Friday, November 30, 2012

Fashion Madness

Somehow I haven't been able to warm up to the So In Style dolls.  They feel like a Jim Crow addendum to the Barbie empire.  They are made by Arco toys rather than the regular manufacturers in the Barbie supply chain.  Even in communities with large populations of middle class African Americans like Atlanta, mainstream retailers seem nonchalant about stocking enough of them to meet the potential demand.  When they are in stock, they are subject to arbitrary price manipulations and worst of all, Mattel has embargoed selling these dolls overseas.  Every time I start to break down and buy them, it feels like I would be giving my money to support a separate and unequal system.

Thus, I was eagerly awaiting the release of the Prettie Girls designed by Stacey McBride Irby who created the So In Style line.  One World Dolls is a black-owned company that I would have liked to support, but in over a year they haven't delivered any Prettie Girls to market.  Kenya's World, LLC is not a black owned company, but this Christmas season they have created a product line and devised a marketing campaign that meets African American consumers' demand for dolls that reflect the full spectrum of our beauty right in our own neighborhoods at local Family Dollar stores.

So how do the Kenya Fashion Madness dolls stack up compared to Mattel's So In Style line?  This week I de-boxed the Beverly Hills, Moving On, and Vegas models to find out.  Doll nudity to follow.


Fashion Madness Kenya dolls have oversized heads like Mattel's My Scene girls or Disney's Princess Tiana.  They also have tons of hair but shoulder to shoulder with So In Style dolls, they are about the same height up to the neck.  Here Kenya is on the left, and So In Style Grace is on the right.

Compared to the Barbie "belly button" body, however, Kenya is built for comfort rather than speed.  Her bosom is more voluptuous,

and her hips and thighs are fuller.

Although some early So In Style dolls had articulated wrists and elbows, another one of my frustrations with Mattel is that they have only offered us one darker complexion in the fully articulated Fashionista line.  Kenya comes in three luscious flavors:

Granted the bodies do not feel as sturdy as Barbie Fashionistas and the range of motion in the knee joints is not as great.  The Artsy Fashionista body can pose with the knees turned gracefully to the side:

Although Kenya's legs don't gape open like Disney's articulated Princess Tiana dolls when she is seated, she is not as demure as Artsy:

Nevertheless, Kenya dolls offer a wider variety of body upgrade options for our dolls with darker complexions.  Just be sure to slice the head off with an Xacto knife.  The neck prong is wicked and subject to break:

Yet, for $20 you can often get a So In Style doll with a cute little sister and both will be dressed in the well-made clothes that have made the Barbie brand synonymous with quality.  The Kenya Fashion Madness dolls are currently priced at $5 more than a standard Barbie Fashionista.  Are the clothes worth that extra premium or are we paying a "black tax" for articulated dolls with deeper complexions?

Beverly Hills Kenya sports a workable suit which is not common in the current wave of girly pink Barbie fashions.  The jacket and skirt are made of lightweight cotton in an interesting polka dot print.

While ice blue was an intriguing color to pair with the black and white suit, in my opinion the terry cloth fabric is a less successful design choice.  The line of this sleeveless tunic also does not flatter Kenya's thicker figure.

Meanwhile the belt is a cheap strand of beads that will most likely pop in the process of dressing and undressing the doll.

The jewelry, however, is a nice change from the molded plastic accessories that usually come with play line dolls.  The necklace is a chain of metal beads and the earrings are metal disks securely attached to strong wires.  The shoes are very stylish and dainty.

Meanwhile I found that Kenya can wear Kari Michelle tops (but not bottoms) and swapped out the terry cloth sack.

All in all, this suit has infinite possibilities.

Next I deboxed Movin' On Kenya.

The leopard print coat and matching bag are very chic even though the bag is stitched shut.

Instead of bunching and adding thickness at the waist like the terry cloth sack, this red knit tunic hugs Kenya's curves.

Kenya can stand unaided in these boots and they are slit up the back for easy removal.

