Teen Doll Comp Shop

I decided I would do a comp shop. This is where a fashion/textile designer goes around shops looking and comparing their items to what’s available.

However, instead of comparing clothing I would compare dolls. I wanted to see what was on offer in the teen doll market, usually the 11″ dolls like Barbie, aimed at young teen and pre-teen age.

In Leeds there are two toy shops, The Entertainer in the Trinity shopping centre, a small shop with a small selection of dolls and Smyths at the Crown Point retail centre. Smyths is a much larger shop, and I knew they would sell a wider variety than The Entertainer.

Interestingly enough though, The Entertainer I believe is a Christian owned brand, which is why they don’t open on Sundays. Sitting here I also realise I’ve never seen any of the ghoul and witchy style dolls that seem to be popular and I wonder if this is because of their beliefs.

I looked at dolls at Smyths and TK Maxx.


Let’s start with the doll who has everything, or should we rephrase that as the doll who is everything?

Barbie seems to be the name everyone mentions when they complain about dolls and body image, but she has stood the time beating off several rivals over the years. When I was a kid it was Barbie or Sindy, but many of us had both dolls who played happily beside each other.

The good thing about Barbie (that I saw) is that she is the doll of variety. You can buy the Rock and Roll Barbie with outrageous clothing, the Style Barbie with eyelashes as long as her nose, or the wholesome Barbie with minimal make up, simple practical clothing and a bike with safety helmet.

Another thing I like about Barbie is her sisters, a very clever marketing idea, that has sister dolls of younger ages, making Barbie the doll to grow with as you age and grow out of Skipper, turning to Barbie the… well, how old would you put Barbie?

Am I the only one who used Skipper as Barbie’s child? Barbie, as an astronaut had to be in her 20’s at least. Am I the only one thinking this? That Barbie is old enough to be married with kids, yet toy manufacturers insist on keeping her barren?

As a child the best part of playing with dolls was the clothing, changing clothes, picking outfits, making new clothes out of old material. It’s nice to see that the clothes are returning to the shops. For a while the little stand-alone outfits seemed to disappear, leaving the only way to buy a new outfit was to buy a new doll. I have a theory that the lack of outfits for Barbie is the reason so many naked dolls are sold unwanted in charity shops. Kids wanted clothes, not dolls galore.

Bad points? Although clothing has made a come back it is very limited. Clothing came in at £6.99 for a small dress or £3.49 for a couple of accessories. I still don’t think enough is done to stop the mass of naked Barbies, and while supermarkets continue to sell a basic doll with outfit for around £6 the unwanted dolls will continue to add to landfill.

Yes she’s thin, yes she has a long neck, but she’s versatile and has stayed the test of time.

Monster High


When people complain about thin dolls then quote Barbie as the perfect example I feel the need to hang my head. Have you never seen a monster high doll? While the male dolls look like they’re on steroids the female dolls look severely anorexic.

I’ve yet to see additional outfits and while the dolls seem to be slightly more expensive than other dolls it’s the sad case of having to fork out for another doll over a new outfit. Each doll has additional parts depending on their character, for example, one might have fins on their legs. This would cause a problem in selling single outfits because of the variety of doll shapes.

I’m not quite sure what the appeal is, a skeleton doll or doll with two heads just doesn’t make me want to hand over my cash, which probably explains why I still haven’t bought one, I’ve been close, but something always stops me.

Traditional Disney Dolls

Buy the film, buy the doll. I see the concept, but don’t know how much imagination you can get from a Disney doll when it’s story has already been written. What if Snow White wanted to run away with Aladin or Ariel? Well she can’t because that’s not in the script.

There is also a theme running through Disney dolls, if you’re not a princess in a ball gown then you just don’t make the grade.

One trend I have noticed in dolls is the painted or moulded on clothing, it’s as though manufacturers have given up. They just can’t be bothered making a full outfit, so we’ll make a skirt and paint on the bodice. But then maybe it’s me. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong and the first thing a child does when they get a doll isn’t to remove the clothes, but It’s what we all did, it’s why build-a-bear are so popular. Paint underwear on them to your hearts content, but please let us continue with the age-old tradition of taking off all the clothes and put them back on. It’s like female mechano, except instead of gaining dexterity with nuts and bolts it’s press fasteners and trying to get rubber non-slip legs into tight pants. It’s every little girls first ritual when acquiring a new doll. I beg you, please don’t take the ritual away from us.

Disney Descendants


A new style of Disney dolls have arrived, the descendants are the children/grandchildren? of Disney heroes and heroines. I don’t know… that’s all I can say.

