Did you like playing with dolls as a child? Honestly - I wasn't really into dolls. I had a few Barbie dolls but I was never really interested in dressing them up or doing their hair - more often than not my old Barbie dolls ended up going on wild adventures like scaling mountains (our living room sofa) or zip-lining down the stairs. For someone like me (rather more of a tom-boy than a girly-girl during my childhood) a doll that wasn't geared towards being a 'fashion doll' would have been much more up my street, so you can see why I was instantly interested in Evergreen Dolls. This new company, started up by Sian Haines, recycles old fashion dolls into unique, realistic children's toys. I had the pleasure of interviewing Sian about her new company and discovering more about these wonderful toys.
What inspired you to start this business?
A year ago, I saw an Internet post about an Australian artist who repaints children’s fashion dolls, and I just loved the idea. The dolls were all unique, and looked like real children, and I wanted to buy one for my daughter. However, these particular dolls are highly sought after and very expensive, so when I saw a doll in a charity shop I decided to have a go at repainting it myself. I was really pleased with the results, and it actually became quite compulsive – there’s something really addictive about creating each different little character! I continued to buy second hand dolls from charity shops and car boot sales whenever I saw them, and soon had quite a collection (more than my daughter needed!) so decided to set up an Etsy shop and see if anyone else was interested in buying them. They are priced between £15 and £20 each.
Why do you think diversity is important in children's toys?
This is something that I feel very passionate about. We hear a lot these days about the effect that images in the fashion industry and the media can have on the self-image of teens and pre-teens, but I think we need to be looking even further back, at the toys we are giving our children and toddlers, and the sorts of ideals they might be forming through their play. Right from babyhood, there’s this idea that boys should wear blue and grey, while girls should wear purple and pink, and this is carried through to the toys that are marketed for them as well. The dolls that are currently dominating the market are usually heavily made-up, and whilst this is not a problem in itself, the lack of alternatives worries me. After all, not all women wear make-up and high heels.
Dolls are toys, and are intended for imaginative play. They are being presented as representations of human beings, yet they are not representative of real humans! Fashion dolls made by huge companies such as Mattel and MGA are made according to templates, and so the features of the dolls in any particular range are the exact same size and shape. Whilst this makes sense from a business and cost point of view, I feel very strongly that by presenting such a narrow (and unrealistic) aesthetic to the children playing with these dolls, we are in danger of promoting the idea that we should all look the same. And this can be both dangerous and damaging.
What demographics do you think are missing in mass-produced children's toys?
I feel that there’s a huge gap in the doll market in particular, between ‘baby’ dolls (Tiny Tears, Baby Annabelle, etc) and teen ‘fashion’ dolls (Barbie, Bratz, etc). There are hardly any dolls who look the same age as the children that are playing with them, and I feel we’re in danger of devaluing this precious and important stage of childhood by failing to offer children role models their own age. Children are excited to grow up, and playing the role of ‘mummy’ with a baby doll, or acting out different adult scenarios with a Barbie is hugely important, as role play is one of the ways that children make sense of the world. However, I do wonder whether, by only offering children the opportunity to practice being adults, we are leading them to believe that being a grown up is more exciting or important than being a child.
What sort of individualised features do you try to include in your products?
The whole idea behind Evergreen Dolls is to make each doll unique, just like the children who play with them. I don’t specifically try to include any particular features, I just try to make them all different! When I’m painting the dolls, I tend to look at pictures of real children as inspiration, to make sure I don’t fall into the trap of always painting the same eye shape, etc. The process of painting is different each time – sometimes I’ll start with the eyes, sometimes the teeth, sometimes the mouth, etc. There’s no set formula, and that helps me to keep the end product fresh.
How long does it take you to turn a regular fashion doll into an Evergreen Doll?
This is a tricky question to answer, as there are a lot of steps that go into producing a finished doll, and not all of them are always necessary. The first stage is to clean up the doll, wash the hair, and recondition it. Depending on how messy the hair is, it can take up to 24 hours soaking in fabric conditioner to make it silky again. Some dolls might have stains that need a week or more of intensive stain treatment to get rid of. Once I’ve removed the factory paint using acetone, the repainting process takes several hours, as I build up very thin layers of paint to ensure a smooth finish with no visible brush strokes, and each layer has to be completely dry before the next is applied. To give you a rough idea, I’ve spent four hours today painting the just the whites of the eyes onto six dolls. The clothes are also all hand made by my mum, so that adds to the time. Depending on the outfit, it will take her somewhere between an hour and a half to two hours to dress each doll.
How would you describe the public reaction to your project?
I’ve been really quite taken aback by the reaction to my dolls. I’ve received so much support from people I know, but also complete strangers, and have had some lovely messages. My Etsy shop has had a lot of worldwide interest – particularly in the lead up to Christmas, but my second lot of dolls which were released recently have also proved popular. I’ve had orders placed from the UK, as well as across Europe, the US, Canada and Australia. My dolls have also featured in local and national media, which is wonderful!
What does the future have in store for Evergreen Dolls?
I have several craft fairs coming up in the next few months, so I’m busy working on a new lot of dolls to take there. It will be the first time I’ve sold the dolls face-to-face rather than online, and so I’m looking forward to chatting to the buyers and hearing what they think of the dolls! I’m also working on expanding my range of doll accessories – I currently sell little glasses, but I’ve been experimenting with Welly-boots and a few other items to add to my Etsy shop. I recently filmed a short video about Evergreen Dolls with the BBC, which will be online soon.
What kind of personalised doll would you have liked to play with as a child?
As a child, I was a big fan of dolls, and my sister and I had dozens of them. We would have loved to have owned a doll that looked like us, but sadly such things did not exist then! My mum was – and still is – great at sewing and knitting, and we loved it when she made bespoke outfits for our dolls! I think it was partly the fact that it was one-of-a-kind that made it so special, and that’s what I’m trying to create with my dolls.
Take a look at the Evergreen Dolls online shop and Facebook page for more details!