The velour leggings are not made of top quality fabric and it would probably be a struggle to put them on a doll with soft vinyl legs.  Still, the Movin' On ensemble is my favorite Kenya fashion.

Indeed, many of my other ladies would like to throw Kenya down for her furs and jewels so she generously allowed SIS Grace to model the Vegas ensemble.

This white fur coat sheds a lot but it looks sharp and the purse is a megawatt marvel.  

The faux leather pants are a little roomy in the seat but the shoes are a perfect fit so unlike Liv dolls, Kenya dolls can share all their shoes with Barbie and her friends.

With glittering gold beads stitched to a shimmery top, this ensemble packs plenty of glitz and glam but mercifully none of it is pink!


In summation, Kenya has a pretty face if you don't mind oversized heads.

I used all three of my Kenyas as body donors, however.

I was especially grateful for the Beverly Hills doll's deep toned complexion.  This lovely lady from Roses would never have found an articulated body otherwise.  Here she has poured her bodacious self into a Barbie T-shirt and jeans.  She can't wear every Barbie fashion, but with many items Kenya and Barbie will be able to share and share alike.

The final verdict?  Although the Kenya Fashion Madness line targets a specific market niche, with $5 worth of fresh ideas in each of the Fashion Madness designs, these play line dolls bring some much needed diversity to the market.

À Bientôt

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Growing Up Proud

I had to squeeze my grocery dollars until the eagles grinned this week, but I was determined to redeem at least two of my Fashion Madness dolls from the layaway shelf in my closet.  Members of the Rock Star Madness band who represent Kenya and her friends were scheduled to appear at two local Family Dollar stores this afternoon so I knew it was time to do a post about these beautiful dolls.


The Family Dollar location where I met the members of the band is just a few blocks north of Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University, a cluster of  institutions that have educated generations of African American leaders.  Thus it was extremely gratifying to see Family Dollar taking leadership in providing products that enable African American children to identify with positive images of themselves.  "Growing Up Proud" is the motto of the Kenya doll brand, so "Proud to Be Me" is the first single released by the Rock Star Madness Band.  You can download the song for free here

I arrived a little before the performers and was pleased to see that the store had a plentiful supply of Kenya dolls right up front:

"I wish I had brought my daughter," said one man when he realized that the four talented artists were posing for pictures and signing autographs.

Shanica Knowles is Kenya.

Ryan McDaniel is Kenya's boyfriend, TJ.

Kia Hampton is Kenya's best friend, Denise.

Jonathan McDaniel is TJ's cousin, Dwayne.

Atlanta was the last stop on this promotional tour, but aspiring rock stars can win a chance to perform with the band by submitting their versions of "Proud to Be Me" to the Kenya talent contest.

I brought the Fashion Madness Rock Star and Riviera dolls with me, but I plan to de-box them as soon as I can squeeze more money out of the grocery budget so the band members were obliging enough to autograph the back of my receipt instead.

Korean war veteran, Donald Levine carved the first G.I. Joe prototype for Hasbro in 1963.  In 1975 he left to start his own toy company.  By molding an adorable face with African American features, Levine's company created a smash hit with its Kenya doll in 1992. Production ceased in 1996 due to a failed licensee change.  Fortunately Donald Levine and his son Neil have organized the Kenya's World, LLC to re-launch this historic brand and Family Dollar, one of the fastest-growing discount retail chains in the country, is offering four styles of Kenya dolls this holiday season. 

African Americans have long been subjected to a multi-media barrage of negative images distorting their culture, history, and physical appearance so it is exciting to see Kenya's World using an innovative, three platform marketing approach that aims to create a movement with a message of respect, responsibility and educational growth.  In an interview with Julee Wilson of The Huffington Post, Neil Levine detailed plans for Kenya television programming, films, mobile applications, and music albums.  So with dolls like Kenya, role models like Shanica Knowles, and a variety of media images reflecting their multi dimensional beauty, another generation of little brown girls is growing up proud.

