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Lottie's "stargazer" edition YouTube/Lottie Dolls
toy soldier

Meet the toy that is doing its little bit to bring down Barbie

Lottie is the creation of a Donegal-based company with global ambitions.

WHILE THE POPULARITY of Mattel’s iconic Barbie continues to slip, a children’s doll from Ireland based on a real, nine-year-old girl has been part of a quiet revolution.

Gone are the fashion outfits, high heels and make-up, Lottie is a toy that both looks like a child – and acts like one as well.

Since launching the brand in mid-2012, Co Donegal-based toy maker Arklu has sold around half a million figurines and accessories, with its central character about to spawn books and a potential animated series.

“When we worked up Lottie, we didn’t want her to be just another doll – we wanted her to be a positive role model,” Arklu’s co-founder Ian Harkin told

“Kids can relate to the character because all of the activities Lottie is doing are activities the kids are doing themselves,” Harkin said.

The brand is quite pro-girl, we’re showing girls that they can do many different things – you know, we have traditional pony-riding and ballet, but this year we’ve also done a partnership with the European Space Agency.”

The result of that collaboration was a “stargazer” edition, which comes complete with a fact sheet on noteworthy women in astronomy.


Another partnership paired the character with TrowelBlazers, an Anglo-American group of female archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists, for a “fossil hunter” Lottie figurine.

While the sales figures for Lottie remain tiny compared the estimated 10 million Barbies sold each year, Harkin noted Mattel had been losing customers despite the doll market continuing to grow.

For several years, sales of the 56-year-old ‘queen of dolls’ - who it has been claimed would have to move on all fours because of her bizarre proportions if she were real – have been in decline as dolls based on characters like the heroines from Frozen have taken over.

Standardized Tests Brand Names AP Photo / Reed Saxon, File AP Photo / Reed Saxon, File / Reed Saxon, File

From Kate to Lottie

Harkin, whose background is in finance, and business partner Lucie Follett started in the toy trade in late 2010 with a Kate Middleton doll to coincide with the royal wedding.

Then based in London, the pair began to be approached by parents who said there weren’t any dolls available on the market that appealed to their values.

After 18 months of research, the result of that process was Lottie, who they based on the average proportions of a nine-year-old girl – an age they believed was “aspirational” for their target group’s average age of six.


Since then, the business’s base has been shifted from the UK to Harkin’s home county, where it was selected for Enterprise Ireland’s high-potential startups programme.

The state agency has now invested a total of €250,000 in the company across two tranches last year and in 2013.

From its headquarters in Letterkenny, Arklu has recorded sales in over 30 countries. Its US dealer base spans 1,000 stores, including retail giants like Walmart and Toys ‘R’ Us.

Ian Harkin with some of his range of Lottie and Finn dolls. Pic: Declan Doherty Arklu co-founder Ian Harkin Declan Doherty Declan Doherty

Harkin said the company planned to increase its product lines this year with a series of chapter books that would flesh out the world of Lottie, her friends and family, while it was also in talks with animation studios about a series.

At the moment there’s a culture of perfection out there, with Lottie we want to show that it’s OK to fail, it’s OK to make mistakes as long as you learn from them,” he said.

This month, as part of’s ongoing startup and small and medium enterprise (SME) focus, we are looking at the parenting industry.

To view other stories from our collection, click here.

READ: ‘The best place on this island to make a game at the moment is Belfast’ >

READ: A fast-growing company has its sights on $100 billion in currency deals >

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