Today on the podcast I’m talking to renowned rag doll maker, Jess Brown.
I first encountered Jess’s dolls in the February 2012 issue of Martha Stewart Living. I poured over this article, carefully examining every photo.
Since then I’ve seen Jess Brown dolls everywhere.
Jess has built her business over the course 16 years. Each doll still is cut to order in her Northern California studio. Although originally created for children, the dolls have a simple sophistication that has moved them into the women and lifestyle markets as well. Jess Brown dolls are available in select shops worldwide. Jess lives in Petaluma, California with her children, Stella and Tiger, and her husband, Erio.
In our chat Jess talks about how the Martha Stewart Living article was a turning point for her business and how she continues to feel its effect. Jess now has a team of six employees and produces several hundred handmade dolls each month. Her dolls have also been featured in two children’s books which were born from this video, Kiki and Coco in Paris. A few years ago she made larger than life versions of her dolls for display at New York Fashion Week.
And now Jess has a sewing book out, The Making of a Rag Doll, published by Chronicle Books.
This is a beautiful book. Before Jess and I spoke I sewed a doll from her pattern. Here’s the doll I made, dress in knickers and a simple drawstring dress with a cross-body bag. I had so much fun with this.
In our conversation we trace the history of Jess’ business. You’ll hear about:
- how co-owning a retail kid’s clothing shop helped shape Jess’ current company
- the development of the distinctive Jess Brown doll from the very first one sewn all from cashmere to the easily recognizable version we see today
- the challenges of a sudden and sustained uptick in demand for a handmade good
- finding employees on the sidelines of her children’s soccer games
- what Jess’ day-to-day life looks like right now
- collaborations Jess has done with other artisans
- how she went about complying with toy safety standards
- why she decided to write a sewing book and what it’s been like to see other people make Jess Brown dolls
- and the struggles Jess has had with protecting her copyright
I have tremendous admiration for the doll business Jess has built and feel truly honored that she agreed to share her story with me.
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Thank you so much.