I often get asked how I started PenPalGirls and it all began with being a hard core brand person. What does this mean? I love brands and have had the fortune of working at some of the best: Coca Cola, Nike, Yahoo and Schering to name a few. I also love and admire brands like Disney (it is the happiest place on earth after all), Starbucks (you can’t be a working mom without serious coffee) and American Girl (which I discovered via catalog some years ago – more on this later).
One summer about 2 years ago, my friend Kelly (a working super mom) and I had just wrapped up our girls’ Disney and American Girl trip. Imagine 5 girls under the age of 11 and two working moms who decided to spend their vacations making their little girls’ dreams come true. Plus we were stereotypically driving a minivan – yes I said the MV word! We had just finished our whirlwind tour of going on as many rides as possible at Disney and stopping off at AG in LA for brunch before heading home. The car was filled with AG doll items and happy little faces from our shopping spree. As my kids started playing with their blond dolls they began to question their cultural identity (not understanding that I am Chinese and they are too with green eyes). I began to think. Wouldn’t it be cool to have dolls from different countries so we can learn about different foods, places and fun facts? I love the AG doll clothes but growing up in fashionable LA and Hong Kong, I thought doll clothes could also have a fashion spin. I love clothes as much as brands. Not because of their designer names but because fashion is art. I get to be creative and make pretty things. Brands that I like should also represent quality. Who doesn’t like getting their money’s worth? We spend painstaking hours at PenPalGirls over all the details of our line, making sure we get all the details right. Kelly was driving at the time and said we should do something with Pen Pals.
After that, PenPalGirls was born! Never in 100 years did I think things would move forward to today. Maybe blindly, we all fell in love with the brand and didn’t know how many hurdles we had to face. But the lesson I tell my kids is a lesson I learned myself. Don’t give up on your dreams and work to make them happen. You will see this when you see the first picture of my doll prototype which I nicknamed Shrek. It was not pretty – in fact it was quite scary looking. It would scare children away and give them nightmares (definitely not what I sought to do) but through hard work we got Emma and Cady instead of Halloween time. It was hard to create a toy brand and a toy line from scratch but it is also extremely rewarding when our products bring smiles to others’ faces.
Phase I – Halloween Time
I knew I was in trouble when the factory told me they had no 3D rendering capabilities. They had to make the model by hand! Off went 100 pictures of my daughters (Callie and Pumpkin), right angles, top angles, bottom up. I was scared when I got this first sample. It made me think of the movie House of Wax, and we definitely are not PG13. Do you know when your heart sinks? That’s what happened when I saw the sample, I thought it was a Halloween mask and boy was there a long road ahead.
Phase II – Ventriloquist Time
The first factory dumped us because we weren’t making 500,000 dolls and we had to work hard to start over. Somehow I ended back to the horror movie about the killer dummy. This is not Chuckey’s Bride; these dolls are supposed to be sweet, innocent girls. It’s strange that the slightest facial additions can make you look scary or great. I better keep this in mind for the plastic surgery years! What can I say? This was not dainty or cute!
Phase III – I Had A Brow Lift
The factory took our changes and then made it the surprise, I’ve had plastic surgery look. Cady looks like you caught her in some sort of surprise action. We did not know it was going to be so hard to be a doll maker; we thought that they could take a picture and transform it into a pretty doll. After all, this was supposed to look like Pumpkin and Callie! Ladies take note, pull back your forehead too tight and you will look like this. Surprise!
Phase IV – Shrek Doll
We got dumped by another factory and had to start over again. I am not sure why they use green wax but Shrek doll finally starting to look human. Green, yes but the doll started to look like Pumpkin and Callie. Finally! Everyone was freaked out by the green but I could see that behind all that was my kids’ sweet smile and twinkle in their little round eyes.
Now - Cady!
So now you can see how far we have come and the journey we went through. I thought the hardest things would be doing something else not creating a doll. I knew we have to do something pretty special because there are so many AmericanGirl dolls that are nice to have. Voilà, we got to something that we love after all that hard work. That’s the lesson I tell my kids but that is the lesson I learned myself. Some people even say I look like her. What do you think?