Modern Doll: A Mission-Driven Small Business
One of the joys of being a small Brooklyn business owner is that I’m part of an incredible ecosystem of creators and entrepreneurs. Kate Saffady is one of these amazing folks who runs Little Brooklyn Playschool (a stunning preschool in Carroll Gardens), and has recently launched Modern Doll. This latest venture combines her beautiful aesthetic with an emphasis on representation in the form of heirloom quality handmade dolls. The company’s mission is that young people grow up in a world that sees beauty in diversity and helps ensure that kids see themselves and others represented in their toys.
I recently got to sit down with Kate and talk about her experience as a business owner and her vision for Modern Doll. Check out ideas for how to use dolls in pretend play and visit Modern Doll and do some early holiday shopping for all the littles in your life.
What inspired you to start this business?
The business really came together organically. As a preschool teacher I LOVE toys. I always say that curating the toy assortment for the classroom is one of my favorite parts of the job. But I never thought that I would get into toy designing or toy making. It all just happened more by chance.
I started sewing last January – then after the pandemic hit I started sewing a lot. I made tons of masks and tote bags. I dabbled in making some stuffed unicorns and little stuffed mice.
Then over the summer I got into embroidery and I fell in love! I started making dolls with embroidered faces. At first I made dolls for my son and friends. When I posted pictures to my facebook a friend suggested I should start selling them so I started an Etsy shop and things took off from there.
What is your artistic background?
These dolls are so beautifully made! What’s that crafting process like?
I’ve always loved art and have a BFA in Fine Art- before I had kids watercolors were my main hobby. But I drifted away from it- since I started teaching preschool I’ve gotten most of my creative art fix through teaching and working with the kids on their art.
But once I started sewing I caught a real creative bug. I love patterns and color and when I’m designing a doll that’s where I begin- with the fabric and thread colors. I think of each doll as a work of art. Even when I make multiples of the same design each one turns out a little different and I love that- every doll is one of a kind in it’s own way.
What are some of the early triumphs or satisfying moments that you have had?
The earliest triumph was debuting a collection with Maisonette for the holiday season. To have our dolls included in their beautifully curated assortment was a huge validation. More recently we participated in a pop up and to sell our dolls for the first time in person was amazing. I was able to see and hear people’s reactions when they saw the dolls and that was for me tremendous- especially seeing kids pick out which they like and see them claim a doll with a hug.
What’s it been like running a business in Covid? What have been the challenges/set-backs?
Everything about running a business in Covid is challenging. A major unexpected frustration turned out to be getting the yarn we needed last winter. My favorite yarn to use for hair is a Peruvian wool and due to COVID there was a major shortage of that particular yarn. We had to call yarn shops all over the country to find whatever was available. My husband made friends with knit shops all over the country.
If there was something that you would like your potential customers to know, what is it?
To know that a doll is more than just a toy. A doll is a representation of the child’s world. One of the main things we hope for our kids is that they grow up in a world that sees beauty in diversity. We make our dolls in an assortment of skin tones but we concentrate on shades of brown. This is because all kids should see themselves and others represented in their playthings. It’s important for kids to have toys that look like them and also important for kids to have toys that reflect others.
What do you envision for the company? Where do you think you’ll be in 5 years?
Modern Doll Studio is a side project for us – our main profession is Early Child Education. But we are extremely passionate about building this business. Over the next few years we would love to build our visibility as a brand. But being a small business and supporting small business is a huge part of who we are and where our values lie. So in 5 years we would love to have Modern Dolls in small toy stores and boutiques around the country.
How have you been spreading the word about these gorgeous dolls?
How can our community help your small business?
We spread the word mostly through Instagram. Please follow us on Instagram @moderndollstudio. And join our email list. This fall we hope to participate in artisan markets and pop-ups to get ourselves out there and connect in a more direct way. Definitely follow us to stay in the loop.
Where can we get them?
Small Business thrives with word-of-mouth and community support
You can find all of our dolls on our Website www.moderndollstudio.com.
And we also do custom orders. So we encourage people to reach out – lots of customers ask if they can mix and match from various styles and YES! Any skin tone, dress fabric, hair style etc. can be put together.