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


  1. Thanks for this wonderful commentary on S.I.S., Prettie Girls, and Kenya dolls. The Kenya body, clothing and accessories information is also appreciated.

    I was fascinated by the S.I.S. brand and own several dolls, but have not purchased one since many of us experienced the price gouging by Target with the last wave of Rocawear S.I.S. dolls. That and the fact that Mattel has refused to add articulated bodies to this line has been a major turnoff. I do continue to enjoy the ones I own. Perhaps had Stacey McBride (the original designer of this line) not left Mattel, S.I.S. offerings would be better, but maybe not since Mattel was in full control. I just hope Stacey is in a better place now.

    I am still waiting on my paid-in-full Prettie Girls Sophia dolls, designed by McBride for One World Doll Project. Based on my experience with this paid-in-full preorder, as much as I want to support up-and-coming AA-owned doll companies, I will never preorder and pay in full for another doll unless the company is well established. I do not have money to blow, particularly to the tune of $100+ dollars and still have nothing to show for it for well over a year's time.

    I love the concept and accessibility of the Kenya dolls. I am not bothered by the larger heads used on Fashion Madness and do not plan to use their bodies as donors. The articulation could be better and the quality of the clothing and accessories has room for improvement, too. I think the $20 price tag may be cost prohibitive for people who are used to paying maybe $12.99 for a Barbie, but for those who want something different that includes a choice of complexions and relatively decent fashion variety, $20 may not pose a problem. Overall, I am pleased with Fashion Madness.


    1. Hi Debbie,

      Thanks for you comments. I like the SIS dolls. They are aesthetically pleasing and well-constructed. I just don't like Mattel's marketing and distribution strategy for them.

      One of the biggest stumbling blocks minority businesses face is access to capital. Donald Levine has owned companies that have earned millions of dollars. The original G.I. Joe prototype that he created sold for $200,000 in 2003. Thus his creative talent not only earned him monetary rewards, it also put him in contact with networks of potential investors. The buyer of the G.I. Joe prototype was Stephen Geppi, Sr., owner of Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. In 2004 Levine and his son partnered with Geppi as well as Kerby Confer who had been a radio executive to form Family Values LLC which distributed the Almighty Heroes line of biblical action figures. (This information is from "Suit against toy maker settles for $1.2 million" in the Monday April 9, 2012 issue of _Lawyers USA_).

      Having owned and managed toy companies before, the Levines are in a better position to set up a manufacturing supply chain (since most toys are made in China this requires special expertise and contacts) and to persuade Family Dollar to stock and promote the Kenya dolls. Notice that even so they have not yet tried to get the Kenya dolls on the shelves in Target and Walmart although I have seen them in selected Toys R Us stores. I think that One World lacked the capital, contacts, and knowledge of the business to bring their product to market in a timely manner.

  2. Capital and connections always trump lack of both. Even without capital and connections, superior customer service where cash-paying customers are kept informed of product delays and other issues is a must.

    Perhaps the now proposed release date of spring 2013 of the Prettie Girls dolls will be a long overdue reality. However, the website for the dolls I ordered (Sophia in ballgown and in denim fashion, both campaiging for President Obama's 2012 re-election) is no longer active. I am left wondering if the dolls will be produced. I requested a refund several months ago and have only received a "your request is being processed" reply. This is not acceptable customer service and has resulted in my extreme dissatisfaction. I have kept further pursuit of my refund on hold, but I need to take immediate action. Your Fashion Madness post has prompted me to do this.


    1. I am sorry you had a negative experience with One World Dolls. You probably have enough connections to put together a suit on behalf of all the customers who prepaid for those dolls. Certainly they should have given you the product or your money back by now.

  3. Thank you for this very informative post! Will a Barbie head fit on a Kenya body?

    1. Hi RoxanneRoxanne,

      I believe Barbie heads will fit on these bodies. The clone that I show at the end was on a body with a neck prong like Barbie rather than a wide knob. The transplant worked perfectly in her case.

  4. Thank you so much for this very informative post! While the legs and arms both seem to be essentially copies of Mattel owned molds, the curvaceous torso is original and deliberately distinct. Very interesting.

  5. This is a great, informative post. I love the faces on these dolls and really wish their heads weren't so big. I still may purchase Movin' On Kenya in the future. She reminds me of a young lady I know. I am definitely considering the men. It's great that people will have options for the darker skinned dolls, now. Not having that need myself, I am going to hold out for awhile. Your dolls looks look great in their non-pink fashions.

  6. Very nice informative post. Thank you. I had plans to rebody the darker complexion one for maybe Chandra (SIS). I may leave them as is and get another if they decide to reduce the cost. I can't see myself paying $20 for a body. If Mattel made the SIS dolls articulated, their sells would be awesome.

  7. Hi Alrunia, Vanessa, and Georgia Girl,

    Glad you found the post informative. I think if nothing else, these dolls will give Mattel a heads up and show them that they could capture a lot more sales if they would treat the SIS dolls (and their fans) with more respect.

  8. Thanks for sharing this detailed comparison with us. I look forward to getting some of the Kenya dolls to allow some of my Barbie and other dolls articulated bodies.

  9. Hi D7ana,

    I hope you get your Kenya body donors soon!

  10. Which Kenya doll is the one that is in the middle? The one that is not for light skin dolls but not for the darker skin dolls?

    1. The Kenya doll in the middle was the Las Vegas doll wearing the white fur coat that I put on Grace. Some of the Rock Star Kenyas also have this medium brown complexion.

  11. Which Kenya dolls complexion would Grace complexion match with?

    1. Grace falls in between the light and medium Kenya dolls just as Kara falls in between the dark and medium Kenya dolls. Now that the articulated Baby Phat SIS dolls are out, I would suggest upgrading to them. See my comparisons at: