I'd Like A Baby Doll Not Made In China...
Just yesterday, a lady from Tennessee called me. She was looking for a good quality baby doll for her soon-to-be granddaughter for a baby shower, and her one requirement was that the doll was not made in China.
Almost All Modern Baby Dolls Seem To Be Made In China
This led to a rather long conversation, and at the end of our conversation, a rather unhappy grandmother-to-be. Although my shop stocks baby dolls from a wide variety of companies (Madame Alexander, Lee Middleton, Adora Dolls, Charisma Dolls, Effanbee Dolls...), it turned out that, after some research, every single one of them was indeed, "Made in China."
Ten Years Ago, The Situation Was Different
This was not the case even 10 short years ago. Ten years ago, the dolls made by the Madame Alexander company, including a popular line of baby dolls, were made in the United States (New York). So were the baby dolls from Lee Middleton Dolls (Belpre, Ohio). Berengeur baby dolls were made in Spain until at least the early 1990s. Many other companies (although not necessarily baby doll companies) including Helen Kish dolls (United States) and Jan McLean dolls (New Zealand) were also widely available to collectors at that time.
A Wave of Change Hit The Doll Industry; History Repeats Itself
Then, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a wave of change in the collectible doll and collectible play doll industry that pushed most of the remaining company holdouts to move their production to China. As in most other industries, the remaining companies producing dolls in American found that they just couldn't compete with the dolls made at much lower cost in China. In much the same way that doll manufacturers in France in the mid-1800s were totally squeezed out of business by their cheaper doll manufacturing competitors in Germany by the end of the 1800s, the remaining United States doll manufacturers found themselves squeezed out of the market unless they, too, moved production to China. Not enough American consumers were willing to pay more for the home-manufactured and non-China manufactured dolls. That, coupled with a downturn in the overall doll and collectible market after 9/11, brought a virtual end to doll manufacture in the United States (and also in many other countries).
Which brings me back to the frustrated lady in Tennessee and many of the frustrated consumers who, literally, have been left with no choice but to buy dolls made in China. After going though the entire stock of baby dolls in my store and discovering, indeed, that they had all been made in China (we had held out great hope for the Berengeur dolls that had cartons that mentioned Spain, but alas...) the lady let me know how frustrated she was, and hung up. Not two minutes later, in came another customer who had just been in Toys R Us and fled from there hoping, indeed, to find a play doll for her daughter that was not made in China, and my conversation repeated itself.
Isn't This The Choice We Collectively Made?
My customers and I have all been left very sad that there isn't truly a choice of whether to buy China-made dolls or United States-made dolls. But...wasn't this the choice we all collectively made back in the 1990s when the cheaper-made dolls from China were preferred by consumers and retailers alike? Do we have buyers regret? Can the "Made in China" genie be put back in the bottle and will there be a time when United States doll consumers will again have a choice? I don't, unfortunately, have the answers to these questions but I do think that these are questions that manufacturers, parents, grandparents, and collectors alike should start to consider.