A few weeks ago, a little post popped up in social feeds across Australia - you may have seen it. It was a link to a brand new tumblr page called Tree Change Dolls. These pre-loved dolls are made from discarded toys rescued from op-shops and tip shops around Tasmania by their creator, Sonia Singh. Sonia gives the dolls a 'make under' by swapping their high-maintenance, high-fashion, scary hair and make-up, for a more 'down-to-earth' style.
Sonia, who is an artist, illustrator, scientist and science communicator based in Hobart, Tasmania, gently removes their heavily made up faces, then hand paints natural features back on and replaces missing feet with gumboots. Her mum (a super talented knitter) then crafts new outfits for them.
Browsing her before and after images of the dolls' transformations made my heart sing and I wasn't the only one crushing on this awesome, eco-idea. Tree Change Dolls went viral on social that week. There was a tidal wave of people who were touched by the story of these recycled dolls.
We were keen to share this sweet little story with our readers so we contacted Sonia and despite being swamped with emails and overwhelmed by the response to her Tree Change Dolls - she said YES to letting us tell her story - eeeeeeek!
Sonia and her sisters grew up playing with second-hand dolls and home-made toys in the beautiful Tasmanian environment. Because she loved dolls as a kid, when she came across them in tip shops...she could see their potential for a second life. Sonia is a scientist by trade but after being given a redundancy from the CSIRO, she embarked on this little hobby to give these neglected dolls a 'make under' and a new lease of life.
Initially she was a tad embarrassed to be seen playing with dolls so she would tinker with them when no-one else was around. Slowly her collection grew and she had to come out of the closet. Eventually, backed by her awesome family, she decided to see if anybody else was interested in her little hobby - they never expected it to go viral! Overnight, they were inundated with emails and messages from people all over the world wanting to buy the dolls but she had only made 12!
Unknowingly, Sonia has tapped into the debate about the hypersexualisation of children's toys but she never intended to make a political statement. She simply saw what they were and what they COULD be. As her husband John said 'These overmade up dolls look like they're dressing for everyone else whereas when Sonia's finished with them, they look like they're doing it for themselves. She's just so NICE to them'. A common theme of the feedback they received was that these are the kind of dolls parents would prefer their kids to play with. They look like real people with real features. Sonia and John hope that if anything, this project might mean that some of the big toy companies may rethink what they're producing...and that wouldn't be a bad thing at all. We couldn't agree more. Here's some more examples of Sonia's work from her tumblr page.
"Will we be stocking Tree Change Dolls in the Ecolosophy Shop?" I hear you ask... we WISH! but no (insert sad face emoji). After their initial Tree Change Dolls adventure, Sonia and John don't really have any intention to become big doll manufacturers per se. Sure... Sonia will continue with her hobby but what they really want is to promote the idea of reusing and recycling old dolls to give them a new lease of life. To bring them back into circulation as beloved toys to be played with rather than having them abandoned in landfill.
A Tree Change Doll will be released for auction monthly on eBay to raise money to donate to worthy causes the family wish to support. The first Tree Change Doll sold for $1875 (wow!) with 50% of the proceeds going to the International Women's Development Agency to celebrate International Women's Day (the other 50% went to start up costs for their new venture).
The next doll will be up for auction in April. Sonia has been working with a Grade 5 class at a local primary school recently and the children have come up with a name and back story for the doll (she is a bush walker!). They have also chosen a charity - the Tasmanian Land Conservancy - that will receive 75% of the funds raised.
Sonia and John have also opened up an etsy shop where they occasionally release some of the Tree Change Dolls for sale (taking care to give prior warning, then releasing them in stages so that everyone stands a fair chance) but they get snapped up pretty quick!
If you would like to support their new business venture, you can purchase a set of recycled blank cards featuring the Tree Change Dolls from their etsy shop. We did and they're just lovely. They are also selling limited edition signed images like the ones pictured in this blog and there are plans in the works to sell Sonia's mum's patterns there too so you can knit and sew your own dolls clothes like these ones below. (Arrrrhhh we adored knitting our dolly clothes when we were tikes - the memories!)
Here's an interview with Sonia, John and Sonia's mum that aired on The Feed not long after the Dolls went viral. Sonia is running some workshops close to her home in Tasmania showing how to make under your own dolls. If it wasn't such a long swim... I'd be there in a split second! Or you can continue following the Tree Change story like us on tumblr, twitter, instagram and Facebook.
As a thank you to Sonia and her family for letting us share their story we've made a donation to the Tasmanian Land Conservancy. The Tasmanian Land Conservancy is a registered environmental organisation that raises funds to protect irreplaceable sites, endangered species' habitats and rare ecosystems by buying and managing private land.You can find out more about their work here.
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