Trying to Understand the BJD Industry

Mar 25, 2011

    1. Things doll companies and the "BJD Industry" have nothing to do with:
      "Delicate Eastern philosophy".
      Being "older". Who do you think you are, Gandalf?
      Your entire thinking is massively flawed and you clearly don't quite get it. THIS ISN'T A "LUXURY PRODUCT". You are not buying a whirlpool bath.

      Let's put this another way: you're in an art gallery and you see a sculpture you like, so you buy it and take it away. The next day you notice that >gasp< some of the wood/stone/metal/etc is a different shade or texture from the rest! Do you:
      a) Throw a hissy fit on DOA.
      b) Realize that the sculpture is a unique work that has been made by hand and is bound to have some character of its own.

      Perhaps you'd like to rethink your attitude to the hobby and life in general if you think everything should be perfect all the time.
       
    2. I dont think theres anything wrong with the way these companies are doing business, and im very happy that they are even making these dolls available at all. These dolls are hand cast, when we buy them we are paying for their skills and time. They work in countries with high standards of living too so we can take into account that they arent children in sweat shops, but they need safety equipment, materials, training, etc which costs money. I have never received a doll that looks "like a spotted pony" and the fast that the dolls are different colors can 1. be contributed to the fact that resin naturally ages, so if you receive a part thats a different color that your pre-existing doll it could just be that yours has been exposed to air/sunlight/environmental factors for longer. 2. even if there is a specific formula it can change from person to person. you dont count grains of salt every time you cook do you?
      Everytime I have dealt with companies (which has been alot, from many different companies) they are always extremely polite and accomodating. They fix broken pieces, missing pieces, etc only asking for photo evidence because we are so far away. I think its phenomenal to have that kind of interaction with a company and the artists themselves.
      As for iplehouse... They already sold the stock they had for the move, if you dont have a location how are you going to produce product? if you dont have a location where are you going to even keep it? They are a great company with beautiful dolls so just chill out and wait for them to restock, its not going to kill you. They even keep us up to date with their holidays and issues with artists/moves/etc. I think they are very accommodating to our western way of thinking.

      We arent "making excuses" for them because they havent done anything wrong. Again, reiterating the "if you dont like it, dont buy it". not to mention how horribly generalized the statements are. many doll companies resins are nearly perfect color matches, just because one hasnt found its way of doing things yet doesnt mean they should all be demonized.
       
    3. Let's all take a step back from this debate, breathe and count to ten - I've moved it to debate because it isn't really about buying and shipping anymore. Some posts are verging on personal attacks which are not acceptable.

      I don't believe that the majority of BJD companies are as ineffectual as you've said Hugo, Volks' resin colours are consistent from batch to batch and even formula to formula - I have a pureskin Megu head on an oldskin body and the match is pretty much perfect. The only difference in colour is caused by the MSC sealant on my girl's face-up. But you are right in one respect, if some companies can do this...why can't others?

      Lulu is correct in saying that in order to understand why BJD companies operate the way they do, you do have to at least try to understand the underlying culture that the artists come from. It isn't 'delicate Eastern sensibilities' we're talking about here, it's just a different way of living and seeing the world. It's not better than the Western way, but it isn't weak either. BJD companies opened up business in the West in response to the large numbers of Westerners using proxies and shopping services to try and buy BJDs from the East. Rather than have us pay even more for a doll by going through a proxy, many companies opened up English sites and employed translators to engage with their customers directly - which is a lot more expensive for the BJD companies themselves because they have to employ someone to fill that role. So in response to our demand, they took business initiative and opened up.

      As consumers we have a right to vote with our money if we're not receiving a service of a standard that we expect. As businesses, they have the right to draw up their own policies and procedures. If neither party likes the way the other expects to do business, business isn't transacted and both lose out. Surely it is better to vote with your money and go to a company whose customer service is consistently excellent? Particularly as other BJD companies' business models are likely to change if they see that other companies are prospering by doing things differently. It doesn't have to be acrimonious.
       
      • x 1
    4. I don't think it's right to compare BJDs to manufacturing t-shirts, or even coffee cups. I would be a lot happier if this was a case of 'if doll company x can manage it, why can't doll company y?'

