Sunday, December 7, 2014

Barbie's Competitors Throughout the Years

Imani and Menelik by Olmec 1997


Last week I received an email from Cheree Franco of  the Arkansas Democrat Gazette (ADG), who was working on a story about Barbie alternatives throughout the decades.

Her request was for a high resolution image of Imani, after having seen the above image of Imani and Menelik in a blog post from January 2010 (most of the hyperlinks in that post are now dead).

I obliged Franco with a photo of the above pair and added another group photo of  Olmec's Naomi (1988), Ellise (1989), and Imani (1991).

Naomi was Olmec’s first African American fashion doll.  The name was changed after one year to Ellisse.   Naomi and Ellisse share the same head sculpt.  That head sculpt was also used for Imani until a new head sculpt was created for the 1990s and final version of Imani.

Franco next requested a photo of any Get Set dolls and any Smartees dolls I own.  Two additional photos of the requested dolls were submitted.

The article, "Hello Dolly Look Out Barbie You've Got Some Competition," was published in the ADG on December 2, 2014.  It, however, is only visible to subscribers.  I have read the non-pay wall version in a link Franco provided.

The article introduces Nicolay Lamm's Lammily doll as Barbie's newest competitor.  The doll is claimed to be, "the first fashion doll made according to typical human body proportions to promote realistic beauty standards."   As of now, unfortunately, these beauty standards do not include dolls with darker complexions.  If the line is around long enough, perhaps, Lamm will realize that beauty extends across all color lines and his dolls should reflect this. 

Get Set Club (G5) Vanessa 1999

Mixis dolls mixed race, 12-inch fashion dolls with proportional bodies; articulation, however, is limited.
Franco's article moves on to mention a few dolls throughout the years that have been Barbie contenders, past and present.  These include, but are not limited to, Get Set Club, Get Real Girls, Mixis, Gods Girlz, Smartees and others.  Most of the mentioned alternatives are no longer on the retail market, which proves that many have tried but failed to topple Barbie's empire.

Competing with Barbie remains a difficult task for several reasons:  Barbie is the "it" girl for people across generations.  Some grew up with the doll; their children grew up with her, and their children's children are now playing with Barbie.  Love her or hate her in all her pinkness, Barbie is a pretty tough act to follow.

Franco did not use my Get Set Club Vanessa's photo in the article, but I was pleased to see photo contributions from D7ana of A Philly Collector of Dolls and Action Figures.  Franco did share a link to the photo gallery with me.  I won't share it here, but when I entered "Barbie alternatives" in the search box at the ADG website, several links for portions of the article, including the complete gallery, resulted.

Here is that search result (from this link, scroll to the "Alternatives to Barbie" link to access the entire photo gallery for the article).

What do you think?  Will any doll ever surpass the success of Mattel's Barbie or has Mattel offered doll consumers an overdose of pink Kool-Aid for which there is no antidote? 

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22 comments:

  1. Thanks for the instructions on how to see the photos from the article. I would be interested in reading the entire article, but I guess that I can imagine what it says. I would be interested in purchasing a Lammily doll if there's ever a darker version. I'd like to see some improvements in her design though - she needs to be able to stand on her own. Your photos above remind me that I still need to track down and add G5 Vanessa to my collection.

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    1. You're welcome, Roxanne. Since I wasn't given permission to share the link, I didn't feel comfortable doing it, but because if you know what to search for at the website, the gallery results, I didn't mind sharing those instructions.

      I think you will like G5 Vanessa. I'd like to add at least one more. I am not sure what ethnicity the one I want represents, but her complexion is just a smidgen lighter than Vanessa's. I don't even know her name, yet. I guess I should investigate this matter right now and form a mental picture of myself owning her.

      :-)

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    2. Isabella - it's G5 Isabella I want.

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    3. Your reply on my blog led me to do a Google image search for Rock Star Imani, and I saw your first photo above and followed it back here, where I am reminded once again that I need to add G5 Vanessa to my collection. :) Did you ever find Isabella?

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    4. I never found Isabella, but I didn't actively look for her.

      There isn't a Rock Star Imani. There is a Dance Lights, seen here.

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  2. Imani is gorgeous. My other big response to the photo gallery is "there was a Liv Alexis DARKER than either of mine? why have I not seen one? eep eep eep eep!"

    The biggest threats against Barbie have been less "realistic", notably Bratz (which haven't been officially available in the U.S. for the past year due to a planned reboot) and Mattel's own Monster High (already peaked and into its sales stabilization cycle, after briefly being huge).

