Move over, Barbie, and make way for the fuller-figured Ntomb’entle.
When Johannesburg mom Molemo Kgomo struggled to find an African doll for her daughter, she did the next best thing and created her own line of “beautiful girls”.
Ten years later and Kgomo’s range, initially spurned by local toy stores, is now in demand in the US, UK and in South Africa.
The 40-something entrepreneur refused to give up on her dream even after being told that there was no market and she had to sell her creations from her garage. Her research revealed that parents were keen to move away from blonde, super-slim, blue-eyed dolls.
For Kgomo, the main purpose of her line is for girls, irrespective of race and culture, to “appreciate and see beauty in all kids and dolls”.
Johannesburg child psychologist Christine Scolari agrees.
“It is imperative that dolls represent the various ethnic, cultural and racial groups in South Africa.”
Scolari believes it is essential for a child’s sense of identity and belonging. “However, it is not only dolls that need to represent the various groups in South Africa, but also, in a pre-school setting, for example, in posters, books, music, songs like nursery rhymes and so on. But we have some way to go towards achieving this.”
The range of eight traditionally dressed dolls – including Swazi, Ndebele, Sotho, Tsonga, Xhosa and Pedi figures – retail at R220 each. They will soon be available online.
“The dolls are quite full-bodied, with some hips. The eyes move up and down. They have short hair and big beautiful eyes,” said Kgomo.
“When I approached retail stores, the people I spoke to were not willing to take them in the stores as they said they would not sell.”
But Kgomo was pleasantly surprised when a customer, Mpumi Motsabi, who had bought the dolls for her children, approached her to market and sell them earlier this year.
“The dolls have become quite popular. I always get goosebumps when I hear girls saying ‘It looks like me’ and ‘It’s brown like me’. The kids can see themselves in the dolls; they also feel represented,” she said.
Mothers have come out in support of the dolls on Facebook.
One mother posted: “I think black dolls are in demand nowadays but there isn’t enough supply. Most of them are just awful-looking and depict blacks in a negative way. Dolls play a vital role in a girl’s life such as self esteem, confidence self-love and responsibility.”
One mother called for a move away from the “Barbie trend”.
“Let’s have beautiful dolls that really depict African/black beauty, dolls that will appeal to kids’ eyes and hearts.”
Kgomo said white and Indian parents were also looking for variety.
“It’s not just black South Africans who buy the dolls.”