by KRISTIN MORENCY GOLDMAN, senior communications specialist, The Toy Association
As stay-at-home orders lift and businesses and other public spaces reopen, trend experts at The Toy Association predict that toy categories that did not fare as well in Q1, such as dolls and plush, will see a resurgence as families transition out of home-schooling and into “regular” life.
“Amid the pandemic, we naturally saw strong sales for games, arts and crafts, and outdoor toys, with parents mainly interested in practical products to help with learning and to engage children in active play while stuck at home,” says Adrienne Appell, trend expert at The Toy Association. “Looking ahead, we expect kids’ overt ‘asks’ while shopping with their parents and their holiday wish lists to have a greater impact on toy purchases, translating into a surge for popular categories like dolls, collectibles, plush, and action figures.”
Dolls that tie into entertainment (especially with movies getting a second life on Disney+ or other streaming platforms), and promote diversity (thanks in part to the global dialogue sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement) will likely be on everyone’s radar through the end of the year. And customization continues to be key when it comes to doll play.
“Kid-powered play is having a real moment right now,” Appell adds. “When the power of play is put into kids’ hands, they build creativity, leadership, and confidence. We continue to see dolls that can be fully customized, as well as a greater array of skin colors, hair types, and doll fashions to choose from in the toy aisle, which is exciting.”
DIVERSITY IN DOLLS
With millions of people around the world protesting racism, parents are looking for ways to teach kids about racial and cultural differences starting at a young age.
“Children begin learning at birth — from touch, song, and interactions. From there, they develop self-understanding,” says Ellen Lambert, interim executive director of The Toy Foundation and an expert with 25 years of culture change experience. “Once they learn about themselves, they can then move on to noticing differences in others. Doll play can be used to teach children about their own race, and then to act out stories of people who are different — including those who come from different backgrounds or are differently abled.”
Mattel’s expanded Barbie Fashionistas line, for example, is touted by the company as the most diverse doll line, featuring vitiligo Barbie as well as “more skin tones, hairstyles, and body types than ever before.” Kids can choose from curvy, petite, and tall dolls; Ken dolls with diverse features, including a man bun, cornrows, and freckles; and dolls reflecting physical disabilities, including one in a wheelchair and a doll with a prosthetic leg.
Worldgirls are dolls that represent girls from different backgrounds who come together to learn, break down barriers, and have fun. Each doll has a unique trait — explorer, rebel, scholar, warrior, and healer — and background story, helping kids identify with the dolls’ unique passions rather than their looks.
Healthy Roots Dolls’ Zoe is an 18-inch doll who is specially designed with “bigger than life” curly hair that kids can wash and style in any way, from puffs to box braids. Healthy Roots Dolls designed Zoe to help young girls of color learn to love their hair, feel empowered, and celebrate the beauty of their diversity.
Just Play’s Mira, Royal Detective doll line is based on the new Disney Junior series, which debuted in March and follows detective Mira on adventures all over the Indian-inspired kingdom of Jalpur. Fans of the show will have two 10-inch dolls to choose from: the Celebration Doll wearing a sari-style dress and the Detective Doll, dressed in Mira’s everyday outfit for solving cases.
Mira also reflects another driver in doll sales: entertainment.
It isn’t a big year for family films at the box office, but entertainment will continue to impact doll trends, thanks to streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney+ that are either rolling out new content or breathing new life into past releases. The hottest entertainment licenses and social media sensations will find their way into the doll aisle, inspiring kids to unbox and act out their favorite storylines and imagine themselves as their favorite characters.
The Disney Princess Comfy Squad Fashion Doll line from Hasbro, based off the princesses’ looks in Ralph Breaks the Internet, showcases the princesses’ more casual style — perfect for spending more time at home. Kids will have fun wearing their own loungewear alongside their dolls dressed down in jeans, graphic tees, and leggings.
Playmates Toys’ Frozen 2 Adventure Storytelling Figures are interactive with three ways to play. Thanks to touchpoints, the dolls sing, tell stories, and interact with one another when kids collect more than one. So far, the collection includes Elsa, Anna, and Olaf.
The Summer Olympics might be postponed, but American Girl still released its Team USA Collection. Each 18-inch doll comes in Team USA gear for gymnastics, soccer, swimming, track and field, softball, and beach volleyball. The brand also released video content inspired by the new collection on its YouTube Kids channel.
Dolls can be inspired by popular music, too. Jazwares released Blackpink 3-inch Mystery Pop Stars, a series of mini, collectible dolls that come packaged in a microphone-shaped case. There are 12 styles for fans to collect, all based on the Korean pop sensation.
As long as companies continue to tap into global trends and social movements, as well as new and nostalgic licenses, dolls will continue to be relevant to kids seeking deeper connections with their toys and more opportunities for imaginative play.
This article was originally published in the July/August 2020 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!