TUMISANG NDLOVU: In this week’s SME feature marking Heritage Month we speak to Molemo Kgomo, the founder of Ntombenhle Dolls, Molemo, take us through the idea behind dolls that represent the different cultures in South Africa.
MOLEMO KGOMO: What I decided to do when I started with this concept of playing with dolls, because I couldn’t find a black doll for my daughter at that time, when she was just about turning two, and I really wanted something she could identify with, look at and see herself in it, in seeing something that looks like her in terms of skin colour and the hair that she had, because she has very think African hair – really think African hair. So I really wanted it to be a way for her to get to understand who she is, what she sort of looks like, or where she comes from, and also to have a sense of belonging and identity.
What I did with that is that I had the dolls dressed up in traditional attire – perhaps not fully traditional, but sort of resembling – just to show the kids and adults as well. We don’t seem to know what the different cultural groups of women would wear for a function or something like that. So it was also educational in that aspect as well.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: It is a business, although it started as fun and a sort of reaching out to something that children could identify with. But when we speak business we must speak profits. What did it take for you to start from scratch?
MOLEMO KGOMO: Look, because the dolls are manufactured – I worked with a manufacturer overseas in Asia. I didn’t ask for funding, I didn’t get funding – the funding was basically from family. And I got that initial capital from my husband to start this dream. And, going forward, just whatever money that I got from the sales I put back into the business. So I didn’t go through the process of applying for funding or anything like that. So whatever sales I got I sort of threw back to grow the business,
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Having said that, what challenges have you faced so far?
MOLEMO KGOMO: I think the challenges so far have been the advertising, obviously, because it takes a big budget t advertise. And also to just get the dolls into the toy stores is not as easy as we would think it is because you’ve got to set up meetings with buyers. Depending on how you are selling it, are the buyers interested in buying your product. So it’s a whole different ball game. You could have the most wonderful business idea ever, but it’s who you are selling it to. They will be the final decision makers.
But that doesn’t mean you must stop what you want to do, the dream you want. You need to keep pushing because eventually somebody will say oh, yes, there it is, she did come to me. And, you know what, there is always a way. It might not be the right time but when that time does come, then you’ll have your products wherever you want them to be.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: So far how has the brand been received?
MOLEMO KGOMO: The brand has been received very well. It sort of takes me back to when I visited toy companies to say, here’s a product, I would like you to stock my product. They said to me black parents do not ask for black dolls. But I see now I’ve got black parents, dads, moms, grans and the like saying, the doll is here. They want it. But how come they said we are not asking for the product? It just shows you there is a problem somewhere and we just need to overcome whatever the issues are.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Based on that answer, what do you make of the growing culture of marketing and advertising on social media, given that you spend much less to do it?
MOLEMO KGOMO: Somebody once said to me – a friend of mine who I met a couple of months ago, a very wonderful inspirational guy, he actually said to me, you know, Mole, it’s one thing to do business on social network; it’s not really a good thing to do. But I found that it actually is, it works. It’s free. You can actually do it yourself. You can see what’s happening, what are the responses. I think for me it worked, and I think for a whole lot of other people it does work. It’s just a start, building onto the bigger picture where you actually want to go and spend money, because the price just to [advertise] on a billboard is just ridiculous. So if you do social media and you do it well, it really does help. It has really helped a lot.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Having said that, what are your views on the current SME space in South Africa? You mentioned earlier the funding issues, you mentioned the speaking to buyers, for instance, all that red tape that is surrounding a small business – what are your views on the current status?
MOLEMO KGOMO: You always hear that there is funding – approach so-and-so, approach this department, approach that. Look, the red tape is just too much. You might have everything that they say you must have – but it might just take longer than you expect for it to happen. I remember in June I was invited to the UK to attend a black dolls expo, and I think it was like, well, seven weeks before the expo when a friend of mine said you know what, Mole, let’s got to the DTI just to see what they can do. So we went, had a meeting, told them what we were doing, that we were going and everything – and yes, it is available but you’ve got to do it two months before you leave. Some of the things, you see, could be two months before, three months before. [Indistinct] It was two months before or nine weeks before, and we were invited. This is what they were saying, but we had to go because I wanted to be there.
From the business again we took money, we did whatever plans we had to do and we left. As I say, it becomes a bit challenging when you know there is stuff like that, but the red tape that goes with it. And some things – you don’t know things six months before. Now we’ve just discovered there’s a Detroit black dolls expo, which is happening I think next month. You see things now and [think] let’s send emails and let’s see if we can go. But if you are going to be needing this three months or two months to get the finance, it becomes a bit challenging in those terms.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Where can we improve as South Africa on that front?
MOLEMO KGOMO: I think it needs to be made a bit easier because, like I say, things happen so quickly. You plan for things to happen over a period of time, and it might not necessarily happen within the time that you want it to happen. It might take longer. It might be a week – you might have to make a decision within a week. If it became much easier somehow, I’m sure, it just needs to be a way of getting it done, because I don’t think it can be so much. You can have everything that they ask for, but the fact that your timing was incorrect, it sort of demoralises you. If I didn’t have the means to say, well, I’m going to the UK, I’ll pay, I’m going, I would have stayed home and said here’s the thing but I can’t go. So I’m sure there is a way that it can be done. We just need to find out how.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: True. Lastly, what does the future hold for Ntombenhle Dolls?
MOLEMO KGOMO: At Ntombenhle Dolls we are really working hard to get the brand out there. People are asking, dads are asking, do you have anything for our boys. We are working on that – something for the boys. We will have Nkosinathi as something for the boys.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Yay!
MOLEMO KGOMO: I’m hoping that the boys will really appreciate whatever form Nkosinathi will be coming in – or whatever we will be doing. And we are also working on getting a new wardrobe for Ntombenhle, so that she can have a change of clothing. In about a month or two you mommies and daddies can have a change of clothes for your little ones. So we are busy. We are getting there.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Thank you so much and we wish you all the best. That was the founder of Ntombenhle Dolls, Molemo Kgomo, in this week’s SME feature marking Heritage Month.
To watch the interview with Tumisang and entrepreneur Molemo Kgomo, please click here.