As leaders at Mattel try to fight declining sales of Barbie dolls, a company making a similar product can't keep up with demand. The difference? The wildly popular "Queens of Africa" and "Naija Princesses" dolls are black and being sold to Nigeria's booming middle class.
The dolls were designed and developed by Taofick Okoya, who realized the need for dolls that look like the children who play with them after trying to find a birthday gift for his niece. So seven years ago, he decided to create the kind of gift he was looking for. Now he outsources manufacturing to China and assembles them in Nigeria, where he and his staff create traditional and modern clothing inspired by the three largest ethnic groups: Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa.
But business wasn't always booming. He had to convince stores to stock his products, so he appealed to research suggesting the need for Nigerian girls to have access to dolls that looked like themselves.
"When little girls play with dolls, they see themselves in or as the doll, they dress it in clothes they like and act out their fantasies," he told Elle magazine in an interview last year. "The more of their own likeness they see in the things they like, the more accepting they will be of their looks and culture."
His next project is to make some dolls that are curvier, have bigger hair and fuller faces. He's also working on animation projects featuring the popular dolls, as well as a series of books.
Meanwhile, Mattel wonders what it could do to boost Barbie sales. Hmmm.