I don’t know who is who, Mal (above) is the child of Maleficent, a truly original name. Some inheritances remain, they all have Coronation editions (not outfits, you gotta buy another doll) so yep, all Princesses. The problem with only having a minuscule selection of darker skinned original characters is that through the ages the skin tones have blended to pretty much one, white (with very subtle shades of light skin), ‘Tis a crying shame I say.

Ever After high

Staying on the Fairy tale theme are the Ever After high dolls, again descendants of storybook characters. Pretty much same-old same-old, All princesses, all in private high schools. I can hear a voice in my mind, but they’re not all white… no, of course, there is a purple one!

By the look of the dolls they come from the same mould as Monster High, but aimed at the kids who wants a doll that doesn’t hide in their closet at night they made them cry. Who are they trying to kid!



Be True! Be You! with a Poopsy pet Panda. First of all, Panda’s don’t make good pets, and secondly… Green poop? I love that they put the rear view image on the box, just so you can see the Panda pooping. Great, I was just about to get my tea.

Moxie dolls are meant to encourage you to be confident in who you are, Be true, be you… Ok, so where’s the tomboy dressed, chubby kid that was me?

After a while it all feels like marketing garb with no real thought thrown in. It’s almost like they sat in their office one day listening to a YouTube video of some mother complaining about Barbie and her low morals and they just thought, “Hey lets make a doll that bleeds enthusiasm. Lets make her look like a the girl next door, with long blonde hair, short skirt… It just somehow feels as though this dolls style was made for the enquiring mind of a teenage boy rather than a young girl. I own a second hand Moxie doll and I admit, she’s cute, but there’s just something uncomfortable about the doll that makes me want to hide her when my nephews come to visit.


Bratz are fashion concious dolls with attitude, smaller than Barbie, and thinner than is natural for a head that size, Bratz seemed to take on the Barbie doll, targeting the kids who just don’t want to be a princess or be a… well, they weren’t ready to play at careers. They just wanted to experiment with fashion and have fun.

There is just one problem. Yes, the clothes come off, but the shoes, well they come off too, but the feet come off with them leaving little bobble stumps. This only added to the naked unwanted doll problem because not only were doll discarded naked, but shoe-less, therefore, foot-less. Oh dear, we seem to be going backwards.

Bratz had cool playthings, like chopper bikes and sports cars, and boyfriends that not only looked the same age, but didn’t need to be substituted by Action Man (Ken, you just didn’t man up enough for my Barbie) I digress here but Action Man didn’t have a willy either, but at least they painted underpants on him so you could imagine he did.

The chunky shoes let the doll down for me, and a lot has been said recently about make-under dolls (removing the excessive make up and repainting a plain doll) It’s a great idea, but those teeny tiny eyes they paint on just look creepy.

Bratz dolls didn’t have sisters, but smaller and baby versions of themselves. This seems a great idea, especially for the adult who doesn’t want to admit they still have dolls. Get a small one you can hide in your bag.

Project MC2

When I first mentioned to a doll making friend that I’d seen science themed dolls, she remarked, Yep, but I bet they’re dressed in pink.

They’re not.

This isn’t a doll with attitude, or filled with positive energy, or even old enough to already have the job. These dolls, four in all, each have a different personality and want to take on a different role.

McKeyla wants to be a journalist or writer, she also likes upcycling!!! Wow, a doll who likes upcycling, maybe she can do something with all the naked leftover dolls.

Adrienne doesn’t want to be a chef, but a culinary chemist! She likes marshmallows and rescue animals, Awwww.

Bryden wants to be a photographer and likes everything technical, doesn’t like being without wifi and likes consipracy theories.

And Camryn likes building things in the garage, and the greatest thing is, she doesn’t like PE class, Hooray, I hated it too!

Dolls come alone, or with a little science experiment (What? No handbag and pooping doggie?) There are also additional science kits to buy without dolls.

Could this be it? finally a doll for real girls?

Maybe if they didn’t hide her on the lower shelves she might have a chance


No doll had everything I would look for, but I came up with nine things I think I would like in my ideal dolls.

More than one skin colour – out of the eight dolls only three had a doll of a darker skin colour in store (Bratz, Monster High and MC2) while Barbie has collector editions in various tones and ethnicities the regular priced dolls are hard to find.

It seems ridiculous that this is still an issue in today’s society, yet people would rather complain about a dolls neck length than there being no skin and ethnic differences. It’s not just about having a token black skinned doll, where are the Asian, Indian, Chinese, Brazilian dolls? What about short hair? or curly hair? why does every doll have the same shiny straight hair?

