It’s a scene with which many parents will be familiar: their nine-year-old daughter pleading for a Barbie doll.
Nandipha Ramothibe begged her mom, Mmule Ramothibe, for a Barbie, but Mmule had other ideas.
“I wanted to get her a doll that looked like her,” she tells YOU.
When the mom and daughter from Meyerton in Gauteng visited toy shops in their area they couldn’t find a doll that represented them.
“We went from one shop to the next and it was quite shocking to see there was no doll that represented African girls,” says Mmule, an internal auditor.
“The dolls that were of colour were charcoal black and looked quite scary for a child to want to pick up and play with it.”
Mmule just assumed that while she had grown up being exposed to “Lady B” dolls, it would be different for her daughter.
That’s when she decided that it was time to be part of the change she wanted to see.
“It kept me awake at night just thinking about how there is still so little representation of the many cultures that exist in South Africa. I thought to myself, there is no harm in trying, and it’s going to take you and I to be the change we want to see.”
And that’s how her Nandikwa dolls were born.
The doll collection is described as a symbol of hope with its unique depiction of our country’s vibrant diversity and culture using colourful traditional clothing.
“Nandikwa dolls, represent courage, beauty, love and strength for every child that receives it,” Mmule explains.
The dolls, which are clothed in traditional Sesotho, Isizulu, IsiNdebele, Siswati, Sepedi and Setswana garments, among others, are designed to evoke SA’s heritage.
“We live in the cities which makes it easy to forget our
traditions and customs, but the Nandikwa doll is to remind us and continue the
legacy of our beautiful cultures. We only get to celebrate our heritage once a
year, which should never be the norm because it makes us who we every day.”
Mmule selects the fabrics the dolls are clothed in and she conceptualises their designs.
“But I do not sew the garments, that is done by local women, and after the pandemic outbreak we had to incorporate masks for the dolls, which Nandi loves to make.”
Nandikwa stands for so many other young girls like her, says Mmule, adding that Nandi, who is now 13, is one of them.
“The dolls were inspired by Nandi and it’s so beautiful
to see her growing up and being able to learn and who she is and where she
Mmule funded the doll business herself, and makes the dolls using imported moulds because there is a shortage locally. The 1 000 dolls she initially manufactured in 2016 sold out in three months.
She hopes to soon expand the collection, with dolls that “display African women in their true shape and form, and I want to include male dolls in the collection”.
The Nandikwa dolls aren’t available in retail stores yet,
“we are still in talks about that”, says Mmule, but they are available online for R480 each and they can
be shipped anywhere in SA.
For Mmule, investing in a brand that not only stands for representation, but empowers women and celebrates culture, is at the core of her labour of love.
“The doll is a companion, a friend who ambitious, triumphant against all odds and a reflection of every little child that plays with her.”