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Toys with Roots

Recently a friend of mine posted on her social media saying she was looking for a black baby doll for her daughter.  She was horrified at the lack of selection in the shops (there were only 2 options in 4 full rows of white dolls), and their prices seemed to be a lot higher as well.  I was shocked!  How, in South Africa especially, is this a reality?

And then I thought back to the time I went looking for a black doll for a child of one of the Rare Bear Project lady’s.  I remember how I searched all over and really battled to find one.  I felt exhausted, and let-down.  But then I handed over the little black doll to Progeny’s daughter and I saw her literal excitement as she held a baby that looked like her.  I saw her little face light up and she immediately began to play with her new friend.  I knew that I had to do more research into this!

Recently I posted on my Instagram asking for recommendations of local businesses that people recommend, and Toys with Roots was top of the list.  I immediately sent Thabo and Mpumi a message to find out more about their business and this great husband-and-wife team.  And guys, this is a business like no other.  I am SO excited about what they are doing, how they are encouraging self-love and that they are celebrating our beautiful African heritage.


Your names: Thabo & Mpumi Motsabi (Founders)

Business name: Toys with Roots

Shoprite Jan Smuts - Toys with Roots: Thabo & Mpumi Motsabi

Shoprite Jan Smuts – Toys with Roots: Thabo & Mpumi Motsabi

Social media handles: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Website.

Tell me a fun/interesting fact about the 2 of you: We were in the same high school but the first time we exchanged words was years later while doing our tertiary studies.

Tell me a bit more about Toys with Roots: Toys with Roots exists to ensure that each African child can have an experience of being intentionally and beautifully celebrated. We believe that our African children need to identify with as well as see themselves and their greatness in the songs they sing, books they read, toys they engage with and media they consume. It is through Play that they can best learn and form important concepts about themselves and their world. We believe that toys aren’t just toys but tools to educate, mould and shape children. We have an online store where we sell these products. We find like minded entrepreneurs and sell their producs in order to ensure that we can provide parents a one stop shop of all the toys and books for African children that they would desire.


Where did the idea for this business come from: When we started in 2015 our daughters then 3 & 7 years would put towels on their hair pretending to have long flowy hair, from the cartoons they watched and toys they played with. We could see that there was a dissatisfaction with their natural hair and this was concerning. What was even sadder was that we couldn’t find much in store which represented what they looked like amongst aisles of products. We later had an opportunity to buy brown dolls from a lady we met who was selling from the boot of her car. We were so excited to see these beautiful dolls that represented our children so respectfully. Being entrepreneurial, we bought a few more to resell because we recognized that there were parents out there who were faced with the same struggle of finding toys that represented their children. Since then we have been on a journey to assist parents to affirm their children and help them recognise the value in their uniqueness.

How long have you guys been running for: We started in March 2015, so we celebrated 5 years this year. Through this journey we have managed to develop our business model and have become a one stop shop for a variety of toys and books for African children.

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We have around 8 doll brands, 7 book authors with 5 languages represented. We specialise in brown dolls of different shades, sizes and hair. The dolls all have a story behind them and are created by passionate entrepreneurs from around the continent. Lali is our inhouse fashion doll brand created by Toys with Roots.

We have children’s books that are written in different South African languages, the ones in vernacular are suitable for entry level readers. Within the book range we also have a fashion book which appeals to our tweens market.

Within the range are also puzzles and backpacks.

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We created a childrens music album with different South African nursery rhymes “Songs with Lali” which is also available on different digital music platforms.

We have plans to create more products for boys and increase the diversity of products on offer, all with the same intention of celebrating African children.

In addition to these products, we have created a range of dolls for Shoprite Checkers, called Rainbow Kids. This is a project we are very proud of due to its social impact reaching children in parts of the country and the continent which we have not been able to reach.

Which is your personal favourite product in your range: Definitely Songs with Lali musical album! We are a family which sings ALL THE TIME! We make up our own songs as a family just for fun and also to help with learning. The close favourite is the African-Hut because our youngest two always like to play outside in their Ndebele tents.

