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Making and selling dolls: is it sustainable?

Jan 27, 2019

    1. Hey everyone! I wanted to ask people who make and sell dolls if this business is sustainable for them? For those of you that do this regularly, what do you think about sustainability?

      I don't really mean can I do this sustainably so style and preference and all that are not really factored into my question. I just want to hear personal experiences, or maybe any experiences from people who know people who make dolls? Thanks! :3nodding:
      #1 Boyygrunge, Jan 27, 2019
      Last edited: Jan 27, 2019
    2. I've sculpted a few dolls in the past but I didn't cast them. But as someone who follows a lot of independent doll-making artists, it seems like a heck of a lot of work for very little pay-back. The costs of molding and casting, let alone all the supplies, is a small fortune.
      I'm sure @batchix would be able to shed some light on the subject as she's a doll sculptor who's been in this hobby for quite some time.
      • x 6
    3. Unless you have a big following of people who will buy your dolls there is little chance you could make a living off of making dolls. Literally put hours and hours of work into one doll to maybe never sell it is not worth the amount of effort. This is kind of why you need a loyal following more than you need skill to sculpt dolls. As I've seen a few artist dolls that hardly function but are quite popular and make alot of money just because the doll is a fashionable or a rare item or just follows a popular aesthetic (oh boy have I seen alot of that).
      Maybe you'll have better luck, you might make a masterpiece and everyone will throw money at you I don't know it can happen. From my experience though it's a big waste of time and effort just to result in maybe never selling the doll you just poured your heart and soul into. You may even get plenty of compliments but unless the people put down the money, unless they actually order the doll you made and until you see sales from it then the words are hollow and do not justify just how much time you put into that work of art and therefore don't make it a sustainable job.
      • x 5
    4. One issue about selling an artist doll is that the doll needs to be something liked by others. Many people have ideas for dolls they'd like, but that doesn't mean others will like it as well. If you're wanting to create dolls to sell for profit, from a business standpoint you'd need to create something well liked or needed. If you do decide to take the plunge and try for it, you may want to research what aesthetics are currently popular with the doll market. Maybe do surveys. Different styles are always going in and out of popularity, but there are a few that tend to stay, such a fairyland sculpts. Research why popular sculpts are so popular. Sometimes the jointing or body aesthetics can be the reason, not just the pretty face.
      • x 2
    5. A lot of individual artists are stopping altogether or scaling back because of all the recast stuff, from what I've heard by personally talking to a few. I would not recommend dollmaking being your primary income.
      • x 3
    6. i don’t make dolls specifically, but there are a lot of fabrication techniques that overlap with my line of work and bjd making. so i can’t speak on marketing or consumer based production, but i do have some thoughts on elements of the dollmaking process.

      based on what i know about molding and casting, if you are really interested in making dolls for a liveable profit, you have to be willing to invest a lot of capital upfront to produce your first batch of dolls. labor and material costs can be pretty inflated when dealing with casting companies (not to mention shipping since most casting companies are in asia) while casting the dolls yourself is a huge undertaking that requires a lot of expensive equipment (pressure pots, de-gassing chambers, safety equipment, etc.) before even talking about the cost of scilicone and resin. plus many hours of work, practice, and getting it wrong before you get it right.

      this might be a little obvious to some but i think it’s worth noting, outsourcing as little as possible is best if maximum profit is your goal. i don’t know the nature of your illness, but home casting, even with proper safety equipment in place (vent hoods, nitrile gloves, respirators, etc.) is still bad for you. aside from being physically difficult which can become hard to manage when your health is not tops, exposure to toxic materials is something to consider when planning for the future.

      i hope this helps even a little, and i wish the best to you while working through your situation.
      • x 1
    7. I've been wondering the same. I've decided that if it's something that I love doing, and creating, then it is worth trying to see what path that leads to. I've realized that there can be many paths that a hobby can lead to, as far as creating a sustainable source of income. It seems that people/collectors will go through phases of what they like, but I believe they will always like ball jointed dolls because of how realistic they are, and how customizable they are. My Grandmother made dolls years ago that everyone was already making, but she put her own style into them with face painting and clothing, and all the doll shops ordered what she created and she couldn't keep up with the orders. She simply loved the dolls, but wanted to try different things with them.
    8. I haven't made a doll... yet... but I've had experience running a "small business" where I was casting and selling resin items of the things that I sculpted, as well as selling finished customized toys. As is being pointed out, this sort of work is very expensive and time consuming. I started my last projects because what I was creating was something that I personally wanted, and I enjoyed having the creative outlet. Being able to sell these things to others who enjoyed my work was an added bonus. I sold enough that I was able to afford to go to the associated conventions and splurge on some collectables, etc. If I look at how much time and resources I put into everything, it's pretty obvious that I wasn't even making minimum wage though. I referred to it as "my hobby that paid for itself".

      To be sustainable and successful requires a lot of dedication, luck, and support from friends and family. I know that the cost of living in my area makes it nearly impossible for an independent artist to get by without already having things such as a workspace/home/etc... Several artists working together and sharing some of those expenses seems more practical. In less expensive areas, I imagine a person could get by, but it would still be a labor of love. And even then, it's all still a gamble based on if what they are creating is embraced by enough people to make enough sales and turn a profit. My experience is the higher the price, the smaller your customer base. And while I think the community here is aware of the cost of the hobby, and more willing to pay the higher prices than other hobby communities are, it does still seem to have a high percentage of younger people who have to be very selective of their purchases...

      Anyhow- blah blah blah, old guy is rambling... I'm hoping to make a doll, and if I do, I'll make it for me. It would be nice to be able to make and sell several dolls to offset the expenses, but right now I'm a long way from being at that point, so it's all conjecture until I'm a lot farther along.
      • x 2
    9. I've done similar things in the past, and it was a lot of work for not much reward.

      Part of the problem is, you need to be exceptional at a lot of things - including photography, branding, answering emails, budgeting etc aside from doll making, and it's hard to be good enough at all of it.

      The bit I struggled with most was maintaining a peppy online presence; I'm quite anti-social by nature, so once I started getting 30 or 100 or 500 likes on an image, and a lot of (friendly!) messages from strangers, it became psychologically demanding in a way which wasn't fun. You are the product. Not your doll. You're sort of...selling who you are, and your doll is just a kind of extension of what an awesome person you are, and how your client can buy in to your life and be awesome too. Becase its never about selling an object, but the feeling associated with the object - you don't sell coca cola, but the sunlight through a woman's hair on the beach in summer or the excitement of Christmas lights being turned on for the first time.
      It's very stressful and sort of. Weird. It's weird to have your Self become a kind of commodity you're parcelling up to promote online and selectively reveal. You know, cute photos of your cat in your craft room etc, so you're approachable. Editing parts of your life to display as your online brand.

      So yeah, there are lots of parts to running a small enterprise, and it surprised me how much I hated that part of it. It could have been financially sustainable, but psychologically it was *absolutely* not.
      • x 3
    10. Holy cow, how did I forget about all of THIS! I'm a huge introvert as well- and I wasn't ready for any of the "business" stuff... At first it's a bit of a rush when you develop a small following and it can help drive you to do your thing and learn all the extra steps... but after a while it's a liability because you have to do the song-and-dance non-stop for the sake of the product. But it can't be "a product"- it's your baby and you love it, and how dare you try to make a profit off of it!

      Now when I go to conventions, I always check in on any of my artist friends who are there. I'll watch their table or get them food, or just let them sneak under their table to hide for a few minutes- whatever they need. You'll make cherished friendships- regardless of success or failure, so if nothing else you'll have those and the memories.