    Sparkle Girlz has prospered well enough for CVS to be selling weirdly translucent-looking knock-offs, but SG seems to be a Walmart exclusive, and I have not seen a non-white doll in the knock-offs, which kind of misses the point and charm of SG.

    Lammily's one of those things where I feel like I ought to be more enthusiastic than I am. If I were buying for a child rather than for me, the core characters would be Sparkle Girlz.

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  3. Hi Smaller Places,

    I'll have to view the gallery once again for the darker LIV Alexis you spotted. Is the darker Alexis like the one shown in one of my previous posts? (My doll is a little darker than the photos illustrate.)

    CVS is a store I rarely visit. Since you have not seen a non-white SG knock-off, chances are great that none have been made. I won't make a direct effort to visit CVS to see, but if I am near the one or two stores that I pass, I might stop in for a look.

    I don't think children will go head over heels for the Lammily dolls. If they accept non-Barbie fashion dolls at all, they usually want the dolls to share Barbie's things, particularly her clothing. We know that the Lammily dolls cannot.

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    1. I think she might be the same as Making Waves? I have the one with the streaky hair where it's possible to change the hair color with cold water (medium brown skin) and another Alexis bought used from the Park 'n' Swap where she's very light (to the point that I wasn't sure she was Alexis when I bought her). (I thought I'd done an archive dive into every one of your fashion doll posts on the bus over a couple of days, but apparently I missed a few!) I started late on Liv, so never saw them new-in-store.

      CVS does its stocking on kind of a micro-local basis, so the more Hispanic the neighborhood here, the better the Nicole (Kenya Latina) selection. I need to round out my CVS sampling by hitting one in Maryvale and one in the eastern part of South Mountain: if there's no darker doll there, she either doesn't exist or never made it to Arizona at all. The SG knock-offs usually show up in the holiday section, not the regular toy section, in plastic tubes with a mini version.

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    2. If I get a nap today, I might venture out to one of the CVSs Located in a heavily Hispanic-populated area to see what's in stock. Thanks for the tip to check the holiday section.

      I think Making Waves became a body donor for a knock off fashion doll styling head found at Dollar Tree. I will search for that post to see if the images portray the true complexion and share the link.

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    3. Making Waves was the body donor for the styling head found at Dollar Tree. See that post here.

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    4. Aha. I need to spend another happy couple hours archive-diving your blog. The styling head transplant is fascinating, particularly as I think the darker Dollar Tree gals have some good face-ups.

      In her current outfit, my darker Alexis looks darker than I think of her as being, which is actually good but makes me wonder exactly how confused I ordinarily am on a daily basis.

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    5. I often wonder about my confusion, too, Smaller Places.
      :-)

      Hope your reading here continues to be happy.

      BTW, went to CVS yesterday, I only saw a couple of Fashion Madness Kenya dolls, no Nicole, and nothing in the area of an SG knockoff. I have one other store to check... just curious, you know. It's not like I need another doll.

      :-)))

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  4. I think it will be difficult for any doll line to completely de-throne Barbie's iconic status. I am always happy to see alternatives out there and I sometimes get frustrated with Mattel for doing things like the glue in the head and the move away from articulation, but I am still a Barbie girl! I think there is room in the doll market for many types of dolls. I think Spinmaster made a mistake when they discontinued the Liv dolls because they had great articulation, but their heads were just too big. They have made their way into my collection as body donors. I hope Lammily will listen to us out in the doll community as I think her biggest potential is with adult collectors/consumers. They need to improve her articulation and offer diversity along ethnic lines. The more I play with them, the more I like my Mixis and the quality of their clothing. Again, improvements to their articulation would probably boost their sales.

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  5. I agree, Phyllis. It will be difficult to compete with the Barbie dynasty. Most other manufacturers, as someone else pointed out in a different discussion, do not advertise on the same level as Mattel. They rely on consumers seeing their products on store shelves and hope the lower prices will be enough to promote sales.

    It would have been wonderful and still would be ideal if Spinmaster had givien the LIV dolls proportionate heads and bodies and improved the hand sculpt.

    I like the Mixis dolls, too, and the quality of the clothing is superior than any other line with the same price point.