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Why do you think diversity is so important, especially in South Africa: South Africa is characterised by deep seated pain and complexes of inferiority and supremacy, which are not going to be eradicated in a generation. These beliefs are passed on through generations, sometimes unknowingly. It is through exposure to the “other” in our society that learning can begin to take place and some of these beliefs we may hold can be tested and replaced. It may be a difficult process to face the friction that may take place as values clash but it is through this friction, we believe, that dialogues can start and that we can actually begin educating each other and making positive choices. These choices may take the form of having a representative toybox, learning new languages, joining in experiences which are unfamiliar…

Diversity is a strength because it allows for the above to take place. It adds colour, texture and opens us up to new learnings and experiences. We believe that it is our differences in background, perspective, skills, abilities, the way we view the world that make us valuable contributors whether it be in the boardroom or in the classroom.

Exposure to diversity in children’s toy boxes enable them to understand that different doesn’t mean less than or greater than. It just means different. The diversity in their toy box can help them role play the world around them more creatively and in the long run assist them to be more understanding of those around them. It is important in order to erase these perceptions which have existed for so long, so that we can have an inclusive South Africa. #representationmatters Through black children seeing people like them in powerful roles in media, in books, in boardrooms, they can begin to aspire to also be great.

Shoprite Jan Smuts - Toys with Roots: Mpumi, Nyakallo & Thabo Motsabi

Shoprite Jan Smuts – Toys with Roots: Mpumi, Nyakallo & Thabo Motsabi

Why is #BlackLivesMatter a movement that we need to all take notice of: We believe in Ubuntu, that I am because you are. We are not independent of each other, therefore when you hurt I hurt. Said differently, as the human race, we are different parts of the same body. If one part of the body is hurt, e.g. the toe, the whole body stops and pays attention to the pain of the toe and takes steps as one to heal the toe. The impact of the pain on the toe affects the functioning of the entire body. Right now black people are hurting. This is not a new pain, we need to be clear about this. All around the world black people are fighting for recogniton of worth and it’s important that people around the world, the human race, ask themselves how they can help heal this wound. Here is a link to our blog on the subject.

Where can people purchase your products from: Our online store, Our Lali and Baby Thando range is also available at selected Toys R Us stores and our Rainbow Kids range is available exclusively at Shoprite/Checkers stores nationally.

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Why do you think your products are so well-loved: We believe that a large part of it is the desire for parents to give their children what they didn’t have – toys which equip and strengthen them to be self aware and love their black skin, not aspiring to be anything different. There is an awakening amongst black people happening in South Africa and around the world and parents want to ensure that they affirm their children’s instric worth so that they are strong enough to navigate the harsh and discriminatory world. Lastly because they are just so pretty 🙂

Why do you encourage people to purchase your products for their kids: Toys have a Psychological voice and this video shows how toys and the media can negatively affect how children view themselves. So we encourage parents to choose products that celebrate who their children are. We also believe that for parents who are not black, our products have a place because their peers at school and others they interact with may be black so theses toys (with some parent guidance) can help them learn how to treat others who may be different to them.

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How did lockdown affect your business: Very negatively. We were unable to trade for two months and many people are focusing on buying essential products so toy sales have taken a back seat. We are confident though that as birthdays come along, people from all races will choose Toys with Roots to do their shopping.

Quote you live by: “Whether You Think You Can Or Think You Can’t, You’re Right.” – Henry Ford “If you ask me what I came to do, I came to live out loud!” – Emile Zola

Anything else you want to add: As a black woman entering the corporate world, there were many battles I had to fight within and a feeling of being less than my white counterparts always followed me. This was untrue of course but I do believe that there were beliefs I held which I know many others hold today. I don’t want this to be the reality for my children. I want them to enter into rooms confidently and not feeling as though their race discounts them from sitting at the table. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” Ps 139

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As I finish writing this blog, and truly taking in everything that has been written by Thabo and Mpumi, I am in tears.  I know that South Africa can come together as a nation.  And I absolutely LOVE what Toys with Roots is doing.  I have seen first-hand the joy it brings a little girl to see a doll that looks like her – or perhaps one that looks like her friend in her class.  We need to start having open and honest conversations, as well as learning from those around us.  We need to be supportive, kind, and caring.  We need to be like the dolls above and make the world a brighter place.

Please support this beautiful business!  I would love to see more of their dolls all over the place – at my friends’ houses, at playdates, out with the ladies living in KyaSands, and carried around shopping centres with pride.  I know that I am going to be purchasing some for gifts going forward, as well as the playschool in KyaSands, and I truly hope that you will do the same.