      I mean, if I am looking for quality control in, say, cars, I am not going to compare their practices to companies that make shoes. There is no logic in that. :sweat


      What others have said rings true, though- these are, on the whole, small teams of people producing small scale art pieces for a consumer base that happens to include westerners. I don't think they advertise their dolls as 100% perfect items- indeed, many companies pre-warn buyers of things such as seam lines and colour differences between batches, in order to avoide dissapointment and misunderstanding- much as how some companies have small print that says things like 'exact design may vary from that shown.' Also, no matter how often you say it Hugo, mixing resin is not 100% fool-proof. I can go into a toy shop and find two supposidly identical Barbie dolls that are not actually the same colour plastic, so even big companies can fall foul of chemical mixes. This becomes a more common issue when you are dealing with small companies, who simply cannot afford the same level of quality control on batches that huge companies can. So, it is likely that Volks (a very large company, that makes more than just BJDs) may be able to afford better quality control than smaller BJD companies (remembering that quality control involves throwing away casts that are not 100% perfect- a costly practice for small companies), and possibly even better materials and dyes.

      And yes, if you don't approve of their company practices, the best way to get their notice (as with anything involving money) is to tell them so and then stop buying. Companies always pay attention when their income is threatened. ;)
       
    5. Thanks for stepping in with the moderation, Jescissa. I had become discomfited with the tone of this thread and the retaliatory nature of some of the comments.

      Some of the issue here, I think, is the devotion we as doll owners often feel towards one or two of our favorite brands. Naturally, we become protective, even when at times their business model is less than ideal. It really isn't entitlement if we want a functional and up-to-date website, with accurate information about a product that costs several hundred dollars. I can't tell you the number of times I've gone to a new doll company site and found a slow-loading disaster of messy code and broken flash. It doesn't make me send a nasty letter to the company, but it does considerably lower my chances of ordering from them. The accessibility is important, and for many hobbyists who remember the difficult days of the past, that accessibility is on a sliding scale quite different from a newcomer to the hobby. Many of us remember the hard times and are likely to put up with more bother to get a doll. Others see a wide range of companies and expect their business to be welcome, and appreciated. Is that good or bad? Well, that's the debatable part.

      I might not own any Volks dolls, but I do admire their outreach to their buyers, their consistent product, and their business model. No matter your opinion of the dolls themselves, I feel their business model is very much the gold standard for selling dolls outside of the Asian market. Though many of their dolls are hard to get and limited, which can be frustrating, they've worked hard to make themselves, as a company, available to their buyers.

      Because we are all buyers. We are consumers of a product, and while we vary on what we expect for our money, it is not 'entitlement' to expect a high-quality product delivered in a reasonable time frame, with integrity and communication from the seller. Yes, there are language barriers, yes, these are small companies, yes these dolls are made by hand, as works of art. But being a small company is no excuse for having a poor business model, a poor product, or a frustrating and complicated communications process. And if we get those things, we can hardly be blamed if we're not happy about it. I don't think anybody wants mass-produced plastic, here. But I think we would like to be treated as though our business is welcome, and not like these companies are selling to us just as a favor.

      As the artwork model has been brought up, let me put it this way. Perhaps I am a budding artist and I want to sell some of my work. Do I label it badly, miss my appointments with galleries, have incorrect contact info on my website, and present it sloppily matted and covered in lint? Do I use the cheapest materials I can find in my work? No. It doesn't matter how good my art is. When you sell it, it stops being 'just' art. It stays art, but it is also a commodity. It is part of a business transaction. And business transactions have standards and rules, according to culture, according to the expectations of the customer, according to the conscience of the seller. In our love for certain doll makers, we can't afford to forget that, because when we do, we become a passive part of the model instead of an active participant.
       
      • x 3
    6. Look folks, this is about business. Unless you are independently wealthy, and can just drop money into a black hole of artistic temperament, then you should really think of ordering a doll as a business transaction. When these manufactures translated their sites into English, they were opening themselves up to people like me who do not care about "the hobby." I collect these dolls as art pieces, and expect the same from the artists who make them as I would from an painter in Santa Fe. I want a product that is worth the money I spend, something that is flawless, something that I want to continually look at.

      Paying $1,000 U.S. for a full set Iplehouse EID should mean that the dark skin tone is flawless. These are hand made after all, an artist should have enough pride in their work to trash spotted product. When I was a working artist, I never would have sold anything that I was not completely proud off. That was my work, my named. So, by logic, if the maker does not care enough to send out perfection then they are not artists, but simply manufacturers. In which case we are all idiots for spending this kind of money on plastic.

      When I paid $35 for a pair of Elfdoll feet, I expected them to at least be the same base color as my doll. I understood that they might be lighter or darker, but they arrived a completely different hue. I complained and got my money back. That was $35 for 2 pieces of plastic, which I would have been happy to spend if the "artists" at Elfdoll cared enough about their reputation to have some quality control.

      If these dolls seem expensive to you then you need to complain, and complain loudly, if you perceive that you have been taken advantage of. If you think the companies are doing business in a weird way tell them; they are not going to shut down their western business, they have invested too much capital. These dolls are luxury items, which means that they should be perfect.

