Cowichan dollmaker reaping what she sews
You can feel the love after entering the cozy confines of Bamboletta Dolls’ workshop at Whippletree Junction.
The historic storefront finds a dozen female friends on couches, at tables, and sitting at sewing machines making various parts of the wool-and-cotton dolls created by owner Christina Platt a decade ago.
“I was reading about the Steiner (educational) philosophy and its dolls, and wanted to get my niece a doll, but I made my own,” said Platt, sewing the face onto one of 3,500 Bambolettas her thriving company hand-makes annually.
About 80 of the gender-neutral dolls are snapped up within days of Bamboletta’s weekly internet posting, PayPal processing, then mailing.
Several hundred deemed as seconds are sold for charity donations.
“It could be poor stitching, stains or other factors,” Platt, 37, explained of her one-of-a-kind dolls involving a squad of at-home sewers and stuffers.
Bamboletta raised about $50,000 last year auctioning some dolls, with proceeds helping Victoria’s Baby Molly Campbell, the Red Cross, Easter Seal projects, Doctors Without Borders, and other needs.
But Platt signalled she’s often stunned by the popularity of her solid, bright-hair dolls marketed globally.
“It’s a bit overwhelming. We can’t keep them in stock, we often sell out in a few minutes,” she said.
Her dolls are made by Wednesdays, dressed and photographed Thursdays, then listed Fridays on Bamboletta’s hot website.
“The reason I’m where I am is social media,” the mother of two said. “Word of mouth, Facebook and blogging’s been incredible.”
So has walk-in traffic at her Cowichan Bay store stocking some 35 dolls, plus pocket models.
The bemused-face Bambolettas fetch $125 for the 10-inch model, and $250 for the 15-inch version.
But Bambolettas have never been about making bucks, rather memories, jobs, friends and happy customers.
“The number-one thing is what I created in my kitchen 10 years ago now supports 40 women in the Cowichan Valley,” said Platt, nixing notions of selling her business, or farming pieces to Chinese factories.
She admitted Dragon’s Den tycoon Kevin O’Leary would hate her people-first bent, keeping Bamboletta out of Beijing.
“I’d lose what makes these dolls special.”
“They’re made with love,” stated Brandi Teufel.
The five-year Bamboletta artist called the dolls “a family heirloom” and boss Christina “a giver to everyone.”
All involved feel that love, noted dollmaker Brooke Cannon.
‘”There’s a little bit magic in these dolls. It comes from how everyone who walks in here loves it so much.”
Knock-offs could be tried, Platt realizes, “but it’s not a Bamboletta.”
And 20% of her dolls — made in pale, dark-tan, black and sun-kissed skin tones — are bought by eager adults.
“It’s the innocence. These dolls protect childhood, and adults feel that too.”
“You don’t want to put them down,” added Sarah DeVito. “They need that Bamboletta look.”
“You make sure they’re a nice, plump doll shape,” said Rachel van der Graaf.
Bamboletta — ‘little doll’ in Platt’s Italian family — doesn’t do custom orders, preferring a unique toy. That’s why Platt plumbs her staff’s individual talents.
“I find jobs that fit them. They’re not hired for their skills, but for their personality.”
Take Dutch-born clothing designer Thamar Raaijmaakers.
“I’m lucky I love where I work. It’s just awesome how so many people put so much love and attention into these dolls.”
Clothes-maker Nicole Everett agreed.
“It’s nice seeing a business that’s not like McDonald’s. It’s the handmadeness, and the creativity here. This job is what I’ve learned to do since I was six years old.”
“You can buy two Barbies,” added Platt, “or you can buy one Bamboletta, and know it’ll be handed down from generation to generation.”
Maybe her organic dolls absorb the scent of home, making them a comfort keepsake, pondered Platt, dropping the perfect pun.
“You reap what you sew.”