Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Virtuous Fulla doll outsells Barbie in Mideast

Glance at Fulla, and you feel sure she's Barbie's cousin.

The two dolls are the same height, with the same oval face and straight hair cascading down their backs. Even their plastic high heels are about the same size. But the similarities end there. Fulla doesn't own a bikini, for example, and certainly not the supersized chest to fill one.

Instead Fulla, created by a toy company based in the United Arab Emirates, and soon to be marketed in the United States by a Charlotte businessman, wears an abaya -- a long, black robe -- that covers her body from head to toe. Her eyes are mocha, her skin caramel, her hair jet black.

The doll, which has been outselling Barbie in the Middle East since its launch in 2003, is the latest example of a new crop of dolls reflecting different races, values, religions and cultures.

Fulla will appear at the 2007 Toy Fair in New York City Sunday-Feb. 17. Other doll companies, such as American Girl and Dolls Like Me, also have introduced ethnic dolls, including African American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian options.

Named after a fragrant flower, the Fulla line includes a variety of dolls dressed in clothes that reflect different countries in the Middle East and Asia. But Fulla goes beyond the external fashion and beauty focus. She is a doctor and teacher who respects her parents and likes to read and play sports.

"The message that Fulla brings promoting good virtues for little girls," said Basel Kanawati, formerly chief technology officer for NewBoy, the company that created Fulla, and now in charge of U.S. distribution. "It's asking girls to take pride in themselves and not dress for boys and be the sex symbols that other dolls tend to be."

Kanawati, who lives in Charlotte's University City, said the doll fills a void for parents and girls who want a doll that looks like them and represents their values. The father of four daughters said he sees the pressures girls face. "They feel they need to imitate other people to be accepted into society. The message (of Fulla) is (that) you can be proud of yourself and function in society."

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