Clothes come off – Three of the dolls (Disney, Bratz and Moxie) have either clothes painted on or feet stuck to the shoes. I believe one of the greatest enjoyments of playing with a doll is the dressing and undressing. To not allow that to happen ruins the enjoyment of play.

Additional Outfits – only two dolls had additional outfits as options (Barbie and Bratz) While the Bratz outfits came with slightly more clothing, the original price of £12.99, reduced to £8.49 is still more than the cost of a cheaper no frills version of the dolls. I think it is about time doll manufacturers stopped trying to make dolls scary, motivational or princessy. Get rid of the gimmick, one doll – one outfit and supply more clothing for the doll a child already has. Imagine a world where you could buy the Barbie as a teacher doll, or if you already have enough dolls, the Barbie teaching outfit and accessories. It’s not just a matter of saving money by not having to buy yet another doll, but in this world of environmental awareness we need to either see a recycling solution or an end to the charity shops naked doll phenomenon.

OTT Make Up – Half of the dolls had over-the-top make up, but some of this was down to the whole scary nature of the doll. Barbie had the most variety, but please, lose the eyelashes. I feel the make up on dolls has calmed down recently, perhaps due to the many comments from doll make-under artists.

Scary or Cute – Apart from the Monster High dolls, all dolls could be classed as cute (by my standards) Bratz had a bit of attitude and Project MC2 had a more geeky style. Barbie though has more variety with dolls as fairies, punk band singers, spys, extreme fashion, and homely styles.

Ultra thin – Monsters High and Ever After High both have dolls that were worrying in the lack of skin department. All other dolls were slim-thin. I’ve seen the new style of natural size dolls and to be honest they look odd, frumpy. I’d like to see a larger doll, but I doubt it would sell. The message seems clear, Don’t make dolls too thin, we will complain, but don’t even attempt to make a larger size doll, unless it’s or a joke shop.

Different abilities – Princess style dolls are perfect, but then history tells us what happens to princes with disabilities (look up the story of the lost prince). Monster high had a merman in a wheelchair, but he is only wheelchair bound when in the water. Barbie has had both a wheelchair bound friend and a cancer charity Barbie, but they are very hard to find. A couple of the dolls wear glasses and the Project MC2 has the difference of focusing on the dolls intelligence. On the whole though, disability is not supported in dolls. It’s difficult in some ways, how do you make a doll showing a hidden difference like depression.

Mixture of tastes – Only Barbie really showed a variety of styles in dolls. Whilst some dolls focused on horror or cuteness, Barbie was the only make of doll to offer a wide range of styles.

Big extra’s – This wasn’t looked at much, but I was looking for large additional purchases like a house or car. Barbie really does turn out to be the doll with everything, with cars, bikes, houses of varying sizes, Project MC2 has additional chemistry sets, but these are for separate play, not imaginative doll play. Bratz has similar toys to Barbie and like Barbie they were not located on the shelves.

Our Generation dolls

Turning into the next aisle in Smyths I found a doll which almost had everything. She came in two sizes.

The smaller 5″ doll is a shrunken version of the larger 18″ doll, similar but very much cheaper than the American girl doll. The small dolls have additional outfits, cars, a moped, caravan, horse and dance studio. I think one thing doll manufacturers are failing to see is the human need to collect. I don’t just want one doll, I want them all, and unlike Barbie who has just too many versions to have them all I can achieve the impossible. The caravan and car are perfect, and even though I never once dreamed of being a dancer, I too, would love the dance studio.

The 18″ dolls don’t disappoint either.

Cars, Bikes, Horses, horse boxes, retro diner, country kitchen, travel sets and bathtubs. Extra clothes can be bought with a matching outfit for you, well if you’re the right size.

Suddenly my life long love of the 11″ doll went to ground as I stood in the shop imagining the fun I would have had as a child.

You see, when I was a child, I had lots of dolls and lots more outfits. My dolls dreamed of going camping on the mountain that was the scrunched up duvet, I made homes out of boxes as instructed by Blue Peter, Action man was the one to date because he had a tank and a canoe. My dolls weren’t pop stars, or princesses, they were too busy having fun camping, too busy driving around the house to become a teacher; and science experiments happened in the bath tub using up mum’s talc and bubble bath.

Forget the gimmicks, the latest Barbie spy that comes with a giant plastic twirly thing you have to shove in the side of the doll to make her do a tumble, my dolls could all do that, I simply turned them over to make them tumble. I would have laughed at the Barbie with a camera on her chest and I literally did cry when I bought a Barbie that was just for fashion so much that the legs wouldn’t bend.

