Meet the dad behind an African-inspired toy brand

“As a father, I have always seen the need to teach my daughter to love how she looks and embracing her beauty,” says Meshack Mulaudzi, a 31-year-old father-of-two.

That’s why, when he sought to make a doll for his daughter, Kaelo, there were no “ifs” and “buts” about it. It was the catalyst that sparked his entrepreneurial journey to give South African children toys they could identify with.

When Kaelo was two, he became concerned that she was not playing with dolls in line with the message he was teaching her. “Back then, it was hard to find a black doll, and when you did, it was too expensive. I then decided I would make one specifically for her.”

Mulaudzi then put his plan into action.

“I made the doll from scratch, starting with the sketches, drawings, 3D images and then the moulding process,” he says. But then he reached a brick wall – the manufacturers said he could only place a minimum order of 50 dolls.

Unperturbed by the setback, he then photographed Kaelo with the doll, posted the image on Facebook and, in one day, he received over 4 000 likes, and Keolo Black Beauty (kaeloblackbeauty.com) was born.

He modelled the doll on his daughter and then adjusted the design when he decided to take the doll to market.

With the backing of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, his vision has become a fully-fledged business. Mulaudzi joined the Fellowship Programme in 2008 during his second year in BCom Accounting and found that it has set him on the right path on his entrepreneurial journey.

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Kaelo with her very own Keolo Black Beauty doll

“Becoming an Allan Gray Candidate Fellow was quite significant. Outside this Fellowship, going to university wouldn’t have been possible,” he says.

He also gives credit to his mother who raised him on her own as a fruit seller, while growing up in Limpopo.

Her influence had a profound effect on the way he raises his children: “I teach my son and daughter self-love, to believe in themselves.”

Mulaudzi has taken his focus beyond dolls and concentrated on African-themed toys.

“We are building our very own African ‘Disney’, a world which African kids can relate to,” he says.

His advice to other dads? “Be present, not just physically. Go beyond the norm to pave the way for your kids. They are a blank canvas – you can write anything you choose. Choose identity, confidence, beauty, and most importantly, self love.”

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