It’s Black, like Me

When five year-old Ifunanya Odiah checked out one of Taofick Okoya’s Queens of Africa dolls in a Lagos, Nigeria shopping mall, she said “I like it. It’s black, like me.”

Okoya started his business seven years ago when he was looking for a doll for his niece.  He wanted a doll that looked like her.  He’s now taking a bite out of Barbie by “empowering the African girl child.”  Okoya estimates that he owns 10-15% of the fast growing Nigerian doll market.

“Queens of Africa” dolls come with origin-story style books that promote heritage, education, and ethical behavior.  They’re dark skinned with traditional hair styles and dressed in traditional Nigerian dresses and “geles” (head gear) in brightly pattered West African fabrics.  They currently reflect the three largest Nigerian ethnic groups: Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa.  Okoya also makes a cheaper version of the toy called “Naija Princesses.”

Emerging markets have attractive toy markets growing at 13% from 2006 to 2011, versus 1% in developed countries.  MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey) economies have been dubbed successors to the first wave of emerging market growth seen in the BRIC (Brasil, Russia, India, China) countries.  Although multinational companies are flocking to capitalize on the opportunity in those markets, Okoya serves as an example that local entrepreneurs might be better suited to win their home territories where people are hungry for products that they can better identify with. Okoya now sells 6,000-9,000 dolls per month with a growing number of them shipping to the US and Europe.

Photo from Queens of Africa Dolls and REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye.

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