FOUNDER: Sandra Monero is the founder of Monero Kids Boutique
BLACK DOLLS were a rarity for many growing up. Plagued with images of stick thin, perfectly coiffed, blonde-haired barbies, many young black girls internalised this imagery and too wished they looked like the most famous figurine that represented girlhood for generations.
Years later and we are beginning to see a shift. Barbies are branching out and celebrating women of different nationalities – as seen by their latest release of International Women’s Day Barbies modelled after biracial model Adwoa Aboah and actress Yara Shahidi – and we are seeing a plethora of black-owned doll brands popping up all over the world, and creating representational dolls that black girls can embrace.
One of the women gaining in on this growing market is Sandra Monero, founder of Monero Kids Boutique. The independent Dalston-based store, specialises in selling organic clothing and hand-crafted black dolls.
“It all started when I was selling dolls in the back of my car at a car boot sale,” recalls Monero. “My friend put the seed in my mind and said since I’m selling dolls, why don’t I make the clothes for them and add something special to it.”
Monero’s exciting business venture followed a turbulent year. After losing her mother, father and older brother, she described the process of making the dolls clothes and selling them as therapeutic.
“It was such a challenging time for me and me getting the dolls was healing for me as I learned to cope through the challenges and things I’ve experienced. So by making the dolls clothes myself, I began to feel better and the dolls ended up being inspired by the women who made me who I am today.”
Two of the main dolls Monero sells are inspired by inspirational women in her life, including her mother, her friend Yinka, and her love of Harley Davidson. “I have a dark-skinned doll with an afro called Yinka named after a friend of mine. She really had my back when I was going through things.
“The second doll who is lighter skinned with an afro is named Ellie and she is inspired after my mum and the one with the long hair, her name is Harley D, and she’s named after the Harley Davidson bike because I love motorbikes myself,” says the business owner.
Creativity was something that was always innate to Monero. Growing up with dyslexia, the Saint Lucian found creative ways to showcase her talent. “Growing up in my time, I just felt I was dumb – I didn’t think I could do anything,” she admits.
“So I was more creative by just making things up and that allowed me to grow and develop. It’s great to be in a position now to be doing something I enjoy and using my creative skill.”
The dolls sold at the east London store are shipped over from abroad and Monero designs the clothes and paints each and every doll. “Creating clothes for these dolls can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes, and I love that I have that skill,” she says. The clothes are made from donated fabrics and Monero has produced 26 dolls in national dress to represent each Caribbean island.
Having an entire store dedicated to selling black dolls is quite rare in London, and it’s an opportunity that Monero doesn’t take for granted. “I have such a diverse clientele and it’s great,” she says. “I get guys who come into the store to buy things for their girlfriends – I even had this white gentleman who came from west London and he bought six dolls. I asked why, and he said he liked collecting them and he thought they were so beautiful.
“This store really is a rarity. Yes, Barbie creates black dolls, but it’s not a boutique were this black dolls are in the shop window, up front – not hidden in the back.”
Monero says that while having the store is not easy, she would advise anyone to go for their dreams if it’s something they’re passionate about. “It’s important to just not give up – it’s going to happen if you want it.
“None of it is easy and you have to work hard. I had two jobs and I was still doing the car boot sale whilst in the process of acquiring the store. But if you want it enough you will get it. All you’ve got to do is believe in yourself.”
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