Teaching children to love the way they look, one diverse doll at a time

Ndanaka, who has the skin condition vitiligo, is the latest in a range of dolls that could help change beauty standards in the toy industry

09 December 2018 - 00:00 By LEONIE WAGNER
Nobuntu Morake, a young woman who has the skin condition vitiligo, holds up Ndanaka, a doll in the Sibahle Collection.
Nobuntu Morake, a young woman who has the skin condition vitiligo, holds up Ndanaka, a doll in the Sibahle Collection.
Image: Alaister Russell

Ndanaka stands 30cm tall, watching the world with wide-eyed wonder. Her face and hands make people look twice. She has vitiligo, a condition that causes the skin to lose pigmentation, resulting in discoloured patches.

In Shona her name means "I am beautiful". She is the latest in a range of dolls that could help change beauty standards in the toy industry, say entrepreneurs Caroline Hlahla and Khulile Vilakazi-Ofosu.

They are the creators of the Sibahle collection, which also includes Zuri, a doll with albinism.

Hlahla and Vilakazi-Ofosu say parents often struggle to find dolls that look like their children.

"Dolls like Ndanaka speak to those children with vitiligo to reaffirm that they are beautiful. These dolls teach children to appreciate beauty in all its forms and grow up feeling like they are enough, they don't have to look a certain way to stand up proudly and feel beautiful," Hlahla said.

The idea for Ndanaka came after they'd watched a television interview with actress Leleti Khumalo, who has vitiligo.

"We have positioned ourselves to be the voice for kids who have previously not been represented by the beauty and toy industry," said Vilakazi-Ofosu.

"Our brand is about teaching kids to love themselves the way they are and to embrace and celebrate diversity."

Leleti Khumalo at the SA Film and Television Awards at the Sun City Superbowl.
Leleti Khumalo at the SA Film and Television Awards at the Sun City Superbowl.
Image: Gallo Images/Sunday Sun/Lucky Nxumalo

The duo launched a crowdfunding page to raise funds to manufacture Ndanaka and merchandise for some of their other dolls.

Their collection of vanilla-scented dolls also includes Nobuhle, whose name means "the one who represents beauty" in Zulu; Bontle, meaning "beauty" in Sotho; Neha, an Indian heritage doll; and a coloured doll named Ayana.

The business was founded in 2016 after Vilakazi-Ofosu's daughter, who was three years old at the time, said she wanted "flowy hair".

The Sibahle Collection - meaning "we are beautiful" in Zulu - was born out of the need to encourage black children to be comfortable in their own skins. Each doll's name is therefore a reference to "beautiful" or "beauty" in an indigenous language.

"Representation for kids is very important. It informs their outlook on life and their self-esteem," Vilakazi-Ofosu said.

"Until recently, there has only been one standard of beauty. If we teach our kids from a young age to accept who they are, we will begin to chip away a little at the many divisive issues that we are currently facing in this world."


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