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I thought the Barbie doll would always be successful.
— Ruth Handley

Mattel Inc. is the world’s largest toy manufacturer employing more than 28 thousand people and with revenues over $6.2 billion; half of which comes from international markets. The company manufactures numerous toys including Matchbox Cars and Fisher Price, but is most famous for the iconic Barbie Doll. More than 100 million dolls are sold each year making Barbie the world’s most popular doll and a pretty good-looking 53 year old. However, she is fast losing popularity in the Middle East where her lifestyle, boyfriends and dress sense are considered the materialistic decadence of western society and culturally inappropriate.

Little known Syrian company NewBoy Design, stepped into this cultural gap to manufacture the Fulla doll. Fulla is the same height as Barbie and is also bought in same bright pink box, but that is where similarities end. Fulla’s eyes aren’t blue but dark brown, her skin is darker than Barbie’s and her hair, jet black. Her wardrobe does not include any bikinis and in fact covers most of her body. There are a variety of headscarves, coats and hijab to choose from, but Ken is no where to be seen. Fulla’s most popular accessory is her prayer mat, available separately of course. Her brand manager, Fawaz Abidin, states that ‘this isn’t just about putting the hijab on a Barbie doll, you have to create a character that parents and children will want to relate to. Our advertising is full of messages about Fulla’s character. She’s honest, loving, caring, and she respects her father and mother.”[1]

Only two years after launch, more than 1.5 million dollas have been sold and Fulla’s growing territory includes Europe, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and South America. It’s now difficult to avoid Fulla with her own TV shows, film and breakfast cereal whilst Barbie received a ban in Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Egypt, Jordan and Qatar likely to follow suit.

This girl fight between Barbie and Fulla perfectly illustrate the first of the five laws of profiting in diversity, ‘Remove your blinkers of unconscious bias’. 

[1] Zoepf K., 2005, Best Seller In Mid-East: Barbie With A Prayer Mat, Damascus Journal, The New York Times

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