More than a decade after Bratz, the edgy multi-ethnic dolls that fans dubbed the "anti-Barbie," became a global phenomenon, their inventor is unveiling his next creation.
Meet "Pinkie Cooper." The 9-inch fashion doll is part human, part English cocker spaniel and a student at New York City's World of Original Fashion academy, or WOOF! for short.
Like her Bratz predecessor, Pinkie Cooper is a fashionista. She likes to hang out and "travel" with Ginger and Pepper -- two doll friends who are also part-human, part-pup -- and her pet dog "L'il Pinkie."
A lot is riding on Pinkie Cooper's little plastic shoulders. Its inventor, Carter Bryant, has poured thousands of dollars and hours into his latest creation. Its distributor, a small toymaker called The Bridge Direct, has sunk millions into bringing Pinkie Cooper to stores nationwide. Meantime, for the $3 billion U.S. doll market, the question is whether Pinkie can repeat what Bratz first did -- crack through Barbie's dominance.
Bryant, an independent inventor, and his sister Anjanette Abell started working together on the project in 2009. His idea: Create a doll that was sweet, cute, stylish and looked like Abell's real cocker spaniel named Pinkie Cooper. Also, compared to Bratz, Pinkie Cooper would be "more sophisticated, glamorous and not as edgy," he said.
While Bryant perfected his sketches, Abell focused on building Pinkie Cooper's "look."
"I spent a lot of time finding the right fabrics for her clothes and helped bring her character to life," she said.
Pinkie Cooper is definitely unique, said Gerrick Johnson, toy industry analyst with BMO Capital Markets. "When you put a dog's head on a human body, you've already crossed over to something that's we haven't seen before in fashion dolls," he said.
Competitors that come closest are Mattel's hugely popular Monster High dolls, who look like daughters of famous monsters, and MGA Entertainment's Novi Stars, fashion dolls that look like aliens, Johnson said.
But will little girls fall in love with Pinkie Cooper like they did with Bratz?
Jay Foreman, founder and CEO of Florida-based The Bridge Direct, which is producing and marketing the dolls, certainly hopes so.
"Pinkie Cooper is our single biggest product launch in our four-year history," said Foreman. If the doll is a hit, it could potentially generate hundreds of millions in sales and propel his $40 million business into the big leagues. He plans to roll the dolls out in July in stores nationwide -- as well as 20 other countries.
Foreman's track record so far in launching hit toys is impressive. Before he founded The Bridge Direct, Foreman was the mastermind behind the launch of Spice Girls dolls in the U.S. Another toy company he founded, Play Along, successfully launched Britney Spears dolls. In late 2010, The Bridge Direct launched Justin Bieber dolls, generating more than $100 million in sales. Not bad for a 50-employee firm.
Foreman thinks chances are good that Pinkie Cooper will succeed. "She's unusual. Like Bratz, she has the potential to break the mold," he said. Major toy retailers like Toys R Us, Target(TGT), Wal-Mart(WMT) and Kmart(SHLD) have already ordered Pinkie Cooper dolls and will stock them in late summer, he said.
But, Foreman acknowledges, "ultimately our livelihood is based on the whims of 4- to 8-year-olds."
Pinkie Cooper could be a big hit or fall flat, agreed Johnson. "But at least she's an example of the risk and innovation that the toy industry badly needs right now."