Bamboletta founder Christina Platt, winner of the Small Business BC award for Best Community Impact, discusses her company's community-focused vision and why she would never manufacture overseas
A $250 doll may seem like a tough sell, but not for Christina Platt’s company, Bamboletta Dolls Inc. Platt says she routinely sells out of the 80 handmade dolls her company produces each week, adding that sales have grown steadily over the past five years that she’s been running Bamboletta full-time.
Platt made her first doll on a whim, about 12 years ago, as a gift for her niece when she struggled to find a modern doll that wasn’t made of plastic. She modelled the doll after a classic design called Waldorf Dolls, which feature neutral expressions, allowing children to play with them in what Platt calls “a very open-ended way.” She bought a German doll-making book, scrounged up the materials, including an Ikea sheepskin rug—“I cut the wool down to stuff the doll because I didn’t know where else to get wool,” Platt says with a laugh—and her first creation was born.
“I made one, and then another for a friend, and then another friend, and then it just kind of took off from there, from doing the farmers markets in Vancouver and then craft shows,” says Platt of Bamboletta’s early years. It wasn’t until she moved to the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island that she launched into the business full-time, hiring women in her community—mostly stay-at-home moms—to help craft the meticulously sewn dolls, made with all-natural materials.
Platt now has 34 women in her employ, including one who helps with the customer-service side; two who help manage Bamboletta’s thriving online social community; and the rest of whom work on doll crafting. “I’m giving employment to stay-at-home moms because I know what it’s like to be at home,” says Platt, “and especially here, because it’s so rural here. Financially, it’s so nice for these women to have money aside from their husband’s, too. It’s very empowering to them.”
At the heart of the business is a commitment to the employees, the Bamboletta community and the doll-making process. “If I were to manufacture overseas, yes, I would make a lot more money. I know business-wise, it makes sense to do it that way,” says Platt. “There’s a quality to our dolls that our customers truly appreciate, and that is that they are handmade. They don’t just buy the doll; I think that they truly are buying the process as well. They get to know all of the moms that work for us and there’s a personal connection there. I think that really adds an amazing value to our dolls. I just can’t imagine doing it any other way.”
Local charities also play a big role in the Bamboletta business, whether it’s donating dolls to groups like Ronald McDonald House and Canuck Place, or helping arrange private fundraisers. “My whole business has been led by what feels like the right thing to do,” says Platt.
In the past, retailers such as Whole Foods have approached Platt to carry her dolls, but she’s hesitated to grow the business beyond what her current set-up can sustain. Two years ago, during a time of fevered growth, she was faced with what she calls “the dark side of dolls”: people buying Bambolettas only to resell them at huge markups on eBay. “It felt like so much pressure when you get to a certain level of success, to get bigger,” says Platt. “I actually scaled things down, because I felt like I was losing that thing about the dolls that made them so special. I was signing cheques, and I didn’t know who the people’s names were anymore—it just didn’t feel right.”
Now that the business has reached a steady pace, Platt is looking at setting up a retail location in Vancouver, but still keeping her Cowichan Valley studio and stay-at-home-mom staff. “We’ll see how it evolves and where it grows to,” she says, “but Vancouver next.”