A new African start-up empowers young girls with an unlikely tool.
The question of how best to empower young girls has been asked and debated by many throughout recent decades. Countless international organizations and even UN initiatives have stepped up to give their answers, and now two South African sisters are inserting a new tool for change into the mix: paper dolls.
“We realized how few African dolls exist in the market,” says It’s Me! co-founder Melanie Botha, who launched the start-up with her sister Sonja in 2015. “Remembering our own childhood and the important role dolls played in shaping our identity and dreams for the future, we decided to create our doll series to represent the diverse beauty of African girls and women.”
The sisters rolled out their first doll kit — “Senait,” an Ethiopian girl — in October, and then quickly followed up with three more: “Nandi” (a black South African doll), “Dhiya” (an Indian doll, representing the large Indian community across Africa), and “Julia” (a white South African doll), each with her own traditionally inspired clothing. Ugandan, Kenyan and Zambian dolls are likely up next, says the pair, as well as possibly male dolls.
Each kit also comes with an assortment of paper textile sheets, stencils, colored pencils and other art tools, enabling girls to sit in the designer seat and create their own fashions. The hope, explains Sonja, is to inspire the girls to explore new talents and dream big for their futures.
“Each kit also includes a journal, helping girls to not only dream, but also to develop life skills such as goal-setting and planning to make those dreams come true,” she adds. “In this sense, the dolls are not only a fashion-design tool, but together with the exercises in the journal, they become a mirror that girls use to create their own identity, now and in the future.”
It’s a vision that’s anything but paper thin, and indeed, if the It’s Me! dolls see their mission through, they will change the lives of young girls all across Africa.