Where do Dolls Come From? Pt 1


Have you ever wondered where dolls come from? Not geographically — although that can be an interesting story as well — but where a particular doll started and how it came to be?

I’ll be going to Toy Fair in NYC in a few weeks, and for The Pattycake Doll Company this is probably the biggest link in the supply chain for us. I’ll be making a few more posts about Toy Fair, but today’s post is more about ‘where dolls come from’ in general than Toy Fair.

So. Let’s start at the beginning and describe the steps of how those beautiful dolls end up in your children’s loving arms.

  • Dolls start as an idea. Whether it’s an entrepreneur who thinks they’ve come up with something new and innovative that the doll market just needs to have, or a long time doll manufacturer like Madame Alexander or Kathe Kruse that wants to freshen up their line or reissue a classic doll for today’s children.
  • Next comes the design. A doll artist or doll sculptor or a doll design team starts making sketches and drawings. What could the new doll look like? What will it wear? What features will it have? How detailed shall it be?
  • Here is an example of a doll proposal: A 13 inch doll with open and close eyes that has a cloth body and soft vinyl head, arms and legs. We want it to be machine washable. We want one of the hands to have a thumb that will fit in the doll’s mouth so that it ‘sucks it’s thumb.’ We want it to be able to sit by itself, so we want a beanbag insert in the butt. We want it to be for a 12 month old or older. It will need to pass The European, Canadian and US safety regulations so that the one design can be sold in all three markets.
  • Once a design is finalized, negotiations begin with the factories. Most dolls are made in China, but quite a few are made in Spain, Eastern Europe, and Pacific Rim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Longtime manufacturers will have their regular factories established already, but every year there are new company start-ups who will have to establish their own relationships with the factories. Alibaba is one way for these new doll companies to locate potential manufacturers.
  • Costs are agreed upon, samples are made and either returned for correction or approved. There will be a mold made, and then various different colored vinyls will be used, different eye colors will be inserted, the finished features will be decided – like painted cheeks or what color paint for the hair… things like that.
  • Clothing will also be decided on at this point. A couple of different outfits will be hand sewn to fit the doll. Safety rules will need to be followed here as well. Using our example of a doll safe for 12 months old, there will probably not be any buttons, bows or ribbons that can be pulled off and swallowed.
  • The doll by now will have been named and it’s features settled on, so now the packaging designers will start their part of the process.
  • The new doll is manufactured, dressed and packaged.

Next week we’ll pick up from there… the journey from the factory to your child.

Banning Barbie

In 2003 Saudi Arabia banned the sale of Barbie Dolls.

They were banned because they were Jewish. (The authorities believed that Mattel – the makers of Barbie – were Jewish. For the record, Mattel is a publicly traded company and has been since the 60’s.)

They were banned because their clothes were ‘too revealing.’

They were banned because they had a woman’s figure, and therefore were not proper for ‘yet-to-develop’ young girls to play with.

(Of course here in America there are many feminists who object to Barbie for a similar reason, but in their case because the figre is disproportionately womanly – but I digress.)

Ten years later Iran also banned the sale of Barbie. In Iran’s case it was because Barbie is a ‘symbol of corrupt western culture.’

Last week, there was a terrible attack in France against a Jewish supermarket on the eve of the Sabbath, and the murder of twelve people at a newspaper in France.

I’m not saying that Islamic countries banning Barbie led to the slaughter in France. Of course not. How could one possibly take such a leap – Barbie representing everything evil about the west?

On the other hand, avalanches are made up of single snowflakes.

Just saying, is all.

Book Review: The Doll in the Garden

I truly treasure my collection of storybooks that have a ‘connection’ of some kind to a doll. I find that most of them fall into two different categories… the doll is the main character and the story is about their adventures, or the story is about a child, and their love for a doll.

The Doll in the Garden Book Cover

But of course there are always exceptions, and this week’s book review is one of those exceptions. This doll story is about a doll… who belongs to a ghost! And the ghost wants her doll back!

Moonlit nights, time travel and a magical cat are all elements in the story, but the basic plot revolves around the little girls in the present, who find the doll, discover the mystery of how it came to be buried in the garden, and are trying to give the doll back to it’s rightful owner, a little girl who lived and died seventy years in their past!

‘It’s china face was pale and smudged with dirt. One eye was half open and the other was closed, its nose was chipped, but it was still beautiful. I held it toward Kristi. “It’s an old doll,” I whispered.’

That’s the description in the book, but in my imagination, I’ve always thought she looked a little bit like the doll we sell at Pattycake Doll Company called Sarah Rose. (Maybe because she was found buried in the overgrown rose bushes?)

Written in 1989 by Mary Downing Hahn, The Doll in the Garden is a delightful ‘Happily Ever After’ charmer of a ghost story. But the story also sensitively touches on death and loss, as well as forgiveness. To tell you any more would spoil the story for you and your daughter or grandaughter, so I’ll just stop here and encourage you to get your own copy!

PS: Please be sure to check out our other ‘Doll’ Book reviews!

The difference between Barbie and Barbie®

If you ask a four year old African American girl to go get her Barbies, what do you think she’ll bring you?

A Christie doll – Barbie’s African American friend – or a Nikki, Christie’s sister?

Barbie® Entrepreneur African American

Barbie® Entrepreneur African American

Perhaps any one of the myriad of dolls with The Barbie name and ‘African American’ attached to it? Like ‘Barbie loves the Girl Scouts African-American’ or ‘Barbie Careers – Nurse – African American?’

Or perhaps one of the 1000’s of Barbie clones, not made by Mattel at all?

Actually, I think that that four year old might bring out all of her dolls… including Bratz, Monster High, Doc McStuffins and Disney Princesses or the new Prettie Girls by Stacey McBride.

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Why? Because I think that after over 50 years, Barbie has finally become the generic term for 11 inch dolls. Especially the all plastic – removable fashions dolls.

It’s like Kleenex® is what everybody calls facial tissues, Vaseline® for petroleum jelly and Velcro® for hook and latch fasteners. Especially in our children’s minds. Children don’t ‘get’ ®! And to be honest with you, I don’t think most adults differentiate much between what is really a Barbie® and what might be something else similar. I think we call them all Barbies too.

What do you think?

PS: To my readers who filter everything through a P.C. lens: This post is about the difference between Barbie®, and Barbie used as a generic term… not about race. Because Mattel has both African American Barbies® and Black dolls that are part of the Barbie line but are not named Barbie, it made my point easier to explain. Get over yourself.