Sending love and happiness always x


 

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Love For A Little

Sometimes there are things that I come across that just touch my heart, & that I wish had been around when I was a child.  When I first saw “Happy To Be Me”, it was something that drew me in immediately & I knew that I had to find out more.  Then I saw that one of my favourite small businesses (Charlie Loves Studio) was involved as well & I took this as another reminder that I needed to reach out immediately!

I absolutely adore the look of this book & definitely want to order one for my friend’s little girl.  I think it is so important to encourage kids to see that being different is ok & that they should love themselves for who they are.  It is something I still battle with so I wish this book had been around when I was little.


Your name:  Jessica Smith

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Business name:  My business, which I suppose it is now (still cannot believe it), is called Love for a Little, or Have Love For A Little Heart, in full.

Social media handles:  Facebook & Instagram

What do you do:  I teach in a Grade 1 classroom as an assistant teacher and am in my final year of studying Foundation Phase Education. I also Au Pair for a family with three little girls, who are 7,5 and 4 years old… I started there when the youngest was 18 months old, so I am extremely close to them and share an amazing bond with the family, loving the girls like I would my own. My first book is dedicated to them. I then also run Love For A Little, which started as, and occasionally still is, a blog where I document my journey of working with children in all settings, and has now become my business, where I sell my books and now character doll as well. I write children’s books and illustrate my own as well. I am hoping to develop my “brand” to one day have my own store, fully stocked with my own books, dolls of all my characters, pajamas, nursery prints and all sorts, all to do with my characters. (A girl can dream).

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Tell me a bit more about your book:  My book is the first of my range that will deal with emotional issues and topics. It is about a little fox, Daphne May, who is a little smaller than the rest and she struggles to find her place in her big, wide world. There are unkind words and confirmation of her fears dragging her down, and although the calm and constant reassurance from her mamma is there, she cannot seem to shake needing approval from others. She decides to move on and focus on finding new friends, when she ends up being needed and helping BECAUSE of the very reason she felt odd, and so she learns the worthiness of herself, despite the odd challenge it may present. Loving herself was important and those who did not, simply lacked understanding, but one day they will know, one day we all will. I am only 23 and struggle all the time to stop negative self-talk and terrible thoughts about myself and the parts of me that I so wish to change… It has become really important to me to stop this and to start loving and accepting myself for who I am, because let’s face it, what we are so hung up over, is often not even noticed by the people around us and we end up wasting so much time worrying about ourselves, that we forget to be happy and to LIVE comfortably and confidently and to be ALIVE in our amazing bodies, that do so much for us.

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Why do you think the theme & lesson from your book is so important for everyone:  Since working with little ones is my absolute passion, it became so important to me to try and change this body image struggle that we face in today’s society and with today’s social media pressures…

How did you come up with this idea:  My girls that I au pair and the children that I teach always tell me how beautiful I am and compliment me on every little thing I do and move I make… One day, I actually felt so guilty about the way I felt about myself, because how dare I see myself as anything less than perfect, when I have a thousand little eyes loving on me and all that I do, everyday? So I thought to myself that writing this story would hopefully feed them so much self-love and help them to realize that it is completely okay to be different and to look different, and that we need to embrace our own uniqueness and accept ourselves, and also accept those around us, for all that we are, and for all that we are not. That is not to say that there won’t be unkind words and comments from others, dragging us down, but we need to teach our children that despite what others may think, do or say, what truly matters, is what comes from within. I wanted to give children the tools to understand that they are special and that they are needed in this world and to also understand how important it is to realize that accepting themselves and others is important for us to realize our importance. I could go on and on and on, but in the end the message is strong, bold and extremely simple: JUST LOVE. I have loved children’s books from day one of working with them and being exposed to it again in my adult life. It takes you on a journey of humor and hidden messages that we never quite stop needing to hear. I love that I can reach adults and children through my books, as they read to their little ones.

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How long has it taken for this to come into being a physical book from your first idea:  I wrote the book one evening and it sat around for a year and a bit, needing illustrations… I didn’t believe that I had what it takes, but when I realized that no one was going to make my ideas come to life, I got to it myself, and I was surprised as what I could create. I always wanted it to be child-like, imperfect, watercolor happiness and I tried to achieve just that. In about two years from when I wrote the story, I published it myself.

Have you always wanted to write & illustrate a book:  I have always loved writing and never knew what to write, so when I found this passion and love for children’s literature, I knew I had a dream to harvest.

