Dolls for Transgender Children

All children need to play with dolls, no matter their gender identification.

For the youngest children, dolls provide cuddle and comfort. For toddlers, dolls make great ‘security objects’ — that touch of the familiar that they can carry with them as they start to explore the world around them.

But most importantly, dolls help children to learn to nurture; they become your child’s own ‘children’ to love and to care for. It’s one of the first skills a child learns.

Make no mistake — the best mothers and fathers 20 years from now, are the ones learning how to nurture today… by way of doll play.

This is as true for little girls as it is for little boys. Neither nurture nor love is dependent on a child’s ‘gender.’

Fritzi Doll

Fritzi, a gender neutral doll for boys, girls and transgender children.

This is also true for transgender children. Sometimes, God puts the mind and the soul of one gender into the body of the other. Sometimes it is temporary, and you get the ‘tomboy’ girls and the ‘princess’ boys. Sometimes it is permanent and in adulthood they will undertake the transition. But regardless of any label, children need dolls to love and nurture.

Recently we started carrying a new kind of doll. A gender neutral doll. Neither ‘pink aisle’ nor ‘blue aisle,’ Fritzi is the perfect doll for boys, girls, tomboys, princesses, gay, lesbian, or transgender. Whichever gender role that child needs their doll to fill, Fritzi can be that doll. The child can project a gender onto the doll, or leave it ambiguous, or even change it from one to the other as he or she sees fit. The name is gender-neutral, the clothes are gender-neutral, the doll is gender-neutral. Imagination is the key determiner.

Unfortunately, dolls need to be placed in one aisle or another in the toy store. But for the parents who are willing to think outside of the ‘pink aisle is where you find dolls’ mindset, we are happy to present an alternative. A doll that any child can identify as being of the ‘right’ gender.

A Taste of Toy Fair

I’ve written a great deal in past posts about buying dolls for the store, and the process we have to go through to get them.

And I’ve written quite a few times about Toy Fair – the annual industry wide gathering held in New York City where all the toy manufacturers, and store owners (From the very largest like Toys R Us and Walmart to the ‘little guys’ like me) meet to see the new toys.

But it’s hard to explain exactly what it’s like to walk up and down the aisles of booths, looking for the perfect products to carry in our store.

So this year, I took pictures. Here’s one of my favorite booths: Madame Alexander.

Madame Alexander Booth Toy Fair 2015

The booth for the Madame Alexander Doll Company at Toy Fair 2015

Like most manufacturers, Madame Alexander shows all their current, and especially all their new dolls.

One new doll is the 18″  ‘I’m a Pretty Black Girl’, coming out later this year. Here you can see the new doll displayed next to the book she is based on.

The new Madame Alexander 18 inch doll I'm A Pretty Little Black Girl based on the book.

The new Madame Alexander 18 inch doll I’m A Pretty Little Black Girl based on the book.

Fortunately I missed the day when Betty was in the booth signing her books. (Unfortunately I was not as lucky at the GUND booth, as the one and only ‘Grumpy Cat’ was there for a day and there was a line to ‘meet and greet’ him? Her? a mile long!)

Also interesting – at least to me:  My first morning at this year’s Toy Fair, I was down on the lower level looking for the ASTRA hospitality Suite. As a member of ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailers Association) I can hang up my coat on the coat racks in the suite for free.

It’s not that I think the regular coat racks are too expensive at $2.00 mind you, it’s that the lines to check it in in the AM, and especially at the end of the day waiting in line to pick it back up when you’re feet already hurt like the dickens can be horrendous!

So I’m walking towards the suite and I see about 200 young men and women in a line in the middle of the hall. And as I get closer I see the sign that tells me why all these young people are lined up there. It’s to get their costumes!

Like this young lady, who was at the Aurora Booth. She was dressed as a ‘Cutie Curls’ doll. In this picture she’s holding her mnamesake Cutie Curl doll (ethnic version).

Notice the polka dot top, the tulle pink dress and of course the bows in her hair. Isn’t she cute? (The doll of course!) ☺

Aurora Model and her namesake doll

I don’t know how much these people make over the four days, but I really feel sorry for them if they have to wear a costume with bad shoes. Can you imagine standing and smiling for 9 hours a day for four days straight?

Of course without actually attending it’s impossible to ever really feel like you’ve been to toy fair, but I hope you’ve gotten a bit of a feel for it from this posting.

Music Box Dolls

I know that everybody has their favorites when it comes to dolls. The most common group of doll lovers are the doll collectors, and they are divided into hundreds of sub groups such as the antique doll collectors and the Barbie® fans. There are doll shows all over the country, each catering to their own audience… Madame Alexander doll collectors for instance, or those who love Reborn Dolls.