Give me a car and caravan and lots of clothes over fancy wings, light up dresses and gimmicky one trick ponies any day. I want the our generation 18″ doll with horse box.

But as I looked at the dolls, all neat on the shelf the same old disappointments also rose, can you spot it?


This is 2016, multi-cultural Britain – Do we doll lovers still have to point it out?






Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

4 thoughts on “Teen Doll Comp Shop

  1. Yep, this was an exercise done to find out what is out there in the market already and to look at what the trends and gaps in the market are.
    I only really went to two shops this time, since the only other toy shop has so little stock and is in a different part of town. I was more interested in all the dolls currently selling so stuck to the main, larger, shop.
    I had a look at Danka_Zee’s posts and saw the vast array of ‘black’ dolls produced by Mattel and a few other companies. Sarah was right to point out that the comp shop was focused on the UK and not on other countries.
    I can’t answer for the American market, just for the UK one. In the UK we don’t have the selection that is offered in the USA. Here, you are hard pressed to find any doll apart from the light skinned, blonde, blue eyed doll unless you are shopping in a specialist collectors shop, which the comp shop wasn’t focused on. Even then the dolls of other ethnic groups are rare.
    In the UK there is a need for cultural dolls from other ethnicities, If Mattel have so many dolls available, they are certainly not offering them to the UK market, this I confirmed with the owner of a local doll collectors shop, which is difficult to comprehend.
    Dolls such as Monsters High and Ever After High are not very popular or collected here, where Bratz sells equal if not slightly better than Barbie.
    I stand by my thoughts on the need for multi-cultural dolls, especially in the UK where we have such a wide variety of cultures on such a small island.
    I have a friend who only makes African dolls, she cannot make and sell them fast enough, which tells me there is a need for them, I also have several custom orders for dolls that have darker skin to match the clients own skin tone.
    I found it interesting when running a doll making workshop with children, I asked the children (all light skintoned) to choose the fabric for the dolls body, each child chose a darker colour.
    Although I have never seen Danka’s posts before I have read several from women of African American heritage and all the blogs I’ve read talk about a lack of dolls representing them. Some pointed out it wasn’t as simple as making the same doll with darker skin, but making the hair more representative to their culture.
    I also stand by my thoughts on selling stand alone outfits, separate clothing for 11″ dolls has only recently returned, but the variety is minuscule. I also have to question why there is such a high amount of naked, unwanted dolls in charity shops? Surely if the child didn’t desire more clothing over another doll then these leftovers would be clothed or not unwanted. Doll companies make much more money convincing us to buy the expensive doll with new outfit (No, dolls are not always cheap here) than to sell us a cheaper outfit alone.


  2. This was a competitor shop report. Therefore Joy was looking only at stock within shops local to her. The post was not about her choosing US made dolls over British. She started out saying it was based on toy stores near to her in Leeds, only.


  3. You wrote an interesting article, but a little misinformed. All the dolls you have mentioned are produced by the US companies, and all of them create multiracial dolls. There might not be enough of them, but as you see it was the store that chose to order only the dolls you had presented. Monster High and Ever After dolls have been highly collectible in the US and these dolls are just monsters, not people. They are pink, green, blue, brown. I don’t collect them so I don’t know how many different dolls were there. Pooping Moxie is a stupid idea, I agree with you, and in the US they are almost out. You barely can see them in the stores. Bratz were very popular among pre-teen girls and they had they outfits and accessories, the company just happened to be too successful and Mattel didn’t like it. Spent years in courts, and trying to come back again.
    Our Generation is not bad, and I do see darker skin dolls, but you are right, not enough ethnic dolls.
    The news is they really don’t sell well. I wrote couple articles about black dolls on my blog, if you choose to read them. And last, children in the USA really waste their toys. The dolls here are very cheap so children do not value them. Barbie dolls do have different outfits here, but people barely buy them. I don’t think the manufacturers are responsible for lack of certain items. If there is a market for something they will produce it, hence pooping pets. And Disney? Walt Disney has been dead for a long time, so there is only a corporation left – money, and only money counts.


  4. very interesting I found it very difficult to find a doll for a mixed race little girl who was seriously ill in hospital so I made one out of felt as iI could adjust the skin tone. Similarly I have just made a redheaded angel for a friends daughter. More diversity is needed. Sasha dolls on the 70’s made dolls with different skin toones but we don’t seem have moved forward at all.


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