Sindy at 60: What happened to Britain’s answer to Barbie?

While the world turns Barbie pink, Sindy’s diehard fans and collectors have simply been waiting to hear what’s planned for her 60th birthday

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film so hotly promoted and touted as the new Barbie Movie. I’m not sure when Barbie stopped being non-PC and became cool again, and frankly that’s a whole another article. But faced with all this doll talk, I can’t have been the only one left wondering what happened to Sindy.

This weekend has seen the convention, DollyCon, an annual event in Lincoln, where there has been a special announcement about the plans for Sindy’s 60th. It was a good place to announce Sindy plans – surrounded by cos-playing doll fans all out to celebrate. But more about that later, I’m getting ahead of myself.

While the world turns a ghastly shade of pink, and grown adults are going barmy on the banquettes for Barbie, let me introduce you properly to Sindy. Buckle up; it’s quite the ride.

1963, Exeter

Pedigree Dolls & Toys, a 20-year-old business based in the west country, is considering launching a British fashion doll. The business is approached by Mattel to license Barbie in the UK, but decides against this, based on market research showing that the British market doesn’t relate to Barbie. Pedigree instead decides to make its own doll. Enter Sindy, five years after Barbie’s US launch.

At this first outing, Pedigree gets everything spot on, and they’re right about the audience reaction. They engage in market research. They develop a doll that is different, not the same. A doll that is carefully created for the British market, with a more realistic figure and face. And she’s a hit.

Sindy launched in September of 1963. Marketeers dispatched her to retail outlets with an actual 45rpm single introducing the doll. Very innovative, very modern. The marketing blurb that went out with the record included the description:

Sindy is the free, swinging girl that every little girl longs to be. Sindy has sports clothes, glamour clothes, everyday clothes — a dog, skates, a gramophone — everything… Every genuine Sindy outfit is a child’s dream come true. Each one is designed for today’s fashionable young women by today’s leading women designers. They are authentic miniature replicas of the latest adult clothes.

So far, so good. And Sindy’s more wholesome appearance was a success. The swinging 60s was her heyday, and everything looked rosy for her future.

L-R: 1963 Dream Date illustration, 1963 Dream Date doll, 1963 illustration

Then came the ‘70s

Pedigree dropped the ball. They failed to keep abreast with cultural attitudes, executing little-to-no market research or advertising, and Sindy sales fell. Children began to relate less to her ‘girl next door’ looks. And here we start to see the first of what would be a number of questionable business decisions.

In 1978 Marx Toys licenced Sindy to sell her in the US, but the business ended up in receivership. The doll, whilst still relatively acceptable to British audiences, was poorly received over the pond, and the license returned to Pedigree. Sindy was withdrawn from the US market.

Move forward to the ‘80s

New marketing director David Brown engaged in a new promotional and development assault, consulting with fashion designers and the doll market, and a new range of Sindy dolls, friends, and outfits was launched. These outfits even included a range of designer dresses by the Emmanuels. In 1985 alone, the ad budget was £1.5million (equal to £4.5million today).

Things started to pick up. Then in 1986, Pedigree again sold the rights to Sindy, this time to US toy giant Hasbro. Hasbro remodelled Sindy to look more American. Designers created an innovative Sindy doll using new technology that made her hair change colour in the water. The then senior design lead, Jane Braithwaite, travelled regularly to Paris to keep abreast with fashion trends and collections. Things looked so rosy that the following year, Sindy’s product manager Edward Machin announced that Sindy would claim the lead over Barbie within two years.

L-R: 1985, 1992, 1985

Moving into Europe

As part of this plan to conquer the world, in the early 90s, Hasbro invested sizeable capital to bring Sindy to the European market. New friends and accessories were added. A dog, a black friend called Imani, the ability to ‘swim’ – these were all seen as exciting modern developments that would enable Sindy to corner the market and capture children’s hearts.

Sadly, this was not to be the case. In 1997, Hasbro withdrew among rumours and reports that major retailers were planning to delist Sindy and her mates. The writing had been on the wall for some time. Sindy’s market share in 1994 levelled at some 7 per cent, with Barbie enjoying 16 per cent. By 1996, just two years later, Barbie’s share of the doll market had risen to 30 per cent, with Sindy trailing at 8 per cent.

The Americanisation – and therefore the individuality of Sindy’s look – was blamed, pitting the dolls against each other in the same ring as opposed to celebrating their differences. Sindy’s sales were also hit by huge competition in the shape of Polly Pocket.

