Taofick Okoya saw a hole in the toy market, and he was quick to fill it. After struggling to find a dark-skinned doll for his niece, the 43-year-old Nigerian began producing them himself, Reuters reports. Today, Okoya sells between 6,000 and 9,000 of the dolls per month, accounting for an estimated 10–15 per cent of the market in the country.
Okoya's Queens of Africa and Naija Princess dolls are dressed in traditional Nigerian dresses and headgear, and different models are tailored to the country's three major ethnic groups: the Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. The Igbo doll, for example, is named Nneka and each group's doll is distinguished through dress and hairstyle. Okoya has also expanded the brand into a series of comics and books.
Like Barbies, the Queens of Africa are slim — even though, according to the Guardian, that particular beauty ideal is not as prevalent in Nigeria or much of West Africa as it is in North America.
Okoya's early models for the Queens of Africa were larger bodied, Okoya told Reuters, but they were not popular. "For now, we have to hide behind the 'normal' doll. Once we've built the brand, we can make dolls with bigger bodies."
Okoya's story demonstrates the potential for local businesses to take advantage of a country that is by far the continent's largest in population, and is also one of its fastest-growing economies. Writing in Bloomberg View, the economist Jim O'Neill — famous for coining the term BRIC in reference to the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India, and China — placed Nigeria alongside Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey in MINT, his new group of countries with strong economic prospects.
That growth means many international companies have already moved into the country. Drinks manufacturer Diageo, Reuters notes, sells more Guinness in Nigeria than in Ireland. That same international charge hasn't happened when it comes to toys, though, as evidenced by the limited presence of Mattel, the world's largest toy company and maker of Barbie. One reason for that, Reuters says, is caution over expanding into a country where, despite its emerging economy, two-thirds of children are born into families who can barely afford extra expenditures like toys.
For the families that can afford the dolls, however, they're a welcome addition. Reuters quotes five-year-old Ifunanya Odiah barely containing her excitement over the Queens of Africa in a mall in Lagos: "I like it! It's black, like me."
Via The Guardian