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I see another one is in the pipeline – can you tell us more:  In a couple days, my second book will be printed and on sale, called “See You Later Alligator”  It deals with separation anxiety and coping mechanisms for children, promoting independence and confidence, reassuring them…

I am super excited to see that you have done a colab with Charlie Loves Studio. How did this come about:  When I saw Charlie’s work, I immediately had a vision and acted on it. It started with me sending her an Instagram message and when she said she was keen to take on the challenge, I knew I would not stop until we could make it a reality!

Where can people buy your package (book & doll) from:  If people want my book, they can buy it from Blume co. (boutique in Port Elizabeth) or Summerlane and Little Things (both stores in East London), otherwise our online stores are Bella Poppelina, Nordic Munki, Baby Bug Boutique, Laatlam Gifts and now of course, Charlie Loves Studio. To get the book and doll package, you can message or email me or Charlie Loves… We are currently promoting the package at a special price of R395 for both, IF your order is in before Wednesday! (The book retails for R120 and the doll for R325, with a combo deal of R425), So R395 gives a great discount and saving! Please, anyone who is keen, can contact me for any questions, I am always so happy to help (loveforalittle@gmail.com or 0835559204).

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Quote you live by:  I have all these wild dreams and started with nothing and it all seemed impossible, but I did not stop until it was done and now I just dream all day and work so hard to make sure that I realize all my dreams for the future, because I want to make a difference, and I want to keep living out my dreams forever… So I would say, on that note, that something simple I love to hear and to believe in and to preach is: “YOU CAN”, you are never too old, too young, too poor or too bad at something. Believe in yourself and always remember that “YOU ARE YOUR MINDSET”.


CHARLENE FROM CHARLIE LOVES STUDIO
How did you become involved in this project:  Jessica messaged me and asked if I would make her a doll based on her lead character. I had to check it out and loved what I saw – the message was about self acceptance and self love and it appealed to the Charlie Loves brand as well as the heart of a mother.
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What made it really stand out for you:  The message. We all want to be loved and accepted, its a basic human need. But the reality is that we live in a world where there is far too much opinion and comparisons. If I asked you if you wanted to created a different reality for your children, one where they are confident and love themselves in a balanced way, and not let the opinions of others shape their worlds – I’m sure you would raise your hands and say, “yes, yes, yes”. So when Jessica brought the book to me – I said YES! As a mother of a 3 year old and 5 year old, I know that I have a key job in laying a solid foundation on which my kids can ground themselves when life happens. Many habits are behaviors that instilled from little and are hard to break as we progress – self love and acceptance (not arrogance and entitlement) is a gift that I can try to instill in my princesses and books like these make it able to not only tell little ones, but also show them. I know that this book is going to touch parents lives and little hearts in such a big way. To think that I had a part in all of this is a huge blessing – am so grateful that Jess asked me.
How long did it take you to bring Daphne May to life:  Gosh, I think it took as 3 to 4 months to get here – it was between my peak season and holidays too – so perhaps that’s why.
That and I suppose my dolls are trial and error – this means that I design my dolls from scratch and there are a couple of flops before we get it right.
Tell me more about JAM:  Joint Aid Management – or JAM, is an institution that helps Africa help itself – by teaching them to farm the land and feed the most vulnerable. Children. My heart hurts when a child (born in innocence) has to suffer the pains of not only impoverishment, but undernourishment and hunger – I also feel for the parents – I can only imagine the emotion pain a parent goes through when they find themselves in circumstances so desperate, that as much as they try – its never enough. (If you have Netflix – watch the story: “The boy who chased the wind” – a beautiful program of perspective and hope).  I cant save the entire world, but I can do something, no matter how small – and that for me is JAM – one meal at a time.
How does buying this combo benefit more than what people realize:  Daphne becomes more than a fictitious character – because she is tangible, children find her all the more relatable.
I wont be surprised is Daphne soon becomes a close friend and lovey.
I see unfold in my minds eye – a mommy notices that her child has been very quiet and excluded at play school (I’ve met enough mummy friends to know this is a reality :). Then, just as if by magic, mommy comes across a little fox named Daphne May and her story – that night mommy and her child go on an adventure with Daphne May – they both unravel a real life lesson as they read the book together … the next morning mommy hands Daphne over to her precious little one and whispers something in her ear…Daphne is a symbol of courage and like all of her dolls, she is more than just a doll.
Oh be still my heart – if this is what a book and a doll have helped accomplish, it is the greatest reward.
Anything else you want to add:  I love what I do and it is such a pleasure and honor to work with Jessica Smith 🙂 – I’m sure there are many more characters to come and more books too. 