      Saying that I don't get the "hobby" is excusing behavior that has nothing to do with Eastern culture. As I said, when they translated their sites into English the game changed.
       
    7. Hugo, it sounds like you had a negative experience with Iplehouse. Did you contact them and try to work something out? On the one occasion when I had a problem with a doll I ordered, I let the company know and they immediately made everything right. I've found that being polite, rather than "complaining loudly," was a much more effective way to get my issue resolved.

      Also--is there any such thing as a "perfect tan doll?" I was always under the impression that it was common for tan dolls to have issues, due to the nature of tinting/curing resin, and it was just the nature of the beast. (Someone please correct me if I'm mistaken!)
       
    8. I would never disagree with you on this point, and as a rule, people who do feel that they have been taken advantage of DO complain. We have seen a number of incidents with people complaining about slow shipping times and quality issues (I recall a period where Luts was sending out dolls that were brittle with very thin resin) and the companies responded and improved things.


      Hugo, I almost feel as if you have been recently wronged by a company and feel as if you have not had a satisfactory resolution to the problem. I might be wrong, of course, and please don't be offended by this- but you seem very agressive and very negative towards BJD companies as a whole in this thread, and actually, a lot of BJD companies are good and reliable, and will try their best to resolve any issues that their customers have. If there is something that hasn't been resolved for you, you should probably approach the company directly, or- if that is bringing you no joy- share the details with us in case anyone here can help you with your complaint, and with getting resolution for it.
       


    9. I think this has to do with how many employees the company has, if the company casts his own dolls or is outsourcing it and other reasons. I'm not surprised Volks is able to produce consistent batches. They have many employees (and I'm sure a few of them were hired solely for quality control) and they cast in-house, meaning that they have better control over the end product.
      But some - if not many - of the smaller (1 to 3 employees) companies don't do their own casting. They either don't have the skill set or they'd just rather spend their time sculpting and dealing with customers.

      Hugo, question. Have you ever worked with resin in your life? 'Cause let me tell you, this stuff is moody. If only one thing is slightly off (could be you made a small mistake, but more likely the humidity and air temperature is different than the day before), you get a different result.
      Like Guide said, colouring resin isn't exact science. No matter how brilliant your formula works on paper, it doesn't when you're dealing with it for real. It's different from colouring clay or mixing paint. No matter how careful I am, the next batch ALWAYS has differences. I guess that the way the resin cures has an effect on the final colour of the casted piece.

      EDITED for clarification:
      I agree with Lulu on this one. If you think these dolls are not worth your money, don't buy them. No one is forcing you to and you won't be a knight in shining armor when you're battering these foreign companies with ideas of how YOU think a business should be run. This agressive behavior of yours won't get you what you want. The only thing that will probably happen if you speak to companies this way is that they will most likely see you as a rude person who acts out of American/western arrogance. And next they will put you one the 'ignore' list.

      This is not the way to get things done.
       
    10. I think of resin colours more as dye lots like with yarn. Even though you may mix it in exactly the same proportions from one day to the next, sometimes the result isn't -exactly- the same, so it's best to get everything from one batch whenever possible. Humidity, temperature, acidity, even just a minute or two difference in time in the dye bath can make a big difference. Even huge companies that dye yarn in massive amounts and sell in insane bulk still have dye lots - some are visibly different (sometimes WAY different!) and sometimes you can't tell the difference whatsoever between two dye lots. Sometimes you simply can't get more of one dye lot, or there isn't enough for one project (especially those made by hand-dyers who have to do small batches) so you work around it in various ways. You may be able to do a special order with a hand-dyer to make sure all the stuff you get for your project matches, but call them up a month later and ask for more matching yarn and they may be able to do the same colourway, but there's no way of knowing how close it'll be to the stuff you already have in-hand.

      And with dolls, you're not buying a mass-produced consumer product that you can buy at the mall. If you want that, you get a Barbie, and you can buy one for about $20 and one Barbie will be absolutely identical to the next because they can stamp them out on an assembly line and it saves them loads of money to do so.

      But the pricey dolls in this hobby, well... they're works of art, both in the sculpting and craftsmanship put into them by the manufacturer, but even so from your own customization. I don't expect perfection that way, and I wouldn't call a relatively small resin mismatch an imperfection. I'd certainly prefer my doll to match all over, but if not, there are many ways to fix that, and since you're going to be customizing anyway, you can usually compensate for it just fine in blushing and whatnot.

