After a few requests from customers I set myself a challenge to find an all natural filler for my dolls that could be used in place of wool. It was very important to me that the doll would be plant based.
If I was going to design a vegan doll, it had to replicate the qualities that are so important in my wool dolls, it had to be made from as close to natural materials as possible.
There are already so many dolls suitable for vegans. However – despite looking beautiful and made with lovely soft natural outers – the majority are filled with polyfill – a type of plastic – I wanted to offer something different.
This isn’t as easy as it first sounds, soft toys have to pass a flamability test (EN71-2) amongst others and most plant based fibres are extremely flammable.
First off I headed to my wool supplier, the World of Wool, who stock a wide range of fibres. They have a brilliant service where they will send you samples. I requested samples for the ones that sprang to mind first – cotton, bamboo, kapok, and then tried some more unusual ones – flax, hemp, banana and soybean.
Initially I decided to do a flame test on the raw fibres – as if they are too flammable I wouldn’t even attempt to move onto experimenting with making. The kitchen ended up very hazy as over the stainless steel sink I tested each one in turn. The most flammable was the banana but they all burnt very quickly and ignited instantly. All apart from soyabean. I held the soybean fibres over the flame and then took the flame away and the fibres behaved just like wool and instantly the flame disappeared and the burning stopped. Wool is notorious for being naturally fire resistant and I was so excited to find a plant fibre fibre that had this property and would be safe for toys.
Moving onto the next stage I looked into soybean fibre. I was aware that soybeans are a food and soya production doesn’t have a squeaky clean reputation – with deforestation being a key part of the issue. I discovered that the fibre has a fascinating history, first being invented by chemists working for Henry Ford in 1937 to use as car upholstery. It was forgotten due to WW2 turning the world upside down and then the invention of cheaper man-made fibres. The fibre was re-discovered in 1998. The fibres are actually a by-product from the production of tofu and soya milk as it is the undigestable fibres that aren’t used – so stuff that would otherwise be going to waste. I decided that it was a good fibre to use.
Next was working with the fibre. My dolls are normally made with wool insides, as wool is an amazing fibre and has unique properties. One unique property is being able to be shape and felt. You can’t do this with soybean fibre, however I can replicate the head shape in the smaller dolls – up to a Baby Nod size, and so Baby Bud was born. Passing the EN71 toy safety tests with flying colours he was ready for sale.
Drawing on the original design of my Baby Nod, Baby Bud has all the same qualities. He is made from pure natural materials and the same soft cotton velour fabric. He is a perfect doll to give to a new baby in a vegan family.
As you can see it was a lot of work, trial and error to find the perfect “natural plant based baby doll”. I am so proud to be able to offer an alternative doll for those who avoid animal products. I still love wool, including its sustainable credentials, and will be continuing to use it for the majority of my dolls. Find out more about why I love wool in my earlier blog post.