Helping kids to feel love and embrace who they are
Cape Town-born Yolanda Donkers dreams of the day when even Americans will speak of ordering a "Vangiwe" or "Gugu" doll.
She says the term "Barbie" must fall, as it's used to refer to any doll. Donkers, from Gugulethu, is the creator behind Luvuthando dolls. The brand itself was born in February this year. She says inspiration came from memories of being teased as a child for being too dark.
"I hated my complexion most of my childhood. My kids were raised in a predominantly white suburb and there was once an incident whilst seeking a new school where my son was 'disgusted' and refused to attend the school when he saw 95% of all kinds of brown kids on the playground, as they were used to being the only black kids in schools. I needed to change this," says the 41 year old.
She made a doll in her children's image and called the collection Luvuthando after her children Luvuyo and Uthando.
"Combined it means feel the love. I knew I had to teach them about our culture and about the diversity of the human race and how each one is unique. Especially teaching them to embrace who they are.
"I never had a doll growing up and my orange fluffy owl ornament taught me to see beauty in unexpected spaces. I made it my mission to research about black dolls."
Donkers orders the prototype outside of SA and adapts it to fit various personas.
"SA currently doesn't manufacture plastic dolls. We have it made in China. We then re-root some of the dolls to give them a more natural and realistic look. Some are braided, others have afro-hair or dreadlocks. The male dolls are always re-rooted as they are purchased with no hair. We also change the eye and lip colour, apply foundation and blusher then we seal the make-up with a glossy medium for durability.
"Doll clothing is designed by myself, then reproduced in Cape Town. The fabric is sourced locally as well as nearby African countries like Zambia. Doll accessories are designed and made by myself. My aesthetic is Afro-chic vintage. Some designs are inspired by the diverse cultures in South Africa hence the Afro-centric doll collection with Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Ndebele etc."
Donkers who is also a singer, fashion designer and living positively with HIV for 20 years, says her dolls are favoured in the US, UK and in the Netherlands. She recently showcased them at MIDEM 2018 in Cannes, France, and Afrika Festival Nijmegen.
The names she has given them are Shikanda Starr - rising star, Minathi - standing with us, Sinentle - we have a beautiful one, Nala - her mom's clan name, Malaika - angel in Swahili, Sihle - it's beautiful and Amahle - beautiful/handsome. She has also included a male doll and one with albinism to her collection
"I'm also in the process of having my own doll designed - with more African features. I would like to eventually do away with people calling African dolls Barbie dolls. I would like for instance to hear an American say they want a Vangiwe or Gugu doll.
"I'm all about unsung heroes. So, I'll hopefully create influential icons that most people haven't heard of or are less celebrated."