These are some of the questions that I was asked as I carried out my market research for Apne Dolls and more specifically the “Satty” doll that has been specially designed for Punjabi children here in the UK.
If you have any other questions, I would love to hear from you. Just send me a message or leave a comment below.
How did the idea for Apne Dolls come about?
How many different dolls can you imagine you may have seen in your lifetime? Fashion dolls, baby dolls, heroine and hero dolls, monster dolls, dolls houses, dolls clothes, doll making crafts… when did you last come across a Punjabi inspired doll?
Being 1st generation British Sikh born to Punjabi, Indian parents we, like many other friends and family had stacks of fashion dolls for the children, however in the back of my mind I wondered why there had not been an appealing looking doll for 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc generation British Indians here in the UK?
We would have the children playing with all different styled dolls and largely of white or black ethnicities. The children would enthusiastically discuss the latest alien appearing doll or dark arts inspired dolls but never one that reflected us too.
Over time the doll collections would reflect most of their school friends ‘except’ us ourselves and we wanted to rectify this and so in 2017 we set about creating ‘Satty’, or ‘Bhabi-ji’ to be the first in her family collection.
To grab attention she is seen in her full elegant wedding outfit adorned with jewellery synonymous with Indian ceremony. She has a younger sister and many other family and friends of different denominations. How amazing would that be to be able to pick up a doll like her and see other children with a ‘Satty’ too?
Why is it so important that Apne Dolls hit the market now – why is the message so important to promote?
Did you know the first known toy was discovered 4,500 years ago in the remote Khakassia (a region in Russia), it was a toy doll made of soapstone and believed to be the oldest doll designed for play ever found.Fast forward to 2019 and guess what? Its ‘Barbie’s’ 60th birthday! How incredible.
The world, and Apne Dolls celebrate this iconic figure that has transformed the way children play to this day. Imaginary play has been a cornerstone in the way we play and the healthy development of children’s minds.
Still I looked around and found nothing accessible and as attractive as the other fashion doll counter parts on the store shelves. As someone asked us during this whole process, ‘Why have we not already got dolls like this on shelves?’ a question I could not answer but one I was working really hard on resolving.
As a company we wanted to create Punjabi dolls for Punjabi children. We developed ‘Satty’ over time. Being a complete novice it has been a very steep learning curve as my working life has not been anything near this industry. Achieving what we have in a relatively short space of time is remarkable so I am told. It is about time a doll creator looks into the values and contribution people of Punjabi heritage have brought to the UK since first arriving decades ago.
What has the process in bringing Apne Dolls to market been like – what has reaction been like?
From initial discussions and design ideas we set about contacting manufacturers, quickly realising that China would have to be our port of call. From the outset the brand name we decided on, ‘Apne’ Dolls stuck. The word ‘Apne’ is a Punjabi word meaning ‘Our’. So they are Our Dolls.
The first doll we decided upon creating was this one, (many more ideas await) that is a full Indian wedding bride in her lengha, choli, duputta, gold jewellery and bangles (mostly due to being able to dress her in the fantastic red and gold wedding dress).
The product itself is an 11″ fashion doll. ‘Satty’ is a BJD (ball jointed doll) allowing her neck, shoulders, elbows, hips and knees to rotate. This eases the removal and application of clothing during play. It allows the doll to be positioned in poses and stand in her shoes with relative ease, as well as being able to seat her without her falling over.
The additional joints are the differential between the cheaper counterparts or baby dolls that are limited in movement. Her name is ‘Satty’. The doll comes in a window box with her full title of ‘Bhabi-ji’ Satty…again Punjabi meaning ‘sister-in-law’ for the family she intends to join once wed.
The starting point of a wedding theme is purely for the excitement and bringing together of people when you attend such an occasion. We definitely have personality with our dolls, the future collection all being well will include other friends and family not all female and with careers such as Satty herself being a vet, her friends include an actress and a range of STEM careers, her younger sibling has desires to work in a zoo as she has been inspired by her sister who is the vet.
The older members of her family for instance have retired from nursing. These messages we aim to bring out in future individual A6 story books to bring those characters to life to see how well they are received. We won’t stop there we have given older family members consideration as this is not reflected in the doll world but most families do have older members of their clan that we would like to see if the doll community want that option too?
Due to the wide range of interests of the characters this attracts a multitude of friends into the frame which we hope their potential to be unlimited dependant on what the feedback is from the market.
We wouldn’t consider ourselves as strategically targeting any political issues but more bringing people together as we try to in real life. If it is empowering then great, but if it is inclusive then ‘wow’.
Seeing the finished doll arrive in all her splendour was a dream materialised over such long time. We were truly on our way to creating Punjabi dolls for Punjabi children. I had all the while been creating the story line for the accompanying creation Apne Books ‘The Wedding Shoes’ which was also illustrated at home myself. For the book, I aimed to achieve something short that would be fun that my daughter and her friends could enjoy. My 6 year old daughter had already set the illustration alight when she created the cover image, she was instrumental throughout the process obviously. We are very encouraged by the support we have received so far and the warm reception from customers who find it ‘refreshing’ to have such a beautiful doll to represent our background as well that is equal to any of its counterparts.
What do you make of the health of diversity within the UK toy industry?
The toy industry is a vast vibrant business and although has its peaks and troughs like any it withstands the strains that hit other businesses. This is largely due to the outstanding educational benefit of imaginary play. In a world of increased A.I and electronic gadgets mesmerising our kids we all recall the happiest days of quietly playing with your toys as a child.
The toy industry is a wonderful world of something for everyone isn’t it?… Well this is something we aim to achieve in catering for the some 450,000 British Sikh Indians in the UK, similar volumes in Canada & USA, not to mention over 20 million in India and around the rest of the world. The benefits of multi-cultural representation in a multitude of areas of life have proven to increase self esteem and confidence. Like anything in life we all like to have a choice especially when it is for your children.
What do you hope to deliver to the UK toy industry with Apne Dolls?
Young children are surprisingly self-aware and by us encouraging their differences, likes, dislikes, similarities, cultures, traditions creates a strong self-confident individual who will be able to deal well with emotional obstacles along their little life’s way.
If we can help children accept who they are they from the outset their opportunities are endless with the strong foundations they will build. Young boys and girls love to nurture baby dolls and care for toys as smaller versions of themselves or their own family members.
This is something not to be discouraged when you understand the importance of problem-solving skills, responsibility, empathy and compassion, imagination, spacial awareness, interacting with their environments, speech development, fine and gross motor skill development all of which enhance a child’s learning and development. Allowing children to make mistakes or poor decisions during play enables reflection, seeing another’s perspective and understanding of consequences that are played out in this safe space.
Our fashion dolls hope to redress the balance of variety on the toy shelves of the UK withstanding equality in aesthetics, price point and toy safety standards. We hope to offer gifts to the currently unrecognised proud British Sikhs who have made the UK their home for the last 70 years. As we offer little additional gifts that can be purchased alongside the Satty Doll and book it enables parents to tailor make their little gift bundle with a choice of greetings cards and personalised message to make it a truly unique experience for each child. Our aim was to create something wonderful, to be proud of and that our children as a collective would love…well tick, tick and tick.