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

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games, Despite Woes

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    World Currencies

    EUR
    USD
    0.8998
    JPY
    USD
    103.32
    GBP
    USD
    0.7594
    CAD
    USD
    1.3176
    INR
    USD
    66.954

    Rates may not be current.