This S’porean Sells Handmade Dolls For An Average Of US$2,000

Janice Yong is a full-time mom and part-time doll artist.

The woman, who is in her 40s, is the founder of Umami Baby. A glance at her Instagram page will inevitably leave you intrigued by the collection of wide-eyed dolls, which she has painstakingly handcrafted.

In an interview with Vulcan Post, Janice revealed that she has always had a strong sense of craftsmanship.

In fact, she ran a craft business, where she sewed softies and children’s accessories.

She then worked as a writer and editor, but left the post after the birth of her first child. She’s been a stay-at-home mom ever since, but started tinkering with doll making one afternoon and eventually founded Umami Baby in 2014.

“I’ve always been strongly drawn to anything artistic and collectible toys in particular, so an art form that combined the two was a dream come true,” Janice said.

A doll may take up to a few weeks to complete

The dolls Janice makes are unique and have nothing to do with the thin Barbie dolls we are used to.

When asked to describe her dolls, Janice threw in two words: “melancholy” and “nostalgic”.

“I think my dolls have a vintage, old-soul quality, and the words I’ve heard often to describe them are ‘beatnik’, ‘ragamuffin’ and ‘minx’.”

Recounting her first sale, she said that she has put up her first doll on Etsy. She was immediately “adopted”, which encouraged her to continue making dolls.

This first sale helped cover the costs of its doll-making materials. She already had the coloring supplies, but had to purchase woodworking tools like scissors, scalpels, and sandpaper.

nara umami baby singapore basic doll
Nara’s original base doll (before sculpture) / Image credit: Umami Baby

The biggest investment is actually the base doll, which starts at over $ 100.

This basic doll, made of hard plastic, must be substantially sculpted.

To start, Janice opens the head of the base doll and takes it apart. Every element is transformed, including her face, body, eye mechanism, and even her hair.

For Janice, making dolls largely depends on two factors: the weather and the weather.

singapore umami baby doll
Janice Yong Workspace / Image Credit: Umami Baby

Whenever she had free time away from commitments and parenting responsibilities, she parked in her personal workspace – a small corner of her living room – to work on her dolls.

If the weather is really nice, I can finish a doll in about four or five days. But the reality is, the weather is not always very good, so I spend a lot of time waiting and chasing the sun. I only like to work in daylight – in direct sunlight that can show every detail.

With cloudy, rainy skies interspersed with mom’s responsibilities, a doll can sometimes take a few weeks or more.

– Janice Yong, founder of Umami Baby

Average price of 2000 USD each

nara umami baby singapore doll
Before and after of Nara doll / Image credit: Umami Baby

It is clear that making each doll takes a lot of time and effort, which is why their price is so high.

Each doll costs on average about US $ 2,000 (S $ 2,731), Janice said.

In a previous interview with Channel NewsAsia, she revealed that she makes an average of two dolls per month, “sometimes three or more” if she places an order.

According to Janice, she has sold over 170 dolls to date. This equates to sales of around US $ 340,000 and does not even include income from commissions and art exhibitions.

Umami baby dolls singapore
Image Credit: Umami Baby

Janice is currently putting commissions on hold as her older kids have important exams coming up, so she wants to devote more time and attention to them.

“When I accepted commissions, I received several in a month, and there was usually a waiting list. There might be three or four people on hold while I work on a current commission, ”Janice said.

“A work of art takes a while to complete; it’s not something (that is) produced every few days, but the people at dolly are very patient.

When you think of a freelance writer, you associate it with an unstable salary, but Janice just isn’t.

“Fortunately, he (Umami Baby) was well received from the get-go so he never lacked stability,” she said, adding that she continued making dolls because she just loved the creativity and artistic breadth of it.

Money is not something artists actively focus or calculate, she stressed. “We usually just keep doing and creating.”

Turning to world fame

Beyond dolls, Umami Baby also sells other items like tote bags and phone cases, which are more commonly ordered by customers.

Its customers come from all over the world – America, Australia, Japan, China, Korea, Europe and Southeast Asia.

elle fanning umami baby phone case
Image Credit: Stefanie Keenan / Getty Images for Just One Eye

Her phone case was even used by Hollywood actress Elle Fanning.

Janice herself is not sure how the celebrity stumbled upon Umami Baby, but she has been photographed using it at several events.

“At the time, there were articles speculating on the maker and assuming that she had the doll made specifically to look like her, which of course hadn’t been the case since Eleanor (the doll on the phone case) had been almost manufactured a year and a half ago, ”Janice explained.

On social media, Umami Baby has more than 13,000 followers on Instagram although she is not an active user of the platform.

From what I understand, regularity and frequency are key to using social media effectively, but I mostly tend to just post updates.

The point is, I didn’t know anything about Instagram at first, so I arrived quite late. But certainly, platforms like Instagram and the platform are very helpful in sharing your work with the world.

– Janice Yong, founder of Umami Baby

Besides Instagram and Facebook, many of her customers contact her directly via email or Umami Baby’s website to place an order.

Asked about future plans, Janice said she hadn’t really thought about it. She just wants to keep perfecting her craft and make as many little souls as she can.

When working, she makes it a point of honor to apply values ​​in her personal life such as honesty, kindness, generosity and fairness.

“(Artists should) find their own style – not copy or reproduce. Find out how to make your soul shine through your work, not someone else’s, ”she says.

Featured Image Credit: Umami Baby

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Jothi Venkat

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