Today (27/03/2019) is the last day you can place your order for the special offer at their discounted price, so make sure you get in quickly!  I really think this is a book that we can all learn from – no matter.  Plus the fact that Daphne May has been brought to life makes it all that much more exciting.  I can’t wait to cuddle my very own…


 

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Mox and Louise

You guys!  I have been so flipping excited about doing this blog post, as these are the most gorgeous unique dolls that are created by Igna.  Every time I see another one of her posts showing her latest designs brought to life.  The thing I love best about these is that they are all so special & all have their own personality.  So before I continue blubbing on, I will let Mox & Louise speak for herself…


Name: Igna (Louise) Schwartz – Louise is my middle name, and was my grandmother’s name. She was the creative vein in the family tree. Using her name for this venture is like a little nod of acknowledgement. The Mox part is basically a “nickname” for mosquitopress, which is also my email. “Mosquitopress” is a very interesting story, not really relevant here, but if you are interested, let me know!
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Business name: Mox & Louise
Social media: Instagram Facebook & Etsy 
How can people order from you:  South Africans (locals!) are welcome to contact me directly via Instagram or email.
What makes your goodies different to others:  I’m currently working on a authentication site (using QR codes) where you will be able to register your doll as an original and unique Mox & Louise creation, a one of a kind art doll. Future plans are to set up my own online shop, but until then my dolls are only available directly from me or from Etsy. Not keen on commissions as I like to follow my own muse, but let’s discuss.
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Tell me more about what you do:  I’m mostly self-taught as far as sewing goes, and that started when I was six. I can remember sewing on my mother’s sewing machine on the dining room table and not being able to reach the pedal unless I did it standing up! The first things I sewed were dolls’ clothes of course and later on clothes for myself. Later in life as an art student it was a very helpful skill as I could dress myself in all kinds of crazy as well as make soft sculptures.
So, after many years in advertising I quit to raise my boys. My creativity always needed an outlet though so at first I painted. Fun, happy whimsical paintings. Then came the bohemian handbag phase. About 1000 hand-stitched and beaded OTT boho handbags later I was totally over it. The bag business grew too big and started losing it’s shine for me. Admin, CMT issues, crazy production schedules – it was really not appealing any more. But it was huge fun while it lasted!
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Next came Ebony & Ivory, a partnership with an old friend. We’ve been in business now for almost 16 years and jointly own a ribbon, craft and vintage shop in Cape Town. (check out ebonyandivoryribbons.co.za or Instagram or on Facebook if you want). That’s still going strong, but I started feeling the need for a different creative outlet. Something where I didn’t need to consider bulk production, or costings, or any of that grown up retail stuff. I just wanted to quietly potter and create again in my studio, at my own pace, just sommer doing things I love with no pressure. Initially I played around with textile jewellery and all kinds of experimental nicknacks. Then one day, for no apparent reason, I decided to made a doll. In all the years I sewed and made stuff, I never once made a doll! So this calling was totally out the blue. I tried making a few dolls, all of them technically failures. As I was driving along one day, a picture of a doll flashed through my head. I couldn’t wait to get home to try it, and voilá! The first little Mox & Louise art doll saw the light! She was really weird and quirky, but a few dolls later I got the hang of it. I think what makes my dolls different to others are their whimsy and physical attributes. It’s a combination of fabric and wire and paint and buttons and dressing up and theatre. They are inhabitants of my imagination, and each one are created spontaneously without pattern or plan.
Favourite products: not sure if we are talking dolls here. If so, that’s a hard one as I am part of a very creative, imaginative and dynamic doll community on Instagram. There are some truly wonderful doll artists out there! If it’s a general question…my new thing is natural, organic locally made cosmetics. Honeybush goodies. Lotions and potions. Makers tapping into our amazing array of local plants and traditions to create very good products.
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The Quote I live by: Don’t postpone any fun you could be having today till tomorrow.

This was such a fun “chat” to have, & I am so grateful that Igna took time out of her extremely busy schedule to answer my questions & let me know a little more about her very special business.  Make sure you follow her on her social media platforms & order one of your very own – I am still trying to decide which ones are my favourite as I just adore them all!

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