Lori Guilderson, owner of Charlotte’s Friends, gives second-hand traditional dolls (think Bratz) a feminist makeover. Goodbye, unrealistic standards of beauty; hello, dolls that look like an average person!
Lori lives on Vancouver Island with her two teenage sons. She also has two adult daughters of her own, and now she’s got two granddaughters. When Lori’s granddaughter, Charlotte, was born, heavily-made-up dolls like Bratz and Barbie suddenly began to weigh on her mind. This wasn’t the beauty standard she wanted Charlotte to aspire to, so she decided to create dolls that looked more like an average kid.
Since she began, people have asked Lori to create whole families of dolls to represent actual family members. She learns about their hobbies and creates a doll that looks like each person. She has also done custom work using second-hand dolls that customers have found.
Lori says she loves that her company keeps these dolls out of the landfill. She’s part of a doll rescuing community on Facebook that regularly shares inspiration and ideas on how to find and make over discarded dolls.
Charlotte’s Friends also creates dolly tea party sets, complete with tiny picnic blankets, cakes, and cookies made from polymer clay. Lori collected model horses as a child, and she’s collecting them again as an adult with plans to remake them as animal friends for Charlotte’s friends.
Like most crafty business owners, space is an issue for Lori. She’s fortunate that her husband is a great supporter of her dolly endeavours. She sorts them into boxes according to hair color and stashes them away in her craft area. Her daughter has also helped her with washing and prepping dolls.
Lori was kind enough to take a break from the doll spa to talk a bit about what she does and why she does it.
CAGW: You mention in your bio that you came up with the idea for Charlotte’s Friends so you could give your granddaughter dolls that you feel good about. What bothered you about commercial dolls?
First of all, hello to all your Crafting a Green World readers! I’m thrilled that you’re here with me today!
I found that a lot of the dolls being sold for young girls today to be very mature looking. Especially the Bratz dolls. Most of them come with heavily painted faces, stiletto heels, and revealing outfits. I don’t believe that many families would wish for their daughters and sons to think that this is how women need to look to be beautiful.
I feel that most girls are able to relate to a doll that looks more like themselves and their friends. Natural beauty comes from the inside out…it’s not something we achieve by painting our faces and baring our midriffs!
I had an interesting experience when I participated in a local Christmas craft fair with my Charlotte’s Friends dolls. I had some “Before” examples out on the table, to show what the dolls look like before their makeovers. I found parents were using the dolls as a teaching opportunity for their children!
I observed a young father kneel down with his small daughters and ask them which doll they preferred out of the before and after examples. He then explained to them how beauty is natural and doesn’t need to be overdone with loads of makeup and scanty clothes. It was an awesome experience for me, I felt that I wasn’t just there to make some spending money with my products, but that I was actually making a difference and providing an alternative for parents. I had many moms, dads, and grandparents thank me for what I was doing.
CAGW: How old is Charlotte, and when do you plan to give her her first Friend? You must be SO excited for that day!
Charlotte is 17 months old and just became a big sister! I don’t recommend my dolls for children under the age of three, because of small pieces being a possible choking hazard, but Charlotte has shown so much interest in the dolls already that I removed the shoes on one, and she carries it around with her when she’s at our house.
She loves to look at the doll’s facial features, and it makes me feel good that she has something “normal” looking to play with. She has been keenly interested in the dolls since a very early age!
CAGW: Can you tell me a bit about your process? How you choose the dolls and how you strip their original makeup during their spa day?
Doll “rescuing” is a very rewarding, and lengthy process! Each doll typically takes around five to six hours from start to finish. I definitely don’t make a fortune doing this, it’s truly a labor of love!
My typical process starts with finding new candidates to transform. I regularly scour thrift stores in search of cast-off dolls to make over into wonderful keepsakes and playmates for children. The worse shape they’re in, the better, as it is so rewarding to totally transform a doll that could end up in the landfill into something someone will cherish.
I like to tell people that each doll is pre-loved, and that just like people, small marks and imperfections don’t deter from the true beauty that is within. Recycled leathers, wools and cottons are used to fashion dresses and footwear. I enjoy using vintage doll clothing patterns as well, as they have such a sweet girlish look to the outfits.
Working with Bratz dolls is particularly challenging, as they are manufactured with small nubs at the end of their legs instead of feet. This is for easy shoe changes. I have managed to find a few sets of bare feet that fit the dolls, and have made my own moulds so I can fashion shoes for them. I use hot glue to make the feet, and then wrap them in recycled leathers, denim, or cotton fabrics to fashion boots, runners, and other sensible and cute footwear for them.
A typical spa day will entail choosing up to 20 dolls of varying skin tones and hair colors to make over. I then use acetone and a cotton ball to remove the doll’s makeup. This is the best part of the process, as the doll is instantly transformed into a blank canvas, full of possibility!
Each doll is then treated to a spa, where I wash their faces and bodies with warm soapy water to remove the grime and dirt they’ve acquired from sitting in garage sale and thrift store bins. Their hair is also shampooed and conditioned, and tangles combed out.
They air dry for a day or so, then I cover their hair with a baby sock and wrap their bodies to protect them from the painting stage. I seal their faces, and then create facial features using watercolour pencils and pastels. Their faces are then protected with a finishing seal to make them durable for lots of play with their new friends!
I love that you give them sensible shoes and new clothes. Can you talk a bit about how you decide on the doll’s new look?
I figure a girl can’t run and play in heels, she needs sensible shoes! I will typically look at a doll’s hair color to decide on what look she might suit. If she is blonde, she may get blue eyes, whereas a redhead may get green eyes with a smattering of freckles.
I try to keep the hairstyles younger looking, so lots of braids and pony tails are in order! Sometimes after the eyes are added, a doll just looks like a tomboy, or a bookworm.
I had a mom request a mermaid doll once, and I discovered that I had some Bratz dolls with brightly coloured hair that would be perfect candidates for mermaids! Out of that sprang a pattern idea that I hope to develop and sell digitally through the Charlotte’s Friend’s store at some point in the future.
Where can folks find Charlotte’s Friends?
Charlotte’s friends can be found on my Etsy store and on my Facebook site. I ship worldwide! I have had dolls go to France, the United Kingdom, and of course all over Canada and the United States. It’s absolutely thrilling to me that something I have created is being played with by a child across the globe!
It’s also important to me to give back to the community. I have donated to a silent auction to help a Syrian family relocate to our small Island town. I also sent a large group of dolls to a missionary organization in the Dominican Republic.
I would love to offer Crafting a Green World’s readers an exclusive coupon code to use in our store! Enter the coupon code GREEN17 for 10% off any purchases of $20 or more, until December 31, 2017. I also sell handmade wallets and bags on my shop if you’re in the market for a cute and trendy cotton wallet!