In Nigeria, Queens of Africa steal a march on Barbie

Wed Jan 15, 2014 6:06am EST
 
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By Angela Ukomadu and Tim Cocks

LAGOS (Reuters) - With a booming economy in Nigeria and more black children than anywhere else in the world, Taofick Okoya was dismayed some years ago when he couldn't find a black doll for his niece.

The 43-year-old 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 a twist - traditional Nigerian costumes.

Seven years on, Okoya sells between 6,000 and 9,000 of his "Queens of Africa" and "Naija Princesses" a month, and reckons he has 10-15 percent of a small but fast-growing market.

"I like it," said five year-old Ifunanya Odiah, struggling to contain her excitement as she checked out one of Okoya's dolls in a Lagos shopping mall. "It's black, like me."

While multinational companies are flocking to African markets, Okoya's experience suggests that, in some areas at least, there is still an opportunity for domestic businesses to establish themselves by using local knowledge to tap a growing, diverse and increasingly sophisticated middle class.

There's no doubt about Nigeria's economic potential. Economist Jim O'Neill has this year popularized it as one of the "MINT" countries - alongside Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey - that he sees as successors to the first wave of emerging markets he dubbed the BRICs (Brazil, Russia and India and China).

With around 170 million people, Nigeria is Africa's most populous country by far, and its economy is growing at about 7 percent, vying with South Africa as the continent's largest.

Several multinational firms have been here for years. Drinks group Diageo, for example, now 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.   Continued...

 
Dolls dressed in local attire are arranged on a table at a workshop in Surulere district, in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos January 8, 2014. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye