Reuters reports on the growth of ‘Queens of Africa’, the new Barbie like dolls tailored for African nations. Developed by a 43 year old entrepreneur Taofick Okoya, the project of designing dolls specifically for African nations, has reached tens of thousands of children across Africa contributing significantly to education programs, particularly in Nigeria. Queens of Africa celebrates being an African girl in the 21st century by drawing on the strengths and achievements of their ancestors and indirectly empowering and inspiring today’s generation of African girls. Taofick Okoyo, 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 traditional Nigerian costumes to his dolls. The dolls and materials are designed, through fun and engaging materials, to subconsciously promote African heritage.
Nigeria is the largest and the most populated Black country in Africa and in the world and is situated at the tail end of the West African sector of the black continent. Nigeria gained her independence from Britain on 1st of October 1960. Since its independence, Nigeria has become a dynamic country through its economy. Rich in history and culture, Nigerian women are renowned worldwide for their unique dress sense. There are over 200 ethnic groups in Nigeria. There are however 3 major tribes and languages, namely Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba, which Okoyo’s dolls represent. With each tribe having distinct styles complete with traditional dresses to hairstyles, Okoyo’s doll-business is ready for expansion. Business for this entrepreneur has grown and he now sells between 6,000 and 9,000 of his “Queens of Africa” dolls a month, and thinks he has 10-15 percent of a small but fast-growing market. With around 170 million people, Nigeria as Africa’s most populous country and economy growing at about 7 percent, the business of Queens of Africa dolls, is ready to take off.
Mattel may have missed on this huge opportunity and its marketing department may not have realized the great potential of tapping into emerging markets. Perhaps Mattel should have done more to expand its markets or tailored its dolls to appeal to African children. Several multinational firms have been in Nigeria for years. Drinks group Diageo, 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. In Nigeria, basic goods aside, consumerism is in its infancy, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Nonetheless, there are good reasons for foreign companies to be cautious in Africa. Multinationals 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. Another reason could be poor sales; two thirds of children are born into families unable to afford anything off the shelves of most toy shops. All this however is good for local business. The longer companies such as Mattel wait, 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 traditional head gear! Queens of Africa may soon become the dream dolls for many African children.