      I think perhaps folks can get an inflated view of these companies - to my knowledge, most of them don't have more than a handful of employees working for them, and maybe only one or two of those can actually do the doll-making itself. And you need a controlled environment with good ventilation, good airflow, controlled temperature/humidity, and enough room to set up the not-exactly-small equipment involved (pressure pot, compressor, scales, etc.) and to do things safely. Totally understandable if you understand what goes into making resin castings, and certainly not like other businesses where you can just go to the new place, pop open your Macbook while sitting on the floor and you're back in business.
       
      • x 1
    11. I haven't bought an Iplehouse, but was turned off by the website having so many sold out items and the confusing messages about having to shut the company down for a move. I admit you guys I expect a lot, and no I have not worked with resin. When I went to art school my professors were constantly telling me that artist are creative problem solvers, once again if a company is going to charge $1,000 for a doll the doll should be perfect, or they should expect to be refunding money.

      I don't have an inflated idea of the companies, I just think that a luxury item is supposed to be perfection. That is why it is a luxury and not common.
       
    12. When it comes to resin consistency, particular in tan resins, companies that work with it have it on the page that there may be flaws or inconsistencies in the resin. As far as I'm concerned, that equals covering their end of the deal to me. They're being upfront about something that I've heard from dollmakers and owners since I joined the hobby three years ago -- that resin colour is hard to keep consistent, and tan resins especially so. There are usually disclaimers on BJD products that these take time and will vary from item to item.

      I don't think many BJD companies are fabulous at doing business, but I've rarely seen a commerical website in ANY industry that was well-done. But rarely does it bother me, because companies that are really good at doing "business" are good at business, not at making quality items, and will try to cut corners absolutely everywhere. Major chains like the GAP produce flawless stuff and keep everything in stock? Not in my experience. You get great personal service in a chain store? I've had better luck on that with BJD companies.

      On the cultural front, I've lived in Japan and seen US chainstores there. They don't adjust very much to cultural differences, so I'm not sure why teeny BJD companies must do so.

      Sure, ideally it'd be nice if BJD companies kept up their stock, hired proper native-speaking translators to localize their websites, made some dolls in advance, could magically fix the limitations of the medium, etc. But there are limitations that exist within the industry, I think in most cases companies are honest about those limitations, and if the cultural differences didn't exist I wouldn't be in this hobby at all. Polyurethane resin dolls with a North American aesthetic rather than a Japanese pop culture one would not have been a draw.

      ETA: I'm not sure how luxury equals perfection. I guarantee that while a Rolls Royce is presumably of high quality, using better materials, not one comes off the assembly line perfect. Perfection just isn't possible, I'm not sure how you'd objectively define it for a polyurethane resin ball-jointed doll anyways, and I wouldn't ever want a "perfect" doll. Perfect would suggest "done". These dolls should be customizable and fluid, changing to what their owners want from them, IMO.

      And Iplehouse put up advance warning of their move. If a store in my city moves, it disrupts their service, too.
       
    13. In defense of the Iplehouse, they, just like other bjd companies leave up their no longer available limited dolls for picture reference and put the "sold out" notification underneath the item. If you look in the Luts Delf Art section for example, those are all sold out as well but still displayed.

      Right now because of the moving sale, IH does have alot of clothing and dolls listed as sold out but this is the first time in the two years I have been in the hobby that I have seen that much red all over their website.

      If they need every available employee to assist in moving to say, a bigger/better location, then I can understand the temporary stoppage in production. After all, when they are making a doll, don't you want the employee to focus on making the doll with no defects? I thought that's what part of your original "beef" was about- defects in resin. ??
       
    14. Additionally, regarding the sold out items - when making a resin cast, it's made using a silicone mold which is a "negative" of the item being made. Those molds have a limited lifespan before they degrade and are no longer useable for sellable sculpts (they can rip and so forth). Depending on the type of silicone used, you can get anywhere from (I think) approximately 10-100 casts before you have to make a new mold. The silicone is quite expensive, and it's time consuming to make a new mold from your master pieces - and just like resin, it can sometimes not go perfectly, and then you have to make another one. And then you have to cast resin in it the first time as a "junk cast" which isn't sellable as it'll have little bits and flecks and crud in it. Both silicone molding and resin casting require use of a pressure pot (and its compressor) - fairly expensive equipment that will likely be in near-constant use by a popular company by Iplehouse. They may be trying to fill existing orders for molds that are still useable, and are awaiting some time when they can make new molds for the other sculpts.

      Thinking of it as "This is an $800 doll, it should be perfect," I think is the wrong way of looking at it - more like, "This doll is $800 because it is so hard to get these things near-perfect."