Now if they would just hurry up and release TJ and Dwayne!
À Bientôt

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Proletarian Princesses

In January 2000, Andy Mooney, an executive with Disney’s consumer products division noticed young fans dressed in home grown princess costumes at a Disney on Ice show and recognized the potential in princess products.

He and his team grouped nine heroines from Disney's animated films together in a princess court.

In 2006, licensed Disney princess products generated $300 million in sales.

That year feminist critic, Peggy Orenstein asked “What’s Wrong with Cinderella?” in a New York Times article that sparked hundreds of reader responses.  

    Orenstein was concerned that princess mania might send retrograde messages about women’s roles in society to vulnerable young girls, but American consumers avidly embraced the idea that “all girls are princesses.”

Some feminists even argued that princesses could be role models of empowered women.

Disney-Pixar’s most recent princess release, “Brave” certainly lives up to that ideal with a heroine who defeats all her suitors in an archery contest to prove the point that she has the right to decide for herself when and whom she will marry.  Yet, in an era that economists are beginning to call the Great Divergence because of the gaping inequality between the incomes of the upper 1% of American households and the rest of the nation, princess mania may also provide an aspirational fantasy that normalizes the privilege of this new aristocracy.

    This Christmas season, you can fulfill that aspirational fantasy for $100 with a collection of ten 12” Princess dolls from the Disney Store.  Target’s online division offers a collection of seven Disney Princess dolls (made by Mattel) for $54.99, but this item is so popular it is currently unavailable online.  The in store price is $10 higher.  With the 2011 median household income reported at $50,054, by the time parents pay for food, housing, transportation, and health care, Santa might be hard pressed to deliver a full court of branded princesses to every little princess.  Fortunately, Walmart is selling two different 6 packs of princess clones for $20 each.  One pack has all white princesses in more traditional costumes while the other has two white princesses, two black princesses, and two caramel colored princesses who could be black or Hispanic.

Their costumes are less iconic than the ones in the “Snow White” set but there is a green gown that evokes a Princess Tiana motif.

    The gowns are fairly well-made and the fabrics are soft to the touch.

Yet the designs are not very exciting.  Notice that the skirts are narrower to save fabric.

    While these princess packs are sold under Walmart’s Kid Connection brand, I recognized their faces as Chic Boutique molds.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Chic Boutique ladies didn’t get enough to eat during the recession years.  They are now much slimmer than pre-recession dolls, thereby saving the company money on plastic and on fabric for their clothes.

Last week I splurged on a Chic Boutique fashion pack because I thought the pleats in this gown were an interesting detail.

Unfortunately it only shows to advantage on the new, emaciated Chic Boutique bodies.

    Indeed, pre-recession Chic Boutique dolls had fully articulated shoulders, a twist and turn waist, and shapely vinyl legs with click knees.

The Chic Boutique princesses in this 6 pack have hollow plastic bodies that now feature “articulated” knee joints.

 They can’t match the old vinyl legs with the click knees for sitting with ladylike decorum, however.

 Still, with clones adding rudimentary articulation, Mattel is going to have to make articulated joints a more standard feature of their playline dolls.

I wanted my new princesses to look more well fed so I matched them with upgrade bodies.  Chic Boutique dolls used to have a neck prong that gave the neck joint full mobility and expressiveness.  This current crop of princesses has a neck knob:

Fortunately it is not overly wide so the head fit snugly on a Liv body:

 As I learned while preparing my new ladies to wear wigs, the hair on these princesses is thick and tightly rooted even though the fiber is not as silky it was on pre-recession Chic Boutique dolls.  Juanita opted for basic braids.  She is coming off the night shift on her job as a nursing home attendant and is looking forward to a bowl of cereal before she goes to bed.

Her sister, Niama chose a short and sassy do.  She has just enough time to grab a cup of coffee before she goes to her new assignment as an office temp.

Juanita's outfit came from two different Dollar Tree fashion packs:

Niama's dress came with a glass-eyed Dream Girl from Family Dollar:

The sisters know that nobility of character rather than wealth or privilege is the true mark of a princess.

So they both intend to live happily ever after, with or without the prince.

À Bientôt