Motherhood inspired Nondumiso Gogela to start her business Imibongo KaMakhulu in November 2018, making dolls in her daughter's likeness. Imibongo KaMakhulu specialises in crafting handmade dolls with brown skin and afro textured hair.
The businesswoman makes all the dolls herself and has an assistant that occasionally comes in to help. She said the brand was named after her daughter's second name, Imibongo.
"She was given (the name) by her paternal grandmother. It's a Xhosa name. Her full name is Imibongo KaMakhulu, meaning grandmother's praises, or it was her way to show her thankfulness for her family expanding and growing," Gogela explained.
She credited her path and business venture to the birth of her daughter and saw fit to name it after her. The dolls have a simple appearance and are characterised by their softness.
"I decided on their appearance because of the target market that I had in mind when I was designing them. So the target market is your newborn up to maybe early childhood to maybe 5 or 6."
Gogela conducted extensive research on the handmade doll market and the types of dolls popular with young children.
"The things you need to consider with those people is the fact that if you're a baby, there is no coordination. If you're a baby, you want to play with something soft, something that's easier to grip, and with the research I've done, I know that children don't see distinct features right away. They see shapes.
“So it was much easier for me to think okay, for an afro, I don't need an actual afro texture but the shape and form of an afro on a doll just to have a simplified features because that's what matters to a child,“ she noted.
Imibongo KaMakhulu's range changes every season to allow kids to add on different outfits. Despite selling dolls targeted at black children, the business has a diverse consumer base. They primarily get orders from black households.
"They want to get soft, simple, but fashionable, relatable and modern dolls for their children to play with, and also identify with, but sometimes I get white parents as well. Sometimes it's white parents with an adopted child who is black or coloured,' said Gogela.
She explained that what sets her brand apart from competitors is the styling and that it provides an opportunity for people to be more mindful about their parenting and what they expose their children to, and the kinds of conversations they have with their children.
"Our sole focus was the message of spreading mindful parenting and inspiring parents to think more openly about the toys we buy instead of just mindlessly consuming."
With the Covid-19 pandemic, Imibongo KaMakhulo couldn't continue the production of the dolls and sales because the business was not categorised as essential during the beginning of the lockdown.
Fabric and other materials were not available because the manufacturers were also shut down. It was announced on its business platform that they were not going to sell certain options because material couldn't be found.
The dolls range from R130 to R470. People can also opt to have customised designs of the toys for R550.
Imibongo KaMakhulu has plans to expand in the future. "I want to be able to get to a point where I'm able to employ a full staff that will be able to help me distribute worldwide. And all that will come with time,'' said Gogela.
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