      So it's possible some of the sold out dolls are waiting to be re-molded; I'd rather they keep them on the site so we can see what they look like so we can decide if they should go on our wish list or not than to pull them entirely and have people going, "Wait, what happened to Jessica? She's not on the site anymore! Oh god panic maybe they're not going to offer her at all anymore!"
       
      • x 1
    15. I disagree with this. A North American Company could compete very nicely in this market, and in fact the way that companies are doing business is opening up a vacuum that will probably be filled by a western company. You watch.

      I am deathly allergic to polyurethane, and will take all of your word that it's hard to work with. That being said, these are hand made items, and the "artist" should not sell something that is not of consistent quality.

      Here's a question. Why continue to work with poly resin if it is so inconsistent? I do not see an advantage to it over regular plastic or some new product that could be used. I understand that there are resins which are beautiful in and of themselves, but most BJD's could be make of plastic polymers and look exactly the same.

      I am sticking to my opinion that luxury items are supposed to perfection. Pity the companies as they do business with me, because I am a hard ass, and like the Japanese, I do not see why I should adjust for cultural differences when I am the one spending the money.

      I will be nicer about dark resin issues.
       
    16. My biggest thing is this: if you've had a bad experience with one company, don't give them your business anymore. My sister received a doll with a scuffed neck (the resin was chipping and almost slowly flaking off if that makes sense). The company at first said there was nothing to be done, THEN they offered to do an experiment to find a fix JUST FOR HER. She received the results of that experiment (discs of felt) in the mail yesterday, along with an apology letter and a promise to redesign certain parts of the body to prevent this from happening again.

      Eastern business models are simply not the same as Western business models, and this can be incredibly frustrating. I follow the Western way- if you don't like their product or something about their business practices, DON'T SHOP THERE. I will not shop directly from Ringdoll just like I won't shop from certain Ebay sellers or The Gap. Tell others about your experiences, but don't place blanket judgment on all companies in that industry. Simply stop giving them your business, and focus on a business that provides the type of service you expect. And let me add this: there is absolutely nothing wrong with expecting a high-level of service, especially with the money we're spending.

      Let me ask this: Wth are you in this hobby if you don't like resin? It sounds to me like you've come from a different collector hobby that offers mass-produced, perfect items. Small flaws in the BJD world are expected and the norm, and sometimes even help give character and a sense of uniqueness to the BJD world. No one here really cares about "mint" condition (in the sense that nothing really stays mint, such as with yellowing, etc), unlike the Barbie world or other collectible hobbies. I recommend you research resin, producing items out of resin, etc before you complain about the processes used to manufacture dolls in the substance.
       
    17. There may also be a misconception about how big BJD companies are. If you are thinking factory, you're wrong. It's more likely to be a two room office with a maximum of five staff. Volks are huge, but then they're part of a larger organisation. We call them companies, but for the most part, they are more like cottage industries.
       
      • x 1
    18. Why Resin?
       
    19. I have owned over 40 dolls, and I have only ever had to complain about quality to a company once. It was over a dress- not even a resin item. Consistant quality in tone, colour, thickness and finish is regularly achieved by doll companies- you seem to be taking one negative experience and applying it across all the doll companies. :(

      It's not just about looks. :) Resin has a weight and quality of feel that cannot be achieved with other mediums, and yet is hard wearing enough not to break whenever someone looks at us (unlike, say, clays.) For me, the quality of the feel of a doll is as important as the way it looks.

      For me (and I suspect for others) it is the very little differences from doll to doll that make it perfect. They are not all carbon copies of one another, and little things (like a slight variation in eye shape caused by mould wear, or a slight difference in colour from one doll to another) give them a feel of handmade, quality art that would be lacking if every single one was the perfectly the same. These small variations are not a sign of poor quality- they are just a result of the art making process. Even the best, top end companies that use resin will tell you that these things happen and that it is unavoidable..... but it does not automatically equate to 'poor quality.'

      Your concerns about quality are valid, but quality can still be achieved even with a small margin of difference. I think perhaps you are used to collectables made from mediums that are less variable than resin, and hence, can actually be 100% identical to one another.
       
    20. The thing is Hugo, what you deem 'perfect' and what someone else does wont always marry up, in fact the chances they will is pretty slim. As so many people have said, BJDs are hand made my small artist companies and what they deem suitable for sale is something they determine for themselves as artists and business people. If those dolls don't meet your apparently lofty standards (despite the fact for the most part most companies are very consistent), don't buy them and find an alternative that does.

      Hand made items are always going to have small defects or differences of some kind, it's simply the nature of hand making vs mass producing with machinery, especially with something as temperamental as polyurethane. Some people actually consider that part of the charm.