We at Aeolidia were first introduced to Bamboletta when we designed the Bamboletta website for Christina in 2007. We were charmed by her handmade Waldorf dolls, and amazed at how quickly they sold and how frenzied some of her customers seemed! There was always such a rush and crowd on doll “upload days” that for many years, Christina’s business model and huge bandwidth use foiled many cart programs. Now, on Shopify, they have a good thing going, but Christina tells me that Shopify have taken her particular checkout process into company meetings to improve their checkout capabilities.
There was never enough supply to meet her demand, and the answer seemed simple to us at the time – just hire some people who can sew! Well, as you’ll see, Christina has grown her company in such a loving and caring way, and those dolls are still selling like hotcakes and there don’t seem to be enough to go around!
I am inspired by Christina’s business, her team, and her sense of community and caring. I asked her some questions that I’ve been wondering about, and I’m glad for this peek inside of Bamboletta.
You started making and selling dolls in your living room in 2003, and now you have a thriving business that operates on your terms. Did you know it was going to be a “real business” at the time you started? When did it first seem real?
I had no idea that what I started would be a ‘real business’ and to this day I really don’t know where the whole thing is going. I’ve followed sort of an ebb and flow of it all – all while trusting my gut. This may seem crazy but it all started feeling super real when I got accounting software and started printing cheques this way on a computer instead of the handwritten ones I wrote out prior. Then it went to a whole other level when I started using envelopes with those windows in them. Another big step was when we incorporated and Bamboletta became it’s own ‘thing.’
How many people currently work with you? How do you know when it’s time to add a new employee, and how do you find them? Is there a certain size that will feel too big to you?
We currently have 51 people working with us. Some work in the studio but most are stay at home moms working from home. We know when it’s time to add in a new person usually when someone has a baby or moves. Usually it’s friends of friends who we hire on, or someone comes into the studio and we just ‘know.’ I think because we’ve been around for a while at this location we seem to have people we can call on if something comes up. This whole business is very very organic. Occasionally I do have to hire on for something specific and I’ve put out ads online – when I interview the majority of what I go for is a feeling – like I just know when someone is a good fit. If you had asked me a few years ago what was too big I would have said where I currently am is – but as I’ve grown I’ve been able to branch off so that I don’t have to organize and take care of everyone. I’ve done a lot of thinking around what would feel too big and I think that if it ever came to a situation where I wasn’t sewing that would be too big. I don’t ever want to spend all my days in front of a screen running my business that way.
How does a standard day of running Bamboletta go?
We have more of a standard week. Mondays, our home sewers come and pick up and drop off dolls. I work on sewing faces all day. Tuesday/Wednesday I still sew faces and the girls in studio go through each doll and check that the sewing is done well – QC [Quality Control!]. We ship the dolls out at this time too. Thursday we get the dolls ready for our online sale – we dress, cut hair, blush, photograph and make all the listings. We also stuff the dolls then. Friday is stuffing, upload the dolls, get the hair all ready and I do the books. Now, there is a tonne more that goes on but this is the flow in a nutshell.
What do you do in your business that feels “against the rules” and contrary to popular advice?
I get a lot of flak for still doing the faces and sewing. The adage of an owner/CEO should be working ON her business and not IN her business comes up for me again and again. I just can’t imagine not doing it – I love it so much. Since winning ‘Best Community Impact Award’ in our province we’ve been featured in quite a few business magazines where we’ve been given some advice. Outsource, higher profit margins, up my pricing, lower my costs, move production into a factory type setting for efficiency – I’ve heard it again and again. But those things would lend to losing the most valuable piece in a Bamboletta, and that’s love. Customers can feel it, I know they can. You can’t outsource that. You know, a few years back I went to visit our local ‘Community Futures’ branch looking to secure some kind of line of credit or loan. I was speaking to the adviser about my philosophy – about taking care of people in your community, local and sustainable production, ethical sourcing and that these things were far more important to me than the money. He plugged his ears and went ‘la, la la la – listen – NO one wants to hear you aren’t in it for the money.’ Sigh. Community FUTURES – this is what I’m all about (caring for my community) and that was the response I got.
If you could give the Christina from 2003 any advice about the path ahead, what would you tell her?
This question makes me a bit teary. I’ve spent so much time doubting myself – thinking that I was doing something wrong because I don’t have a MBA or any business training for that matter. That we scrape by some months because I’ve done something ‘wrong.’ I’ve finally figured out I’m not doing anything ‘wrong’ – that I’m still operating after 12 years, have over 50 employees and have built this business using only a Visa card – that’s something to be proud of. It’s damn expensive running a business with my ethics and values and that’s just the reality of it. I’d tell her that she has something far more valuable then a MBA – a vision, unrelenting faith and a deep love for her craft and the joy it brings everyone involved.
Do you make future goals for your business? What works for you?
I don’t make future goals for my business. I mean, there are things I’d like to do but they aren’t goals necessarily. The market, the economy, everything shifts so quickly now that I like to keep things fluid. Instead I try to go for feelings. I want to delight people, I want a sense of ease in my business, I want joy in my workplace and I want beautiful crafts(wo)manship. Do you know of Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map? It’s amazing and I highly recommend it. Basically it’s about letting go of goals and instead going after how you want to feel. This is how I try to run Bamboletta.
What causes do you support, and why are they important to you?
We accumulate hundreds of ‘booboo’ dolls per year, so dolls that may have been used in training or may have a slight imperfection. Instead of salvaging them for parts we give these dolls to different organizations like BC Children’s Hospital, various children’s hospices and women’s shelters. I feel very honored to maybe give a child a smile who is suffering in any way. This just feels like the right thing to do, you know? We also donate loads of dolls locally and within our online community for auctions of all sorts. We also have a program called the Blessing Dolls where people can write in and tell us about someone who is having a hard time and isn’t in a position to get a doll. We randomly will choose someone and surprise them with a doll.
I know you and your dolls do so much good for kids and adults alike! Tell us a heart warming Bamboletta story.
Oh, this is a hard one. So many stories come to mind. We sent a doll out to a little girl who was going through chemo and had lost all her hair, so we sent it to her bald with a little hat on it. The doll was a constant companion through treatment. Recently the mother contacted us to put on the doll’s hair because her little daughter’s hair has grown back. It’s things like this that make my heart feel like it’s going to burst, I feel such gratitude that I am in position to do these sorts of things.
Why do you think that making matters? What is important about the handmade?
I think making is extremely important in this day an age because we have become so disconnected from each other interacting through screens. Making matters because it gives people a connection that is based in creativity. Creativity, to me, is in the realm of magic. You know, when you are working on something and it’s just flowing you enter into a timeless sort of state – there is something to be said about how that state transfers into what is being made. Making is made with heart and creativity and that touches the end product with something absolutely human, and well, magical. By keeping all those factors together, the creativity, the human-ness and the magic, I think making can spark a different way of doing things – one that cares, is thoughtful and perhaps a way out of the glut of our current way of being.
Meet Christina at the Maker’s Retreat
Well, don’t we all just feel a bit warmer and fuzzier now? I am looking forward to meeting Christina in person at the Oh My! Maker’s Retreat this October, and I hope you’ll be able to come along too, to learn some more from her about how to run a business that’s true to your values, cares for community, and is chock full of goodness like Bamboletta.