In today’s world, consumers are so powerful that they affect and even dictate almost every move manufacturers make.
Two Nigerians have taken one crucial symbol, dolls, and has turned them to a tool for breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions.
Kristina Duncan, Vice President, Global Marketing Communications of the well-known American toy-company Mattel Inc. makers of Barbie, revealed one of the brand’s biggest challenges as regards the Barbie doll said ‘One of the biggest brand challenges for Barbie is reminding people what the doll stands for, rather than what she looks like… that the benefit of Barbie lies not within the doll but within the imagination of the child who plays with her.”
Haneefah Adam, a young Nigerian medical scientist is using a fusion of her creativity with the reality of her environment to challenge stereotypes. Haneefah has taken the Barbie doll as a tool not just for fun but to correct misconceptions, expanding the play scope for little girls. On her instagram page, she dresses Barbie dolls up in beautiful Hijabs which she makes herself and takes beautiful photos of them reflecting a reality that the typical Barbie never did.
Speaking with CNN she said "I thought I had not seen Barbie dressed in a hijab before so I decided to open an Instagram account and dressed Barbie up in the clothes that I made. I thought it was really important for a doll to be dressed like how I would be."
Haneefah is making Barbie much more than it would be on a normal day.
Kristina Duncan had said in her chat: “What people do to Barbie is exactly what they do to women. They judge her solely based on how she looks and they give her one-word definitions. She is pretty. She is plastic. She is fake. They don’t give her credit for all that she can achieve.” This is the stereotype among many that Haneefah’s Hijarbie aims to crash as even as she explained in her CNN chat;
"People think that when Muslim women cover up they are forced to. (The) majority of us are not."
"We want to cover up and express our religion. But a lot of Muslims don't cover their hair and it doesn't make them any less of a Muslim.”
"I think this is a great platform to try and get the Muslim identity to the world and correct some misconceptions… I just wanted to give another option for Muslim girls like me."
Today, Haneefah’s Hijarbie has over 77,000 followers on Instagram, she has broadened her representations to not just white dolls, but dolls of colour and beyond, making Muslim cloth designs, reflecting different races and people.
Knowing the major role the Barbie doll plays in the life of many young girls, what Haneefah is doing is not just key but commendable.
Queen of Africa Dolls
Looking through store shelves in Nigeria, Taofick Okoya, a Nigerian business man noticed the unavailability of black dolls for his niece, so, he decided in 2007 to make black dolls that his niece and other Nigerian girls could relate with.
Today, Taofick’s doll named the ‘Queen of Africa’ dolls are so popular in Nigeria that they are outselling Barbie dolls. Sales are going up high with over 9000 units sold monthly, taking up about 15 percent of Nigeria's toy market.
Taofick carefully modelled the dolls to represent Nigeria's three major tribes with the aim of promoting strong feminine ideals. The Queen of Africa dolls was created with the understanding of how important a doll is to the girl child. Okoya revealed that beyond his niece, he really hopes the dolls will have a positive impact on is his daughter, who, he stated once wished she was white.
This is not an uncommon idea in Nigeria as western influence is heavily evident in the country. This is obvious as many young Nigerians are taking to bleaching and skin toning just to be perceived as acceptable and more desirable. Queen of Africa doll stands a symbol of hope for the black African child, representing beauty and boldness.
In an interview Okoya said: “This might have been responsible for her (his daughter) wishing she was white. It made me aware that I needed to make her proud and happy being a black African girl, and not limit it to her alone as this was a common trend among the younger generation. The ‘Queen of Africa’ became a platform to achieve this.'
Okoya recognized the gap in the doll market in Nigeria and is making a difference with his brand