The number of paper doll books published each year is amazing as well, many by Dover, with paper dolls representing everything from  Wedding Dresses & Medieval Gowns to Presidential families and Hollywood actresses.

But among my favorites are musical dolls. Not that I can tell you exactly why mind you, it’s one of those “I just do” type of things.

I think part of it might be as part of owning a doll store… it is practically impossible to not fall in love with every doll that we carry. If I kept just one sample of every doll I ever fell in love with, I would not have room in my home for anything else, and I strongly suspect my wife would leave me should I ever become such a doll pack rat! Of all the musical dolls we have carried over the years. I have permitted myself to keep just one.

That special doll is much like the one below… an animated music box doll with a wind-up key on the back, a mechanism that slowly rotates the head while the music plays, beautifully costumed. They are small, maybe 5 or 6 inches tall, and the music box is the old fashioned ‘tinkly’ kind as opposed to the horrendous new ‘digital chip’ electronic music boxes that I absolutely abhor and refuse to carry in my stores.

Here… have a listen…

I assume that  among all of your dolls you too have a favorite. I hope it gives you as much pleasure as my little music box doll gives to me.

Too ‘White? Stacey and Kelie Have the Answer

There is a lot of talk in our industry about ‘where the next generation of toy makers is coming from.’ I’d like to rephrase the question: In an America where more than half of the children born are children of color, where is the diversity in toys, reflective of our children, going to come from?

I thought about this as I walked Toy Fair last month. This is not a criticism, it is an observation: Toy Fair looks pretty ‘White.’

Imagine a Black Mama with three daughters aged 3, 5 and 8. She walks  into any of the big box stores hoping to get three different Black dolls for her daughters. A soft and cuddly Black lovie for her three year old, maybe a cute 12 or 13 inch Black baby doll for her five year old – hopefully with ‘natural’ hair that she can style and play with – and for the oldest, an 18 inch African-American girl doll with a nice selection of fashions.

Yeah… right.

If you don’t know these two names, you should: Stacey McBride-Irby and Kelie Charles. What Madame Alexander and Ruth Handler were to dolls in the 20th century, these two doll makers are to the 21st century. Visionairies. Pioneers. Entrepreneurs. These two women are helping to bring American Doll making into the 21st century.

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Prettie Girl Doll Lena by Stacey McBride-Irby

When you meet and talk to Stacey and Kelie you learn that they share the same story and the same passion. They’ve identified an itch – the lack of dolls of color, and they are doing their best to scratch it. It isn’t easy starting a new company from nothing more than an idea, but fortunately we live in a time and an America where it is possible.

Zaria Double Dutch Doll

Zaria is one of the Double Dutch Dolls by Kelie Charles

In the course of things it doesn’t really matter so much that I am proud of these women, or that I am proud to carry their dolls. I am but a humble doll merchant. But in an America that is changing from white to ‘of color,’ I want to stand and cheer. This is where the ‘next generation’ of doll makers is coming from.

Book Review: The Doll Shop Downstairs

The Doll Shop Downstairs Cover Image

 

The Doll Shop Downstairs is fiction, but it is loosely based on one of my heroines in the Doll Industry; Beatrice Alexander A.K.A. Madame Alexander.

As an adult, I liked The Doll Shop Downstairs, I also think it’s a nice read aloud story for the 5 and 6 year olds.

Beatrice Alexander and her sisters did in fact grow up above their parent’s store, and that store really did do doll repairs. That’s the truth behind the story. Most of the rest of it is fiction. I had fun when I found this book and tried to trace the connections between fact and fiction.

The Madame Alexander Doll company got its start during WWI, when, because of the embargo of German goods, her parent’s business couldn’t get doll repair parts easily. Worried about her parent’s financial hardship, Beatrice came up with some cloth doll designs, recruited her sisters and family to help her make them, and voila, the Madame Alexander Doll Company was born.

Beatrice Alexander

Beatrice Alexander with her dolls (courtesy Alexander Doll Co.

Madame Alexander made beautiful dolls, and started her own company in an age when women entrepreneurs were few and far between. And to be honest with you, it amazes me that almost a 100 years later, Madame Alexander is still in business and thriving. Very, very few companies last that long!

Why I Don’t Like Lamilly Dolls

Lammily Dolls at Toy FairI admire and respect Nikolay Lamm. He’s an entrepreneur and creative who successfully launched his own company making dolls. Good for him.  I just don’t like his dolls.

Lammily Ethnic dolls

Lamilly dolls were designed using the average proportions of a 19 year old American girl.

Why?

Because there are people who believe that somehow the proportions of a doll affects a child’s self image. The example most often used is Barbie – somehow, by playing with a Barbie when she is young, that girl’s self image/body image will be skewed as an adult.

