Monday, July 10, 2017

Black Dolls by Svetlana Lukina

Boy and girl dolls by Svetlana Lukina were inspired by the works of nineteenth century doll artists,
Ella Smith and Martha Chase 

Russian doll artist, Svetlana Lukina’s doll making is inspired by nineteenth century dollmaker, Izannah F. Walker.  Some of her dolls have been inspired by other nineteenth century dollmakers, such as Martha Chase, Ella Smith, and others from that period.  Having recently donated her first two black dolls to the National Black Doll Museum of History and Culture, Svetlana agreed to share her inspiration for making that pair with the readers of Ebony-Essence of Dolls in Black.  She also shared information about her most recently made black doll.

US postage stamp, released in 1997, features dolls by Ella Smith and Martha Chase.  Ella Smith designed the cloth Alabama Baby doll with molded and painted features.  These dolls were originally named "The Alabama Indestructible Doll" and were made from 1900-1925.  The second doll was created by Martha Chase and is an all-cloth doll made between 1890-1925.

“I have been a fan of the early American dolls for many years.  I was inspired by the black dolls of Martha Chase and Ella Smith, whose dolls are depicted on the US postage stamp. I made a girl with a red apron and a boy in a sailor's suit.  I love these dolls.   They are my first black dolls made to sell.  Unfortunately, these children could not find a home for a long time.  After learning about the National Black Doll Museum, I wrote a letter to the director. I’m glad to know about such museum, because I’m sure every nation must know its history, culture, and traditions. I am happy my dolls now live in the American museum.   Of course, I would like to sell my dolls, but I'm very pleased they will be seen by many people!  It is an honor, very exciting, and I appreciate the exposure."  

Before traveling to America, Svetlana's Martha Chase-inspired girl sat quietly in her chair.

“My dolls range from 17-20 inches. I use natural fabrics (cotton, linen, silk). I make the body of the dolls from fabric.  They are stuffed, gessoed, and painted. The heads are made of paper-clay, papier-mâché or gypsum (it depends on the kind of doll, because I try to repeat traditional old technology).   My Izannah Walker dolls’ heads are made only of textiles (layers of silk knitting and cotton fabric)."

Although he traveled from Russia to America by airplane, Svetlana's Alabama Baby-inspired boy
remained ready for a nautical adventure.

“At first I was a student of Dixie Redmond (2012).  Later in 2013, I was a student of Paula Walton and bought lessons from her. The technology of the head is the know-how of Paula Walton.  First I must make a sculpture of a head of plasticine (wax) or plastic.  The mold is removed from gypsum. Then I lay the fabric (cotton and silk) in the mold.  For each doll, I make personal clothing patterns.  The dolls’ clothing can be removed and washed."  

Each doll receives great attention to detail in keeping with traditional dollmaking styles.

“I have a textile and art education and try to make my dolls qualitatively and professionally. Time spent on each doll is very extensive, between 90-100 hours of pure time.  Therefore, such dolls cannot be inexpensive. They are made for the adult collector.   My dolls are all different.   No two are the same.”

Svetlana’s New Black Girl

This sweet girl is approximately 18-inches tall.  She wears a colorful lined dress with sash, matching head wrap, pantaloons, beaded necklace and anklet.

“After my first two black dolls were sent to the National Black Doll Museum of History and Culture, I wanted to make more.    My newest sweet black doll is about 17-18 inches, also made of fabric and paper clay.  Inspiration for this doll came from dolls of Martha Chase.  It was very difficult to find the fabric for the dress, but I found it!  The hair is made of natural sheepskin.  She is currently available in my Etsy shop."  

The newest girl poses without her head wrap to illustrate the texture of her natural sheepskin hair.

Where to Buy
“I sell my dolls on Etsy.   The first reader of this post to purchase an in-stock doll from my Etsy store will receive a 50% discount.  I also make dolls by request, but the sale to the first blog reader only extends to dolls already made and shown on Etsy.  I can be reached by email, through my blog, or on Facebook.  I take into account the wishes of my customers and I am always happy to customize dolls for them."

