans dolls from other African ethnic groups, and is in talks with South Africa's Game, owned by Massmart, a part of Wal-Mart, to sell to 70 shops across Africa.
 
Like Barbies, Okoya's dolls are slim, despite the fact that most of Africa abhors the Western ideal of stick-thin models.
 
Okoya said his early templates were larger bodied, and the kids didn't like them. But he still hopes to change that.
 
“For now, we have to hide behind the 'normal' doll. Once we've built the brand, we can make dolls with bigger bodies.”

You May Like

Italian Red Cross Chief: Don't Label Migrants 'Illegal'

Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York Wednesday Francesco Rocca says migrants are victims, not criminals More

US Intel Officials Cautious About New IS Threat

Threat, said to have been posted by alleged American member of Islamic State terror group, says Sunday’s attack in Texas ‘is only the beginning’ More

Eyes in Sky Monitor Weather, Predict Epidemics

Satellites track storms, population movements, ocean warming to predict disease conditions More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8967
JPY
USD
120.22
GBP
USD
0.6616
CAD
USD
1.2116
INR
USD
63.662

Rates may not be current.