How This Brown-Skinned Doll Finally Unseated Barbie In Africa

Photo: Courtesy of queensofafricadolls.com.
A new doll is going after Barbie — and winning. Called Queens of Africa, the dolls are brown-skinned women, and in Nigeria, where they were created, they're finally beating out Mattel's classic blonde. 

Nigerian entrepreneur Taofick Okoya created the dolls to promote positive self-identity among young African girls. He says he was inspired by his daughter, when he realized that the only dolls on the market didn't look like her. Now, more than seven years later, he's selling 6,000 to 9,000 dolls a month, which is a 10 to 15% market share in Africa's most populous country, and a bigger share than Mattel's. 

The dolls align with Nigeria’s three largest populations: Nneko is Igbo, Wuraola is Yoruba, and Azeezah is Hausa. Not only do these dolls give young girls a representation of ethnic nuance and diversity, they also come pre-packaged with a female-forward social agenda — the company’s website features the trio holding a sign printed with the phrase #BringBackOurGirls — and values surrounding independence and self-acceptance are baked into the product line.

It's a great moment for more inclusive dolls, especially since the last few years have shown Mattel's classic model struggling to keep up with the times. There was the roll-out Computer Engineer Barbie (who came with a storybook in which Barbie needs the boys to help her turn her idea into a real game) not so long after Mexican Barbie with her Chihuahua and passport. Meanwhile, the issues with her absurd body image persist, while more realistic dolls (like Lammily, who comes with stretch-mark stickers and an average hip-to-waist ratio) come out all the time.

Queens of Africa each come with an origin-story style book that honors heritage, promotes education, and emphasizes ethical behavior. Okoya also shared with Reuters that an increasing number of orders are destined for little girls abroad — including to the U.S. (where, it should be noted, there is an appalling lack of children’s products that reflect our melting-pot population).

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