Additional Links:

Friday, June 16, 2017

M'simbi Dolls Teach Cultural Identity

Kondwani, Limpo, and Luyando are three of the five 18-inch Naturally Beautiful M'simbi Dolls.

M'simbi Dolls (MD) is a Zambia-based manufacturer of Naturally Beautiful 18-inch dolls.  Ebony-Essence of Dolls in Black (EEoDiB) had the great pleasure of interviewing the founder.    Interview results and photos of the current doll line are shared below:

EEoDiB:  What does M’simbi mean?

MD:  M'simbi means "girl" in a language called Nsenga in Zambia.

EEoDiB:  What inspired the creation of M’simbi Dolls?

Young Co-founder, Lindiwe; and her mother, Mainga, the Founder of M'simbi Dolls
MD:  M’simbi is an inspiration of my 6-year-old daughter, Lindiwe. She went through a phase were she didn’t like the way she looked and wanted long silky hair and lighter skin. It’s really a story about me wanting to desperately show my daughter that black is beautiful and that she did not have to look like her friends of a different race to feel beautiful; hence, the tagline Naturally Beautiful.  That was how M'simbi Dolls was established last year.  My husband, Wilson, and I along with a friend of ours, Dr. Cheswa Vwalika, brought to life the dream of a Zambian toy company. My daughter, Lindiwe, is a co-founder of the company.

EEoDiB:  How long has this line of dolls been available?

MD:  The dolls have been available in Zambia since November 2016. The sale of dolls was officially launched in May 2017. We currently have a range of five dolls namely Luyando, which means Love; Kondwani, which means Happiness; Towela, which means Beautiful; Mapalo, which means blessings; and Limpo, which means blessings.  We plan to expand to include smaller doll sizes. Many other products by M’simbi are also in the pipeline.

L-R, Front-Back:  Luyando, Kondwani, Towela, Mapalo, and Limpo

EEoDiB:  Please describe the dolls’ attributes:

Height:                  18 inch/ 45cm doll
Weight:                  1 kg with packaging; (each box is personalized with a doll's name).
Material:                Full body vinyl. Lays and sits down.
Hair:                      Manual implantation, can wash and dress up.
Eyes:                     Open
Skin color:             Chocolate
Safety Certificates: CE En71 F963 ISO 1824
Five Dolls:             Luyando, Kondwani, Towela, Mapalo, and Limpo 
Disclaimer:            Recommended for children 4 years and older

EEoDiB:  What sets M’simbi dolls apart from other dolls made for the target market?

M'Simbi Dolls help teach cultural identity.
MD:  M'simbi Dolls teaches against internalised colourism, which is defined as feeling inferior and not embracing one’s natural features. We teach cultural identity because we believe that no one should feel inferior because of the colour of their skin or texture of their hair. Each M'simbi doll bears an affirmation tag to encourage girls to speak positively about themselves and to realise their innate potential. In short M’simbi not only affirms black beauty but aims at teaching that beauty is in the colour of your skin and that doesn’t need to change.

EEoDiB:  Do your dolls meet child safety guidelines?

MD:  Yes. We have safety certificates: CE En71 F963 ISO 1824 and have a disclaimer that the dolls are recommended for children 4 years and older.

EEoDiB:  How can M’simbi Dolls be purchased and at what price?

MD:  M’simbi Dolls can be purchased in Zambia and its neighboring countries from a number of existing retailers who are engaged as distributors. Further, M’simbi has an online store at and is developing an Etsy shop at The dolls retail at USD 34.

EEoDiB:  Do you sell the dolls globally?  If so, how much is shipping to the US?

MD:  Yes, the dolls are sold globally through the website store.  Shipping to America is USD 29 using EMS, which takes around 7-10 days.

EEoDiB:  Do you sell the dolls wholesale?  If so, how should retailers contact you about the possibility of purchasing wholesale and selling your dolls?

MD:  M’simbi has established a simple distributor recruitment procedure. In an effort to empower a number of local small retailers and businesses, M’simbi sells a minimum of 10 dolls at a wholesale price to distributors. Interested distributors can contact M’simbi through the website, Facebook or Instagram pages [see links below]. Potential distributors from any part of the world are most welcome.

