An idea, born out of a mother’s desire to give her daughter a positive sense of self has grown into an award-winning business that is about much more than giving your child another thing to play with.
At the heart of Girlz Ink is Baby Thando, a beautiful, black doll custom-made to be representative of little South African girls and their features.
Nonhlanhla Mthethwa, the Pietermaritzburg mom who founded the business and created the doll with her friend Luleka Nzimande, says the idea came to her when she was looking for a doll for her child.
“When I couldn’t find what I wanted I knew I had to make it. I literally had to Google how to make a doll.
“I learnt soon enough that I could not manufacture a plastic doll of this nature in South Africa.”
What would have stopped anyone, other than a mother trying to get her child what she needs, set a series of bold moves in motion.
“I brought the idea to my friend and we decided to register a company and begin manufacture overseas.”
She says a thousand dolls arrived in pieces for them to assemble.
They sold them in markets and on social media.
“Not really. You have to stick to your guns. Our second stock order burnt in a fire.
“We were offered to have our dolls in a high end retailer - we had to say no because we wanted the doll to stay accessible to the children they were made for,” says Mthethwa.
Adding the 2018 Standard Bank’s My Fearless Next win came at the right time.
Since then the pair added a line of accessories including light up flip flops, belts and bags to the brand.
About 1000 dolls have been sold to date at a cost of R329 excluding courier.
Mthethwa says they’re not phased by big retailers following suit.
“Our doll has personality. For example we have the afro right now. And Thando’s face is true to a South African child’s features. We haven't taken the standard doll and made it brown. This is an African doll and furthermore, she is beautiful.”
Mthethwa says she has never thought of herself as an entrepreneur, “When the idea came, I just did it.”
“You need drive and you need to learn to be patient and persistent. Not everyone will love your idea.”
“I committed to changing the idea of 'pretty'. Our doll truly is pretty - in our sense - and when I see a little girl’s face and the smile and delight at this pretty African doll - I know I must persevere.”