finder.com.au chats with the Tasmanian talent who is changing the way we view girls’ dolls with her award-winning Etsy shop Tree Change Dolls.
Tasmania’s Sonia Singh recently took home the Community Choice prize at the Etsy Design Awards 2015 for Australia and New Zealand.
Her Etsy shop, Tree Change Dolls, upcycles old dolls, clears off their original makeup and gives them a more natural look. Singh sources discard dolls and tones down their makeup while her mum sews new clothes for them.
We spoke with the Etsy shop owner about how she got started, and what the win meant for her (it’s a lot more than just a trip to New York!).
Why did you choose Etsy as the vehicle for selling your dolls?
"Etsy is a great way to buy and sell handmade items. From the beginning I wanted to set up an Etsy shop, even before I came up with an idea for what to sell!"
What does winning the Etsy Award mean to you?
"It's so amazing! I can't wait to go on my prize-winning trip to New York and the Etsy Headquarters. It's all thanks to all my supporters who voted for me and I'm very flattered and grateful. Etsy has been a great way for me to change my upcycling idea and hobby into a small business. It has made me part of a global community of such talented and creative people."
How did you get started creating these dolls?
"When I lost my job in science due to funding cuts, I had some time when my daughter was in child care to get creative. I had been brainstorming some upcycling ideas for a while. I decided to try upcycling dolls because I loved playing with dolls as a child. I started buying some old dolls from op-shops and tip shops to see if I could restyle them into the kind of dolls I would have loved as a child, dolls that reflected my own childhood values."
Your website talks about how a ‘tree change’ means moving from the city to the country. Is this something you’ve done?
"I have had a bit of a tree change. I moved back to my home state of Tasmania, just south of Hobart, to start a family. I wanted the more laid-back lifestyle and to be closer to family. Previously I was living and working in Melbourne city."
How did your mum get involved in the project?
"My mum offered to make clothes for my dolls when I showed her how I was repainting their faces."
How many dolls have you made (and sold) now?
"I only create a limited number of Tree Change Dolls. Each one is hand-painted and styled by me, and clothes are mostly made by my mum, so each one takes many hours to create. The demand for my dolls continues to astound me. My dolls sell out very quickly whenever I post them for sale. On Etsy I also sell downloadable knitting patterns, greeting cards, and a colouring book of my own drawings of my Tree Change Dolls that I have put together with my mum Silvia, which is how I have had over 2000 sales in my Etsy shop in only 6 months!"
Why did you choose Bratz dolls instead of Barbies?
"All the dolls I use are second-hand, so it partly depends on what dolls I find. I have used various dolls, but I find more of some than others. I also want to give Tree Change Dolls a certain child-like look and for this reason I don't use the more adult-proportioned dolls."
How do you feel about the current dolls (i.e. Bratz, Barbie) that are sold in most shops?
"I loved playing with dolls as a child, and I still love looking at all the different styles of dolls available, although I haven't bought a brand-new doll in a very long time. All my Tree Change Dolls are recycled dolls. As a child, I had a very miscellaneous collection of mostly second-hand dolls. I loved the variety because I liked to create unique personalities and characters for each one, and to play elaborate games with them, especially with my twin sister. My sisters and I also used to sew clothes and costumes for our dolls. Part of the fun of creating each Tree Change Dolls is making each one a little unique individual."
Do you make male dolls as well? If so, is there much of a demand?
"I create some boy Tree Change Dolls, but they are not as popular as the girl dolls. I used to love having some boy dolls when I was a child. I remember cutting some of my dolls’ hair short because I didn't have enough boy dolls!"
Why did you choose to pose them in nature settings?
"Most of my best childhood memories are times spent outside playing in nature and exploring. I used to take my dolls outside to play, too. They would get dirty and have all kinds of adventures. I would love to inspire that kind of play for other children because for me it was just the best fun in the world!"
Were you a big fan of dolls when you were younger? If so, did you have a favourite?
"I didn't have any one particular favourite doll. They way I played with dolls was like a puppet show, or acting out a play. It was story telling, I guess. It was about the different characters interacting, so I loved to have a variety of different dolls to play out the stories my sisters and I liked to invent."