EEoDiB:  Please provide your contact information:  website, email, address, phone, etc.

MD:  Website:
Phone No.: +260 955 805 626
Office Location: Plot 22788, Leopards Hill Road, Ibex Hill Lusaka Zambia.

EEoDiB:  Please share any additional details potential customers should know about M’simbi Dolls.

A future CEO poses with a M'Simbi Doll.
MD:  M’simbi is a brand that stands to empower young children, especially girls. M’simbi, aside from establishing a clothing line (matching doll and girl), is currently working on empowering stories for children in line with its tag lines of natural beauty and the empowering vision of dreaming, believing achieving and in turn inspiring others.


For additional information about M’simbi Dolls, please use one of their contact links provided above.  To purchase one of the dolls, visit the website store.  To see one of the actual dolls, read the post devoted to Mapalo here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Melanites Celebrating Brown Boyhood

Ebony-Essence of Dolls in Black had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Pierre, founder of Melanites, "Action Pals: that celebrate “brown boyhood.”  The interview transcript follows:

EEoDiB:  What inspired the creation of Melanites?

Jennifer:  I’m brown, and as a young girl I enjoyed playing with dolls. Yet growing up, it was next to impossible to find toys that looked like me. Many years later, the industry is finally starting to understand that we all don’t have blonde hair and blue eyes as seen by industry giants’ recent roll out of diverse dolls. But for the 7 million boys of color under the age of ten, not much has changed. This is where Melanites comes in.  Melanites designs diverse toys, storybooks, and games that celebrate brown boyhood. Our mission is to inspire children of color to dream big, stand tall, and live out their childhood.

Summer 2015, I was a mentor and volunteer at my local community center. After months of working with the kids in the program, I started to notice that many of the boys were not expressing their full potential and dreamed within a bubble. The messaging they received on a daily basis from various factors like TV and media did not provide positive affirmations about different possibilities for their future. I founded Melanites to celebrate them and change the internalized beliefs they were absorbing. My goal is to remind them that they can be whoever they wish, regardless of what society maps out for them.

Our society is a beautiful mix of different ethnicities, cultures, and personalities. Unfortunately, when a consumer ventures into toy stores or searches online, there aren’t many positive, educational, and diverse options available. Melanites is revolutionizing what it means to have toys and products for boys. We are challenging social norms about gender and diversity.

Melanites are articulated and can stand on their own.

EEoDiB:  Please describe the features:

  • Approximately 16 inches tall
Material from which they are made
  • Full vinyl body
Are they jointed (if so where)?
  • Articulated in the neck, shoulders, elbow, wrists, hips and knees.
Sturdiness of construct - will they withstand boy play?
  • Yes! We have spent months testing our action dolls in after school programs, playgrounds, and living rooms.

Is the hair molded or rooted with synthetic fibers?
  • Intent on creating a holistic play experience, Melanites decided to have textured wig hair.
Are the eyes inset or painted?
  • Inset eyes

EEoDiB:  What sets Melanites apart from other toys made for the target market; do you believe they are a first of their kind?

Jennifer:  Melanites is the only company currently in the market tackling gender stereotypes and diversity simultaneously. We are developing products that provide a space for the millions of children of color in the country who do not currently see themselves represented. Moving beyond just dolls, our future roll out of storybooks and apps will create an entire ecosystem that celebrates who they are.

Actual image of "Action Pal" Jaylen above design mage of entire Melanites crew.

Our launching toy product, Jaylen, is the new “Action Pal” that combines the emotional appeal of a doll with the novelty of an action figure. Intent on celebrating the diversity of our multicultural society, each Pal comes in diverse skin tones, facial features, and hair types. What makes Melanites especially unique is our development of characters and personalities behind the Action Pals. Our Action Pals are based on four characters who are nine-year-old boys with different personalities. They represent the “Thinker, Doer, Maker, and Performer” in all of us. Our accompanying storybooks and games follow the crew as they go on different adventures that highlight S.T.E.M. and the importance of staying true to yourself.

