Woman Transforms Thrift Shop Fashion Dolls Into ‘Real’ Girls

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She is not the first to perform make-unders on discarded dolls — fashion dolls in particular. People have been doing it for years. But ever since Sonia Singh from Hobart in Tasmania, Australia, started sharing the results of her work via social media just a few months ago, she quickly rose to become the fairy godmother of a new ideal: Transforming dolls into the real deal for girls to play and identify with.

By now, Sonia trademarked her creations, Tree Change Dolls, auctions off a doll each month for a good cause, and successfully runs an Etsy shop of dolls, prints and greeting cards. Her doll collections are often sold out within hours after being showcased. She’s made more than 1,000 sales since February of products including prints and knitting patterns. What is the key to her success?

The answer can be found in random comments on Sonia’s Facebook page that has almost 400,000 enthusiastic followers, a number growing every day. The fans, mostly women, are moved by what is described as “capturing the true spirit of childhood” in each individual doll. It’s the natural looks, the hand-knitted clothing and underlying message that appeals to people all over the world. Sonia supports the idea of giving old and broken dolls new life instead of letting them end up as plastic waste in landfills, adding to the pollution of our planet. By upcycling second-hand fashion dolls into toys that are closer to the everyday reality of life and nature, she hopes to establish a better connection to how children perceive themselves and their friends, because the dolls resemble real children.

TreeChangeDollsteethSonia gets her dolls from tip shops and second-hand markets. She removes the often excessive make-up with acetone and paints new, more natural looking faces. Some of the dolls even have gaps in between their teeth, tiny imperfections which are highly appreciated by parents who have children with similar dental features. It makes them feel acknowledged and real. When feet, hands, shoes or other body parts are missing, Sonia repairs those as well. The knitted clothes are designed and made by Sonia’s mother. The knitting patterns can be downloaded from the Tree Change Dolls website, where people can also find links to do-it-yourself video tutorials about how to clean up and repaint the dolls.

Sonia emphasized more than once that she doesn’t see herself as a doll manufacturer, and she can only create a certain amount of dolls in a given period of time. Her encouragement for others to DIY has proven fruitful and is creating a community and movement she never could have anticipated when she looked for a new hobby after losing her job as a science communicator.

Bright Hill Upcycled Dolls, Noodle and Roo, Playful Child Dolls, and Earth Wood Beauty Dolls are just a few of the other artists out there who are giving used and unwanted fashion dolls a second chance, inspired by Sonia Singh.

TreeChangeDollsgardenWhile Sonia and her family are rapidly building what they want to remain a small business, the awareness of restyling old dolls and reducing landfill waste is spreading in a happy, infectious buzz. Some just enjoy looking at pictures of the refurbished dolls before and after, others really want their kids or grandkids to play with them.

And even if Sonia’s dolls might sell as highly collectible items, at prices ranging from 65 to 250 Australian dollars, they are made with the intent for children to play with, to reconnect to values closer to our true selves. It’s indeed the spirit of childhood symbolized in a hobby-gone-viral, with thousands of fans embracing perhaps their own inner child.

Image credits: Sonia Singh – Tree Change Dolls

Gina Vodegel

Gina Vodegel (1963) is a freelance writer-journalist from Dutch Indo-European descent. She grew up in Maastricht in the Netherlands and moved to Belgium more than a decade ago where she enjoys rural life with a bundle of furry friends (dogs and cats) she rescued herself. She's a contributing editor for Puurzaam Magazine, a quarterly magazine issued by the Gulpener Beerbrewery, located in the south. They're a small family brewery who were the first in the Netherlands to implement sustainable energy in their production process. They won several awards for their beers and were granted the Dutch CSR Award in 2014. Puurzaam Magazine explores theme-wise covering 3BL and kindred topics.