See: Sindy at 60, by AI

Sindy’s new millennium

Back she came to Pedigree, who then licenced the production out to British toy manufacturer, Vivid Imaginations, and in 1999 both Sindy and Barbie underwent a revamp and relaunch. Sindy was given a new, younger look and feel, with Vivid describing her as having “new themes, new friends and a new family, fitting today’s environment and in tune with the street-cred concerns of today’s young girls.” Barbie at this time held 75 per cent of the doll market in the UK. You’ve got to admire Pedigree for keeping on, haven’t you.

Compared to the previous decades, she was “unrecognisable”, according to her own designer at the time, Denise Deane. A good thing? Hard to tell.

By 2003 yet another toy manufacturer had taken Sindy on, New Moons, where she was given a substantial makeover. The redesign and repositioning included changing Sindy’s shape, making her younger and more innocent-looking. Compared to the previous decades, she was “unrecognisable”, according to her own designer at the time, Denise Deane. A good thing? Hard to tell.

Through the next decade, more redesigns and relaunches took place, targeting younger children whose mothers wanted a more innocent doll, when faced with the alarmingly glamorous Bratz. Her boobs underwent a reduction. You could buy different sized Sindys. There were retailer and supermarket exclusives. Whatever Sindy had been created to be, by the time 2013 rolled around, you could reasonably argue that nobody really knew who or what she was anymore.

In 2018 Tonner Doll Company took on Sindy’s design and manufacture. Then in 2020 the licence went to Kid Kreations, which has made the most recent incarnation of the Sindy dolls. But again, with a new theme, and new look. After decades of variable continuity, is it any wonder that Sindy has struggled to find her niche?

Kid Kreations collection 2020

So what has happened to Sindy?

I started writing this article a few weeks ago, ahead of the Barbie Movie. I was fully planning to publish it around the time the film launched. It seemed like a good time to explore what had happened to Sindy, and so I started to dig around.

The Sindy websites were sketchy, without much information and packed with broken links. Nobody replied to me when I filled out the contact form. And the phone rang out when I tried to call Pedigree. I found an email address on the Sindy Facebook page, and hit a hello, getting an autoresponder back. I started to wonder if Sindy was even a thing anymore. And if she is a thing, what sort of thing?

If you’ve made it this far, well done. Stick with me; I promise it does get better, sort of.

Back on the trail…

I didn’t realise until later that the Matt in the autoresponder email I got was actually the Pedigree owner and MD, Matthew Reynolds. It seemed extraordinary to me, to be on holiday at such a huge time for dolls. Where Mattel had done an exhausting job of pinkwashing just about everything in the whole world ahead of the Barbie film launch (as an example, go and Google Margot Robbie, if you haven’t done it already), and everyone is talking about dolls, Sindy’s boss is on holiday?

I rang Kid Kreations, who had been the most recent manufacturer to work with Sindy. I wanted to try and get some images, at the very least. They said they had passed the license back to Pedigree, and that they could give me nothing. They did at least give me a different number for Pedigree.

I finally got through to Pedigree on the phone and spoke to a lovely woman called Alex who explained that Matt was on holiday but that he was answering emails. She said I wasn’t the only journalist trying to reach him. No kidding, I thought.

So come on, tell us what’s going on

OK, so after some haggling and promising not to reveal it before the big announcement at DollyCon, Matt Reynolds sent me the breakdown of his presentation speech, so I could see what lay in store for Sindy’s future. I think I just about understand it.

I think most fans and collectors were really hoping and praying for confirmation of a 60th birthday Sindy doll, and whilst Matt hadn’t ruled that out, this hasn’t exactly been confirmed. And his statement is somewhat confusing:

“I know there are many rumours about us releasing a Limited Edition 60th Celebratory Doll,” his talk at DollyCon states. “I can confirm we have been working hard with Kid Kreations to see if it is possible to bring this doll to the market to commemorate Sindy’s 60th celebrations.

“I can’t yet guarantee you that this Limited Edition 60th Doll will happen. But I can say we believe it is more likely than unlikely”

“Here is an exclusive sneak peek for you all to see the current design and look of this special doll. Manufacturing as well as the operational logistics of directly selling products is new to us, so unfortunately I can’t yet guarantee you that this Limited Edition 60th Doll will happen. But I can say we believe it is more likely than unlikely to happen, and we will continue to move this special project forward with Kid Kreations and come back to you all with further information as and when we can. If we are able to move forward with it, it is likely that we will do a pre-sell before Christmas with a view to ship in early 2024. I hope you like the special design and look of this special 60th doll.”

