Rejoice Bhila, Founder of Natural Nubian Dolls
Empowering children across the world, as well as promoting self-love and the acceptance of beauty in diversity
When I was growing up, I had so many insecurities about myself. I hated my kinky hair, which I’d constantly try to straighten, or I’d use fake hair so it looked like everyone else’s.
My skin was another source of doubt. I didn’t feel beautiful because my skin was darker than my mother’s and sister’s. Being honest, I always felt different and, sadly, ugly. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that all the dolls I saw were blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white-skinned and trim-figured.
After becoming a parent to my daughter, I wanted her to grow up happy, healthy and confident in her own skin. I never wanted her to experience the issues I’d faced and to understand that her hair and skin colour is just as beautiful as any other child’s.
One day, I visited a toy shop and was appalled at the tiny selection of darker-skinned dolls. The ones available looked unnatural, like someone had spray-painted them brown, and their hair was badly crimped.
My need for a better, more natural-looking doll with a darker skin colour gave me the idea to create Natural Nubian Dolls in 2017. I wanted to launch my business with two large dolls named Cleopatra and Malia, who both have beautiful chocolate-brown skin and gorgeously curly hair that they’re totally proud of. The crowdfunding initiative I set up to physically produce Cleopatra and Malia didn’t work out, but I never lost hope or gave up… Instead I started with a smaller, more cost-effective range of dolls and they proved to be extremely popular with customers. Today, I carry a range of 20 dolls who are different shapes and sizes, as well as different shades of colour. It’s my ambition this year to create Cleopatra and Malia, as well as to introduce mixed-race dolls.
Although I originally set the business up for my daughter, who turns five in April, I’m proud that Natural Nubian Dolls enables other parents of African descent to give something special to their own children.
As the American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once said: “It’s time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”