Cape Town - The lack of diversity in dolls, particularly ethnic dolls, has been a controversial issue.
Critics have slated how they’ve been created, including the lack of natural hair and varying shades of skin tone. However, this year has seen a number of ethnic dolls, especially black ones, created by black women for young girls who want dolls they can better identify with.
The South African range includes Momppy Mpoppy by Maite Makgoba, and Ntomb’entle Dolls created by Molemo Kgomo. The latest addition are the Malaville Dolls by Mala Bryan, a Caribbean-born model who is based in Cape Town. The dolls come in four skin tones, with curly hair and Afros. Bryan talks to us about her range of dolls.
How did the idea for Malaville Dolls come about?
Malaville is a name I came up with about 13 years ago. It’s what I called my creative space, a place where I can zone into and just be happy and free. A place of make-believe.
When did you officially launch the brand and what has the response been?
I’ve been a doll collector for years now and started working on my own line seriously in April this year. I went to China to find the perfect manufacturer and I received my first sample in July and have been promoting them since then. The response has been amazing. As soon as my web shop opened, the orders started flowing in. I must say, it’s been great.
Tell us about the range?
I created a range of beautiful dolls that I felt was still missing on the market… various shades of brown skin tones with curly and Afro hair. Each Malaville doll represents natural brown skin beauty. They all have a story that’s on their individual packaging. They each have a career in the creative field. We have a fashion designer, interior designer, fashion stylist and a fashion model. Four dolls make up the debut collection.
Who did you create the dolls for?
For everyone, adults and children alike. And more importantly for all races. I would love for all doll collections to have a bit of diversity.
Did you envisage that your dolls would be this well received?
I did envisage my dolls being well received, and that is mainly because of the times we live in. There has been such a lack of beautiful black- and brown-skinned dolls in the market. That, I think, is something that parents and dolls collectors and lovers alike have been looking for.
Lots of people have not been able to find a doll that they can relate to, and so I’m hoping that I’ve been able to fill in a few of the gaps.
What was the biggest challenge about starting your dolls range?
Finding a good manufacturer. I found myself in China for the first time in search of that. I love good-quality things and I would not want any different for something that would have my name on it. That and having to get the skin tone and hair textures right.
Why do you think it has taken this long to have a doll range that represents African cultures?
Well, that is a question I’ve been asking myself. It’s easy if you had money invested in a line of black dolls, because there is a need for it. But I think it’s different when it’s something that you love and are passionate about; the product just comes out differently.
Did you play with dolls while growing up? If so, which did you enjoy playing with?
I played with dolls growing up, and I still do. It’s a form of therapy for me. I had Barbies and Cabbage Patch Kids, growing up. I loved them and still do.
Can boys play with your dolls?
Well, boys do play with dolls. I would say GI Joe is a doll, because I have a friend that has made many GI Joe husbands for her Barbie dolls. She was not much of a fan of Ken dolls.
What sets your dolls apart from others that are already on the market?
The ugly black dolls you find in the stores really upset me, and I do try to figure out what goes through the creators’ minds when they make them.
I always had a dream of having my own line of dolls and, as time went by, the urge became stronger. After looking for beautiful black dolls and not finding them, I made the decision to finally give it a go.
The Malaville dolls have been created with mainly children in mind, with little to no make up – just natural beauties. I’m tired of all these heavily made-up dolls out there. There is nothing wrong with them, but I think it’s time for a change.
Do you sell the outfits separately, and can one change their clothes?
I will be selling outfits separately. I’m making some myself. I have a lovely sewing lady that helps me out and I’m looking to have a few more join the team soon. I wanted accessories to be locally made. That, for me, is very important and special.
What do you visualise for your brand going forward?
My vision is to expand it worldwide. To reintroduce physical play to kids who are lost in a virtual world, to be able to provide lots of black and brown kids with dolls that represent them, and to have children of other races have dolls in their collections that represent their peers.
I think that in the times we live in it is very important for black and brown children to have dolls that represent them, from skin tone to hair to their outside beauty.
Where can one buy your dolls, and what is the price range?
The dolls can be purchased on malavilletoys.com. We ship around the world. They are also sold at Carne at 153 Kloof Street, Gardens, and will be sold at the Pop up Shop at 90 Kloof Street in Gardens from the end of next month.
I would just like to say that this doll collection was a dream that came true, and to all those people out there with big dreams, just keep working hard at them with strong faith, and they will come true.