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

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7305
JPY
USD
101.53
GBP
USD
0.5830
CAD
USD
1.0656
INR
USD
60.075

Rates may not be current.