Make of that what you will. Particularly as Kid Kreations told me on the phone that they weren’t working on Sindy anymore. And there is absolutely nothing on their website about Sindy at the time of writing. I can’t help wondering if Pedigree has been caught on the hop, not anticipating such interest, and hastily assembled this after the entire UK’s press had been chasing the MD down on his holidays.

And does this mean that Pedigree is planning to manufacture and bring this new doll to market themselves? Surely that would be a good thing? The Sindy of the ‘60s was successful in no small part because Pedigree was at the helm, doing the job properly. Are they taking it back?

What is clear is that the digital world of Sindy is getting some love and attention

“We have commissioned a complete rebuild and update for both Sindy.com, aimed at kids, and vintagesindy.co.uk, aimed at adult fans,” says Matt. “We also have enlisted an experienced social media and marketing company to help us with our social media strategy and activity.” He goes on to explain that the focus in on creating a digital presence that people will know are official pages and websites. It seems like some of their social is kinda run by fans at the moment. I think.

The new look is aimed at an even younger market – effectively bypassing ‘pester power’ and putting the purchasing decision firmly in the hands of parents or grandparents

I was going to link those two web addresses above, but all roads lead to the same site at the moment, which is sindy.co.uk, so have that for now. I’m assuming everything is still under construction.

And yes, there is a new look Sindy design suite. I’m still confused, so don’t shoot me if I’ve read this wrong. In fact, if you’re a Sindy expert and any of the information in my article is wrong, drop me a comment below. I’m flying blind here. But I think the designs represent what the new doll(s) *might* look like, and how the designs can be used for merch.

The new look is aimed at an even younger market – effectively bypassing ‘pester power’ and putting the purchasing decision firmly in the hands of parents or grandparents. A new departure that will include a ragdoll format. The new Sindy themes are Ballerina, Sleep-time, Princess, Unicorn, Mermaid, and Fairy.

New looks: Ballerina, Mermaid, Princess

Matt explains: “We have taken on board the feedback from retail that Sindy has a passionate and loyal following by millions of Sindy fans who are now parents and grandparents themselves. She is a trusted brand that represents all things good about their own childhood memories. Therefore, we are delighted to announce that we will be taking Sindy into the Baby & Toddler category for the first ever time.”

“We work with a successful licensing agency who will present this new look to all the leading baby and toddler manufacturers in the market (everything from baby clothing and accessories to bathtime fun and comforting toys).”

So… does that mean that multiple manufacturers will be licensed to produce Sindys and Sindy merch? I wish I could tell you I knew the answer to this, but I don’t. Have a look at the creatives anyway…

For heaven’s sake, tell us what’s going on!

Sorry. I’m really trying here. I think if I had to round up the information I’ve had, my understanding would be that there are some new Sindy designs, no actual doll confirmed this year (although it’s possible), a new target market aimed at very young kids, and the potential to brand a ton of stuff like baby suits etc. It seems like the licensing agency will be working to bring the new look Sindy to manufacturers, but there is nobody to actually make a doll – and maybe Pedigree is planning this? Lord, I feel like I’m ending this article with more questions than I started.

I started writing this article from a very objective viewpoint, having not really given a toss about either Sindy or Barbie as a kid. But Sindy has now captured my heart. Perhaps because she has been mismanaged through the years. Perhaps because, like many British people, she’s a bit of a misfit, not quite getting things right all the time. Maybe because in sales terms, she’s the underdog. Who knows.

What I do know is that there is an ARMY of Sindy fans who are passionate about her. That she has hung in there against all odds. And that she is 60 in September.

So happy birthday Sindy, here’s to your future, whatever that looks like.

Thanks to Pedigree Dolls & Toys for imagery and information, and to Bonita Turner, publisher and editor of Mam’selle (Sindy magazine) for images and interview, which you can read here.

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About Sam Harrington-Lowe
Sam is Silver's founder and editor-in-chief. She's largely responsible for organising all the things, but still finds time to do the odd bit of writing. Not enough though. Send help.

2 Comments

  1. Great article. It is virtually impossible to get in touch with Pedigree or obtain information. Even for those of us who collect Sindy. For 22 years, club-sindy.com in Sweden has organized various exhibitions about Sindy. Among other things, the world’s largest exhibition about Sindy to date. Produced disco music with Sindy and has started the work of producing a book about Sindy and the British heritage she is. But getting feedback on questions is impossible. So we understand your frustration in the article.

    • silvermagazine 21/04/2024 at 8:50 am

      Thank you. It was one of the most depressing articles I’ve written. Really made me cross! Sam

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