Local company creates dolls with vitiligo for kids with this rare skin condition

Ndanaka, from the Sibahle Collection
Ndanaka, from the Sibahle Collection

In 2016 two local women, Caroline Hlahla and Khulile Vilakazi-Ofosu, started a small business.

Concerned by the lack of dolls of colour for black, Indian, and coloured young girls they set about making dolls that represented the spectrum of South African children. 

The dolls of the resulting Sibahle Collection have been a roaring success, and late last year the team introduced their latest addition to the doll family: Ndanaka.  

Her name means 'I am beautiful' in Shona, and she has the rare skin condition vitiligo. 

Caroline and Khulile want every child to grow up aware of the beautiful and rich diversity that South Africa and the world at large has to offer. They hope that the doll collection will teach children of all races to appreciate and embrace diversity. 

Ndanaka, from the Sibahle Collection

What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo, pronounced vit-ih-lie-go, is a rare skin disease that causes a loss of skin colour. Normally, the colour of hair and skin is determined by melanin, but for those with vitiligo, their immune system destroys the melanocytes in the skin, causing lighter patches. 

The extent and rate of colour loss from vitiligo tends to be unpredictable, but it affects the skin on any part of your body and may also affect hair and the inside of the mouth.

A beautiful form of education

We spoke to Vuyolwethu Mqulo, a Parent24 reader, who was diagnosed with vitiligo when she was just nine years old, who told us about the day she first saw light spots on her skin.

"I found the spots under my right breast. I was so scared I thought I was turning into an albino; very ignorant, I know! It was at my next doctors visit that I was diagnosed wit vitiligo. It has grown slowly over the past 20 years, but it hasn't spread much."

On the topic of the dolls she says "If tomorrow I give birth to a child with vitiligo or my vitiligo spreads to my arms and face, I only have to explain to a few what the condition is. We're in a more inclusive era, so these vitiligo dolls don't come as a surprise."

"I believe representation should be everywhere, so I get happy when I see a doll with vitiligo," Vuyo says, describing it as "a beautiful form of education."

Aim to improve self-esteem

For children with the skin condition, these dolls are an incredible way to boost self-esteem and remind them that they are beautiful, and for children without the condition, it brings diversity to their lives.

The Sibahle Colelction includes an albino doll, and as Khulile shared with W24 representation really matters to children: "One time, an old lady with albinism just stood and cried in front of me, and she said "you don't know what this would've done for me growing up". Every child deserves to see themselves in the toys they play with."

International options 

In America, artist Kay Black offers a range of custom designed dolls with vitiligo so children with the skin condition can feel included.

Kay paints the porcelain dolls with unique patterns to represent real people with this skin condition, and she was reportedly inspired by Winnie Harlow, a Canadian model who has vitiligo.

In Brazil, where the condition is also prevalent, João Stanganelli Junior creates his own unique design of vitiligo crocheted dolls.

João, who has been dubbed "Brazilian Grandfather", was diagnosed with vitiligo in his 30s, which is when he decided to make his first doll and give it to his granddaughter to remember him by.

João elaborates in the video above about what it's like living with the skin condition.

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Read more:

When a medical diagnosis rocks your world

"No matter the colour of our skin, we are just plain human beings": Jackson Mthembu and our readers respond to Ma Lina's story

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