There’s a story of sustainability behind every stitch in Blabla Kids, the Atlanta-based toy company that makes eco-friendly dolls and products.
Blabla Kids, which has its flagship store in Virginia-Highland, is filled with everything soft and handmade from pillows and rattles to books and finger puppets. Their most popular product, Blabla Kids dolls, are not your typical stuffed animal but have a soft, fit-in-the-crook-of-your-arm design.
The founding Blabla Kids team in Atlanta includes Susan Pritchett, communications director, and designer Florence Wetterwald.
“Blabla means nothing and everything, and it’s a perfect word for a kid,” Wetterwald said of the company’s humorous name, which has grown quickly into a worldwide business.
In addition to the Virginia-Highland store, Blabla Kids sells its products in hundreds of boutiques across the country, in over 40 countries, and through the online shop and Amazon.
Out of all the beautiful patterns, textile weavings and woven goods Pritchett and Wetterwald saw on a creativity sparking journey to Peru nearly 20 years ago, it was finger puppets that called to them. Their tiny puppets depicted both whimsical animals with a folklore theme, as well as showcasing a Peruvian knit style that has been practiced for generations.
Wetterwald started sketching a similar style, invigorating the ancient fiber art with a contemporary feel, and created her first Blabla Kids doll in 2001.
“The first doll wasn’t perfect, but we saw the potential and felt we had touched on something,” Wetterwald said. “We were asking ourselves, what does a child really need, if not a cuddly comforting best friend?”
Their breakthrough came in 2002 when a vendor at AmericasMart dropped out of the gift show at the last minute, and Blabla Kids swooped in to take the spot. They were featured in Sundance Catalog and business skyrocketed due to their unique designs. In the early days, dolls were packaged in the garage and business was conducted at the kitchen table.
“We live on a tiny street, but giant UPS trucks would come rumbling down the little street. It was a whirlwind in those days,” Pritchett said.
Blabla Kids have been handmade in Peru since the beginning, using 100 percent natural Peruvian cotton that is fair trade and sustainably sourced. The artisans who hand knit each doll have been employed and empowered by Blabla Kids for over 15 years. The company has supported the artisans through the years by building houses after earthquakes, buying school lunches and giving computers to the children of the artisans, but the most impactful influence has been steady, consistent knitting work.
Inspired by the sock monkey, the Blabla dolls have taken a life of their own with many more characters and personalities. It takes at least 15 hours to knit and embroider each doll. The design is classic with a modern twist, and the thoughtful details make each doll stand out. There’s Wooly the Sheep, who sleeps upside down with his feet on his pillow; Pierre the Bunny, who distributes letters with stamps and loves radish marmalade; and new on the shelves is Aletta the Butterfly, whose name means “little wing” in Italian. Each regular sized 18-inch doll sells for $64, with 12-inch mini versions for $51.
Since each doll tells a story, Wetterwald decided to continue their stories with board books in a collaboration with Random House. Later this year, Blaba’s will make its television debut.
Families tell their own Blabla stories. When one family lost their treasured doll, they spun a tale that the doll went on vacation, giving trip updates and postcards, until the doll was replaced. Replaced is last resort when many dolls can be repaired thanks to Nurse Nell, a seamstress who knits and crochets over boo boos and stops by the Blabla Kids store for a hospital day.
The shop is a cornerstone in the community and often hosts craft days, sing a longs, and holiday events for everyone to be part of the Blabla Kids story. This month will feature an Easter event on April 13 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The party will have bunny and lamb yarn crafts and games, and if kids come dressed as a bunny, they get a free finger puppet. Next month, the shop with celebrate Mother’s Day with Tim “The Silhouette Man” Arnold on May from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and May 4 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“When you shop local, it is a commitment to your community. When we keep our shopping experience local, we are all part of the story and you are looking out for your neighbors, and as a community we grow and thrive together,” Pritchett said.
Blabla Kids is located at 1189 Virginia Ave. NE or visit blablakids.com.