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  6. The Lammily doll is, to my eye, too unattractive to want to make her in other complexions. The ideology behind her is interesting, but I think girls (and boys, if they like dolls) want to alter their dolls to match and express their own ideas. I don't think she will sell that well, once the novelty of her wears off. I think moms will really like Lammily because it seems like such a healthy idea to an adult, but most little girls will become bored with a doll they can't "glam up". Just my thoughts on that one. I mean, she can play sports, obviously, but you can't really dress her up the way budding fashionistas crave. And girls come in all taste flavors too. So to speak.

    So my point is, considering that Lammily is rather a plain girl, if Nicholas Lamm makes a black or hispanic version, she will seem unappealing to most eyes. She won't meet the need for a more realistic doll, because "average" is not aspirational, and girls won't go for it. Can you imagine most black moms buying a plain doll? In my building, and my very diverse neighborhood, these are usually very well-dressed ladies, and they really glam-up their little girls. It's very striking. If a doll can't be made feminine and pretty and capable of wearing fluffy clothes, therefore satisfying to the eyes, what's the sell for them?

    If I am being unfair to black moms, I very much apologize and am happy to be educated on this. I am going by my experience, which is restricted to my area. Perhaps I am overly affected by city women, and there is a much bigger cultural experience to be had, regards a black Lammily or an Hispanic Lammily.

    I am not overly sold on femininity as a commodity---I acknowledge it as an artificial construct, and am not conventionally feminine myself in many ways---but I just think the plainness of Lammily (and that name!) will tank as an idea. And it is disappointing that Lamm didn't think, oh, there are more colors in the human rainbow than just this. But probably he was very limited in his financial vision at this point, and had to try to market the most basic idea and see what happened with that.

    As for whether Barbie will ever be dethroned, I think there is room in the human craving mind to come up with all sorts of mostly unwholesome fads (Monster High, anyone?), here and there, but I have a feeling Barbie will be the top kick in the mainstream fashion doll army for a long time to come, so I think it is unlikely another doll will come along that will truly push her aside. She is entrenched in consumer minds, and she has the wardrobe and glamor-gloss to hold up, long-term. I also think that her initial success and then her establishment as a toy icon for the ages was so much an act of perfect timing with all the baby-boomer kids that such a thing would never happen again---such as another group like the Beatles hitting the way they did. Timing is everything with pop culture.

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  7. Hi Eklectic1,

    I also do not think the Lammily dolls will appeal to most little ones, and you are probably right about low funding being the reason only one doll is presented, for now. If I am recalling correctly, Lamm used Go Fund Me or another online fund generator to raise money for the lone doll he now offers. I love your "plain girl" description of the doll.

    The desire for glam and to own dolls that can be glammed up (including their hair) is not something that only AA girls desire to do with their dolls. I think this is is something desired across all little-girl cuture lines, which is why Barbie has been so successful. Yes, doll fads will come and go, but Barbie is here to stay. Have you seen the 2015 Barbie preview? If not, view it here.

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    1. The plain girl thing occurs to me because her perfectly acceptable face is the one girls look at in the mirror and often despise. They want to know that puberty, once gone through, will pay off for them and give them something cool and lovely to work with. Giving them a doll to remind them that ordinary is ordinary is just not going to cut it with today's girls. I remember a religious family when I was a kid that wouldn't do Barbie, would only give a doll named "Dodie" to their two girls. Both girls frankly disliked the Dodie doll and wanted to play with my Barbie, which was fine with me. Their parents soon stopped letting them play with me, because I had the sinful and curvaceous TNT Barbie that their girls craved. But I remember so distinctly how sad these girls were that they had this plain, boring, parent-approved doll. I'm not saying their parents were wrong, that's none of my business. But I am saying it likely didn't reinforce what they wanted reinforced; all it did was create a dislike for a toy. How fun is that? Why give them a doll at all? Just skip it.

      As for Mattel: Hmmm. The usual icky obsession with rock 'n' roll lifestyle, which is beyond tiresome at this point. (How about Classical Guitar Barbie? Cellist Barbie? Yeah, right.) I do see some freckles on one of the new ladies, and a mole on another, but nothing really new. (How about a freckled AA doll? I see freckles on lighter-skinned and medium-toned AA ladies all the time.) Pretty faces at least, but nothing truly new, and the lack of articulation is just another way of keeping it extra cheap and disposable; kid will get bored with it fast because the doll can't do much. Of course they could release an articulated version of these ladies in another six months or a year and call it Totally New, Fabulista version with Posing Pet, but the point is...they don't care what people want in any deeper sense, in the sense that people want a BETTER doll, not just a new bunch of faces. Innovation would be nice, wouldn't it? Well, buncha new faces, do the shotgun approach, something will work. Keep it cheap, people will buy it, and multiples, at that, if it's cheap enough. (If you offer a more expensive mass-market doll and it tanks, you are out an awful lot of money; better to stick with ol' reliable.)

