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Dolls with a difference

Dolls with a difference
PROVIDING INSPIRATION: Matlhabaphiri-Quaremba's daughter

Changing the narrative with a touch of colour

For many little girls growing up, their first best friend will be a doll.

As well as providing countless hours of fun, the toy acts as an important tool in a child’s social development.

It is a market that is dominated by light-skinned dolls.

However, prompted by an innocent question from her three-year-old daughter, Rosi Matlhabaphiri-Quaremba is looking to change this demographic, bringing a little colour to the industry through her Choklit Dolls.

The Molepolole native, who relocated to Australia in 2014, has created three dolls, each uniquely different in varying shades of colour, all with distinctive African hairstyles. The high-quality, up-market dolls sell at Aus$60 (roughly P500).

When she’s not starting a revolution in the toy world, Quaremba is employed as a Workforce Analyst at a bank in Oz.

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Speaking to The Voice from her Melbourne base, the entrepreneur sheds a little light on Choklit Dolls…..

Let’s get straight into it, how did this venture come about?

Four years ago, our daughter, Monusi, who was three at the time, came home from childcare with a question that would mark the beginning of our journey.

She asked my husband and me whether she and I were brown because we had been eating too much chocolate, hence the name ‘Choklit’ was borne.

She was realising that her skin colour was different, brought to light by a classmate that made her feel self-conscious.

We knew at that moment that we needed to educate heroin on what it meant to be culturally diverse.

Our daughter’s innocent little question led us to a brown skin doll pursuit both online and in-store.

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After searching a multitude of stores, incredibly none were available, and only a handful of brown skin dolls were to be found online, amongst literally hundreds, including major distributors.

And do you have a particular target market?

Choklit dolls are for every child, regardless of ethnicity and cultural background.

Critically, any brown skin person, from any part of the world.

We want them to be proud of their skin colour, hair type and cultural name, and roots.

We have all types of parents from different nationalities interested in our dolls, from Chinese to Australian.

While primarily our aim is promoting equality in the market, we hope to give children opportunities to break away from being traditionally manipulated into seeing just white skin dolls, which for many, do not reflect their own identity in any way.

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Dolls with a difference

DOLL MAKER: Rosi Matlhabaphiri-Quaremba

Why Choklit Dolls?

The need to venture into the doll industry started with wanting our daughter to be able to identify in herself the beauty and pride of beingbrown-skinned, through a medium which she readily identifies with, dolls.

Like many little girls, she enjoys playing with dolls and we quickly realised a shortage of dolls that were representative of her cultural heritage.

We have created three gorgeous dolls, each uniquely different in shades of brown, coupled with hair that is afro, kinky straight, and coily-spirals.

Our dolls represent an array of cultures, nationalities, world regions and have ethnically correct features.

We wanted a collection of dolls that were symbolic of girls with various cultural tones.

Our dolls look like they may come from Africa – however, they may also be from the Middle East, India or even South America.

You have named your dolls: Lesedi, Monusi, and Naledi – what’s the reason behind these names?

Apart from naming one of the dolls after our daughter, Monusi, I felt the need to not only pay homage to my first language, but also share its beauty with the world.

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Some of our ancestors had to relinquish their Setswana names and take on names that were foreign to them, to accommodate colonisers; we need to change the narrative!

We need to take pride in our beautiful Setswana names.

Our darkest doll in the collection, Lesedi, we felt was completely missing from the market.

She represents a huge demographic that is rarely featured by any doll maker.

How is the business fairing?

We have garnered a lot of interest in Australia and overseas.

While we just commenced launching our collection publicly less than two weeks ago, our followers on Facebook and Instagram have continued to grow.

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The toy market is very competitive.

We are aiming to make a name for ourselves andgetg our message across.

What challenges have you faced in starting this enterprise?

We have been on this journey for the past four years.

Some early challenges we faced were liaising with manufacturers long distance and the language.

However, our biggest challenge was not seeing our vision realised early on, having to subsequently realign ourselves on three separate occasions with different companies, all promising to deliver on what we needed.

Our current manufacturer has successfully managed to embody our vision and produce dolls to ourspecificationsn.

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And on a more positive note, what highlights have you experienced on this journey?

After being discouraged by a lack of communication, transparency, and quality in production, a major highlight would be finding our current manufacturer, who understood our direction and delivered exactly what we needed.

Another highlight is the overwhelming support we are receiving from a diverse range of friends and family, both here in Australia, abroad and back home Botswana.

What kind of support are you getting from Brand Botswana and Botswana?

I am yet to get in touch with Brand Botswana. However, Batswana have shown overwhelming support by sharing our Facebook and Instagram posts. Re a leboga Batswana.

What advice can you give to anyone planning to start a similar business?

Think outside the box.

There are so many doll ideas that have not yet been developed and have good market opportunities.

You can’t be myopic/narrow-minded in this industry because competition is fierce.

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Think globally.

Batswana love to stay within the comfort of Botswana’s borders and miss out on the bigger picture and opportunities.

So what are your future plans for the business?

We are taking Choklit dolls global, and are currently in communication with a major toy store, with the need to reach out even further.

We want our doll collection to be easily accessible around the globe.

We are also looking forward to extending our line of dolls and merchandise next year.

Dolls with a difference

GAME CHANGER: Choklit Dolls

What’s the best thing about living in Australia?

The laidback lifestyle!

It’s such a great place to raise children and the environment is very multicultural.

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I love that I can eat food from any country around the world at any time!

The coffee is great and the beaches are lovely.

And what do you miss most about Botswana?

I miss my family more than anything!

Goodness, seswaa, manyalo, braai, especially towards festive season like now.

Who is your inspiration?

Our daughter embracing and sharing our vision through prayer for four years.

Seeing her praying with such tenacity at such a young age inspired me to keep moving, no matter the challenges that this journey brought with it.

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Thank God It’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?

Telling the world about Choklit Dolls.

The dolls are currently available for pre orders only on our website and will be in Botswana late January so weekends are hectic taking orders.

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