I don’t agree.

Lamilly Acne

But Lammily dolls go even further… Lammilly marks. Stickers that children can put on the dolls to make them even more real. Like acne (pictured above). And moles and stitches and glasses and stretch marks.

In my opinion that goes beyond wrong, and verges on hurtful. Do real 19 year olds have acne and stitches and stretch marks? Yes… but I have never met a single woman in my whole life who hasn’t done her absolute best to hide those marks.

I don’t think playing with a Barbie will make a little girl hate her body when she grows up. But I do think that a little girl who is given a Lammilly doll with an acne sticker is going to hope to God she doesn’t look like her doll when she’s 19.

I don’t think Barbies or Bratz or Monster High dolls can make a child fearful of her future, but I think a Lammilly doll could.

What is a Doll’s Breast Plate??

Doll Breast plate

Take a look at the two cloth bodied dolls above. The one on the left has swivel arms and head, and the cloth body comes right up to the neck.

The doll on the right has a breast plate. 

Does it matter?

Ballerina 18in Doll Portrait

Would this ballerina’s outfit look as good on the doll without the breast plate? And the cute tilt of the head? You can’t do that with the doll whose head simply swivels.

A three year old won’t notice, and a five year probably won’t care. So it’s really not that big a deal. But for your fashionista – she will care.

When you’re buying doll’s clothes, how much of the doll’s breast and shoulders will be exposed, and whether the doll even has a neck, is something you might want to consider.

PS: Breast plates, and dolls constructed with or without them are not something new… it has always been this way. Here is an antique doll (c. 1900) with breast plate construction. This doll had shoulders and a neck. The holes are where her body would have been attached (sewn). Her arms were undoubtedly cloth as well. (And she probably had a glued on wig.)

Antique doll with breast plate

Based on a song: the ‘One Love’ doll

One Love DollFor the past two weeks we’ve been posting on ‘where dolls come from.’
In honor of Valentine’s Day coming up this week I’d like to mention one of my favorite
exceptions: the One Love doll.

 

Most dolls start in a doll manufacturer’s design studio, first as concepts and then drawings and designs.

 

Another common start for a doll’s journey is in the pages of a book… think Winnie the Pooh, Raggedy Ann or Peter Rabbit as examples.

 

But what makes the ‘One Love’ doll so unique, is that as far as I know, she is the only doll whose origins were inspired by the lyrics of a song!

 

The song was ‘One Love’ by Bob Marley. Bob Marley’s daughter then wrote a sweet little children’s book based on her dad’s song, and it was illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

 

And that’s how this adorable little doll came to be. Song lyrics!

 

As you can see, she has a Valentine’s Day red dress decorated with polka dot hearts and  the words One Love. Want to get a ‘One Love’ doll for someone you love? click here to go to her page on our site.

Where do Dolls Come From? Pt 2

dolls 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 posts about Toy Fair, but today’s post is more about ‘where dolls come from part 2,’ a follow-up to last week’s post.

Last week we got from the beginning – an idea or a design up through the manufacturing of the doll. Let’s pick up her ‘journey’ from there:

  • Regardless of whether a doll is made in Spain, or the Phillipines or in China, the next step is to place her in her packaging – the box that she will be in when put on the store shelf.
  • Then she’s put into cartons… from as few as 2 to as many as 48 dolls per case, and then those cartons are put into containers (the trailer part of a tractor trailer), and then the containers are stacked on a ship.
  • Dolls are not flown to the states, they are shipped by sea.
  • There are various ports of entry but the majority of the dolls enter via the West coast ports, and then are sent to warehouses. Most companies do not warehouse their own dolls, but rent space in huge warehouses near the docks that they share with all the other renters.
  • From those warehouses, the dolls will be generally be sent to the stores, but they may also be sent to distribution centers like Walmart’s or Amazon.
  • But before the dolls can be ordered and sent to the stores, they must be shown to the various buyers like myself. That’s where Toy Fair comes in.
  • For the Pattycake Doll Company, I’ll go to The Jacob Javitz convention center in NYC, and over the course of a few days – walking up and down the aisles of three floors of toys, dolls, games and books – meet with almost every manufacturer of dolls.
  • I’ll place my orders, (I will generally spend upwards of $30,000 in just two days – and I’m small potatoes compared to most!), and then return home and wait for the dolls to arrive.
  • The dolls I saw at Toy Fair may or may not yet be ready to ship… I have ordered dolls in February that didn’t arrive until December!
  • I photograph and write copy for the dolls, enter them onto the website, and that’s when you, my dear customers place your orders.

And now you know where your dolls ‘come from!’

Where do Dolls Come From? Pt 1

2

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.