EEoDiB:  How can Melanites be purchased or preordered?

Jennifer:  Melanites can be pre-ordered starting February 28th through our crowdfunding link hosted by Indiegogo. We will be launching our first action doll Jaylen and potentially through stretch goals, our first storybook Jaylen and the High Five Machine.

Contact information, website, email, crowd-funding link


Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing the inspiration for Melanites, details about the "Action Pals," and the preordering information through the crowdfunding link provided above and here.  Ebony-Essence of Dolls in Black wishes you much success getting the Melanites crew into the hands of little people as well as adult collectors, who will be inspired by owning them.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Four Little Girls by Starkey's Daughter Cloth Dolls

Pressed felt faces of dolls that were in the making by Rachel McCullough Sherrod of Starkey's Daughter Cloth Dolls

Rachel McCullough Sherrod of Starkey’s Daughter Cloth Dolls has been making dolls off and on for decades but seriously began dollmaking in 2012 after her retirement. 

Among others, she enjoys making childlike dolls of historical significance.  Her most recent dolls are a set of four, a tribute to the four little girls who tragically lost their lives during the September 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.   According to Rachel, the idea to make this set was suggested to her by a seasoned, experienced, and well-respected doll collector. 

The Four Little Girls:  Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and Cynthia Wesley are beautifully represented in doll form.

As shown above, the completed dolls represent Denise McNair, whose full name was Carol Denise McNair (age 11); Carole Robertson (age 14), Addie Mae Collins (age 14), and Cynthia Wesley (age 14).  Their pressed felt faces are individually sculpted, and their bodies are made of cloth.  With the exception of Denise, each doll stands 20 inches tall.  Denise, described as petite, was the youngest of the girls.  The Denise doll stands 16 inches.

Carol Denise McNair's sweet expression is captured in doll form.
Carole Robertson's closed-mouth, wide smile is artistically reproduced.

The bespectacled Addie Mae Collins doll has a large red ribbon in her hair.
Cynthia Wesley's sweet smile and bright eyes are nicely duplicated in the Cynthia doll.

Currently only one set of the Four Little Girls dolls exists.  Rachel has not determined if additional sets will be made.

On February 5, 2017, the Four Little Girls dolls will be on display at a viewing of the award-winning documentary, Why Do You Have Black Dolls?  Rachel will host this event, which includes two viewings of the documentary at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. EST.  The flyer below contains full details.

For more information about these and other dolls made by Rachel of Starkey’s Daughter Cloth dolls, please contact her by email or by visiting her website.

Read more about the tragic deaths of Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and Cynthia Wesley at the first two links below.  The third link redirects to the Why Do You Have Black Dolls? website.

16th Street Baptist Church Bombing
Four Little Girls of Birmingham Remembered
Why Do You Have Black Dolls?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Hearts For Hearts Dolls Relaunch

Heart for Hearts Rahel from Ethiopia is 14 inches tall, made of artist-type vinyl with well-rooted natural-textured, Afro-style hair.  She is one of four returning Hearts for Hearts Dolls.

Having originally entered the doll market for the playline in 2010, the Hearts For Hearts dolls have returned.  The following is notification about the relaunch from Jennifer Crisanti, Director of Business Development for

The award-winning multicultural brand, Hearts For Hearts Girls is back. Our mission is to empower girls to become agents of change in their communities, and around the world. Four dolls, Rahel [shown above] from Ethiopia, Nahji from India, Dell from the USA, and Consuelo  from Mexico are now available through Amazon Prime and specialty retailers.
It’s a brand built on a foundation of rich content. Girls can learn about the characters through their diary entries and they will be able to interact with characters in the upcoming mobile apps.  
Together we CAN change the world — one heart at a time! 
You can check out the dolls at :  
Jennifer added:
Our team feels very lucky to be able to participate on this brand.
We have an opportunity to deliver the brand's messages through games and apps.
 As we move forward, it will be important to continue to connect with the community.  
I have attached a link to a promotional game on our site.  There is more fun to come!  Play the game at

An empowered girl will become an empowered woman.