      They are trying to keep that glamor-obsessed audience, which is dull to me, but the problem is...that is what they do so well. To tell them not to do it (go mindlessly for the glamor) is like telling Disney, just lose that princess-thing. It's not going to happen any time soon; people seem to want it more than they want to reject it.

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    2. The longing to glam-up the doll thing is so familiar to me. My first Barbie was an American Girl ("Bendable Leg Barbie") with a tan page-boy and tan (almost band-aid colored, to my recollection) skin. I loved having a Barbie at last, and going after those great clothes I saw in the stores, FINALLY, but I was so puzzled by and frustrated with that short hair (I remember thinking, "this is Barbie?") you couldn't style into anything. To a seven-year-old's eye, she was unsatisfying. And truly, her color was odd: she was very tan, as if she had been in Florida. We didn't tan in my family! Swedes and Irish; we didn't tan. So her almost Mediterranean coloring puzzled me. But the hair, that was really the part that bugged me. You couldn't restyle it into an updo or a ponytail; it just sat there, slightly turned under, silken and tame, and almost the same color as her skin---an ash-blonde or ash-brown AG. (And my doll had the longer version of the pageboy American Girl style; I have since found out that there was a first version, in 1965, that had a sort of short, pop-up looking pageboy that I would have disliked even more.)

      Too bad I didn't start out with one of the rare side-part AGs! I know I would have been very happy with one of those...trained by my Tammy doll to love fluffy, shoulder-length hair.

      Anyway, I loved Barbie's sophisticated, beautiful clothes (and remember all her great outfits, the feel of the dresses, accessories, embellishments, hats), but I was so unimpressed with her as a doll, in terms of hair style, that I didn't even mourn her when she disappeared and then was, I'm sure, traded in for a new TNT. A family friend gave me a dark brunette TNT, and my parents got me a pale blonde one, and I was in heaven!

      Short-hair Barbie disappeared from my life without a murmur. Of course now she's worth bucks! But to me she will always be a bit of a failure...that boring, do-nothing hair. Now THAT was a Barbie truly (if unconsciously) intended to be appreciated by adults only, in my opinion! I've come to appreciate her, but that old memory of "this is a Barbie??" sticks with me, and makes me reflect.

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  8. I'm behind in dolly doings, but, yes, I did contribute doll photos to Cheree Franco of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette (ADG). Thanks for sharing the link to the photos.

    I admire your discipline - I deboxed my Vanessa years ago. She has the prettiest textured hair. I hope Roxanne finds one; Vanessa'd look great with her collection. I hope you find an Isabella, too. Me, I want the mixed race doll, Eva. I could not find my Vanessa so I photographed the dolls available, Gia, Fiona, and Isabella.

    I don't see any doll dethroning Barbie. She's as entrenched in our American culture as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, jazz, and underarm deodorant ;-)

    Congrats on having the Olmec dolls. Menelik's square-topped cut is cute ;-D

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    1. D7ana - My pleasure (to share the link).

      I am sure there is an Isabella out there with my name on it. I just need to actively search her out

      Menelik's high-top fade definitely dates him back to the 90s. I wonder if that hairstyle will ever return (hope not).

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  9. While her market share maybe down, I don't think that Barbie will ever really be out of vogue. Mattel has made missteps in their offerings and I think they jump from line to line too quickly as soon as something doesn't sell to projection, but they are still the biggest game in town. Barbie's brand name has a certain cache that other dolls just don't - at least not in a playline mass market. Alternatives to the Barbie mold are always welcome to me, but I don't think for a second they will last as long as Miss B.

    Spin Master getting rid of Liv and replacing them with La Dee Da was a huge mistake to me, but then again, I don't know their numbers so presumably Liv was selling poorly, and do La Dee Da even exist anymore? For all its fresh newness, I don't think Lammily is any competition to Barbie whatsoever and if it makes it to a second production with varied molds, I would be highly surprised.

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    1. Muff - I think the general consensus is that Barbie is here to stay, like apple pie and Chevrolet (maybe not Chevrolet), but other American favorites/icons, Barbie is the "it" fashion doll.

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Thank you! Your comments are appreciated!