• Alisha Lestrade

What came before Thimble & Doll

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

I first started making dolls after struggling to find dolls, for my two young nieces, that looked like them... I thought they would've been easy to find, but I was wrong and very disappointed, but ... inspired. My nieces loved their dolls, and it made me realise that there was a gap in the market, for dolls that reflected not only my family but the diverse multicultural society around me.


(image of my nieces with dolls)

So I started drawing, sketching out different hairstyles and searching for felt in as many skin tones as possible.. I managed to find 4 skin tones, 2 lighter and two darker - not nearly enough, but it was a start! After trialling out doll sales at local spring fairs and school fetes and receiving great feedback, I decided I wanted to take it a step further and - while viewing a workshop space in Camden Lock Market - I was offered the opportunity to open it up as a pop up shop for a fortnight.. it wasn't something I'd ever considered or thought I was ready for but something told me to give it a go, after all, it was only going to be for a couple of weeks..


(doll drawings or early brand stuff)

I had a lot of work to do! I had to make stock, for a shop, in the heart of Camden lock! Never mind furnishing and decorating the shop! I had a lot of help from my sister Charlene and my friend Sharon, over many glasses of wine, planning, designing making, lifting and carrying! And we managed to pull it all together quickly, in a cute quirky way and created a dolls house-styled shop, complete with my workspace, fabric display, cardboard fireplace with mantlepiece and fairy door! The shop opened in the last week of the summer holidays on the 25th August 2012 and the reaction was great! It was instantly popular and my market neighbours were great, welcoming and friendly. I wasn't expecting it to go as well as it was I'd only made enough display stock for 2weeks, and hadn't really thought much further ahead than the end of the second week.


(images of the shop)

Midway through week two, one of the market managers asked if I'd like to extend for another couple of weeks, which was amazing and scary at the same time! I agreed and rolled on... and on and on! What was was originally planned as a two week pop up, had somehow turned into an actual business! I had lots of help from my sister and Sharon, especially when I had to go back to my day job in the afternoons when the school started back in September.


As the weeks turned into months I worked on lots of beautiful bespoke personalised dolls for local people and people visiting from all over the world. There were special commissions dolls with special meanings behind them; like the doll a grandad ordered for his grandson who wished to be a doctor when he grew up, he wanted it to sit on his grandsons shelf to remind him of his ambition. Then there were the bridesmaids gifts made to look like each of the little girls helping in the wedding. One of the nicest things was when people would send me pictures of the dolls they had bought, with the person they had given it to! So many dolls filled that first year of my business.

I met some lovely people, shout out to Jackie, James, Gaby, who were part of the Camden Lock team and my shop neighbours Vari & Maria who welcomed me into market life. I loved my time in the market and becoming a part of trader community. My shop was doing well but after falling pregnant I realised that I wouldn’t be able to continue at Camden Lock for much longer. I made the difficult decision to close my shop three months before I had my son, with the intention of carrying on with my sewing while he slept..(HA!!) Little did I know, that it would prove to be more than little bit tricky!

Wanting to concentrate on raising my little one, I took a break and thought about rebranding, refreshing and relaunching the business at a later date. That break was a little longer than I'd originally thought it would be as I was having so much fun with my son! I spent the little free time I had finding more skin tones of felt, researching new fabrics, suppliers, manufacturers and learning all I could about CE marking and safety regulations. When I did come back I wanted to come back with a fresh new out look and a more professional start than my free fall of luck that happened before.

I threw loads of ideas around bouncing them off my sister and creating a small group of friends for feedback and input I got “No BS” advice from Jackie, and worked together with Gaby to decide on my new name, logo, colours for my branding and lots of other details to complete the brand. It took longer than I thought it would to get things the way I wanted but that was mainly because I'm so indecisive! But soon enough it was ready and I relaunched Nov 2017 as Thimble and Doll.


The dolls are still designed, drawn, cut and stitched by hand by me, I may have come a long way since those first dolls but the original purpose is still there in each new doll that finds its home.



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