Ashley Koh collects a wide variety of dolls, so it was inevitable that she would eventually discover BJDs. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, she started collecting the dolls she always wanted when she was a girl. Her first acquisitions were vintage Barbies and Skippers. Eventually Ashley added antique bisque to the collection. With the help of eBay, she soon found a wide range of additional dolls to collect including wooden Hitty dolls and Sonokong fashion dolls. She also enjoyed creating customized vinyl Obitsu dolls. According to Ashley, “I was selling custom 27cm Obitsus by painting the blank heads, and even styling their hair, such as cutting and curling. The method I used for curling hair was by using baggy twisties from the grocery store. I’d get some strands of hair, and start curling from end of twisty to the top making spirals. I’d then wrap the hair with saran wrap, and place it in hot water afterward to hold the curls.” She added, “It was really fun doing face-ups and custom painting blank dolls, and they sold well on eBay for quite some time.”
Ashley eventually opened an online shop called Garden of Dolls, which she first ran on the side. “I actually first was selling antique dolls when I bought and sold them in the beginning of my doll collecting. I then sold Korean fashion dolls by Sonokong. There were several lines of dolls I offered at the time, mostly by taking preorders in a small Yahoo group. There were some Korean traditional Hanbok dolls that wore exquisite handmade Korean costumes. There were also AeYin & Sharp dolls that were fashion vinyl dolls.” Sonokong eventually produced large BJDs, and Ashley purchased her first resin doll from them, a 56 cm tall Rhea. While she eventually sold her Rhea (Ashley discovered she preferred smaller dolls), she was hooked on the resin dolls. At this point, Ashley was married with two young children, and she was a stay-at-home mother. Ashley was interested in expanding her home business, and this eventually led her start her own doll company. “I really wanted to create dolls that catered to my needs at the moment, so I did some research, and found that I can design dolls and have the dolls casted by a factory, such as Bobobie.”
The first resin doll launched by Garden of Dolls was in the 1/6 scale. “My first BJD was 27 cm PpoPpo, that can share clothing with Blythe and Licca by Takara. She has a tiny “kissy” mouth, which is called “ppoppo” in Korean.” The next doll was in 1/4 scale. “The second doll I created was a 16” “Nabi” Kiss, which means, “Butterfly” Kiss in Korean. I learned a lot from my first creation up to my 3rd one, which was 16″ Nabiya (calling of a butterfly) with a double jointed body. I found that the first doll PpoPpo was really cute, but not as poseable, and her hands looked too stiff, so I made sure that Nabiya would have great pose-ability and also graceful hands.” Nabiya was released near the end of 2009.
Garden of Dolls just completed a pre-order for the latest doll for the company, a tiny dollhouse-sized fairy named Nabiyette. “My fourth doll, which is my latest one, tiny 5 1/2″ Nabiyette, has a similar look to her bigger sister Nabiya, and also will be as pose-able. Nabiyette has slightly droopy elf ears, which makes her seem a bit naive, but she has quite a spunky face, so I think it compliments her very well. The preorder skin tones were a variety of colors, such as Lilac, Blue, Green, Pink, and Dark chocolate. Her stock skin tones will always be normal, white & light tan. I think she’ll make a beautiful little fairy or an elf for a dollhouse, and I hope that she’ll be loved by every doll collector.” Nabiyette, who was always meant to be an elf or fairy, at first was designed with conventional elf-type ears with pointed tips. In playing around with the design, Ashley eventually decided that the droopy ears were more interesting. Before making a final decision on the doll, Ashley posted photos in her Yahoo group to gauge responses. The ears immediately drew favorable attention and convinced her to keep the design in the final version of Nabiyette.
Last January, Ashley was honored to be approached by Doll Reader editor Jill Jackson about having Nabiya become the display doll for a special BJD event at IDEX. According to Ashley, “She liked the look of these dolls, and she asked if I’d be interested in showing centerpiece dolls at the IDEX party. Jill coordinated the Alice costume with Durelle Brown, and wigs by Jpop Dolls, and shoes by Dale Rae. It was a success.”
At this time, Garden of Dolls has Nabiya dolls in stock and the first tiny Nabiyette dolls will arrive in November. Ashley has another doll already in the planning stage. “I do have one more doll in mind right now, and it’s a surprise for next year around the same time.” Beyond that, Ashley simply plans to “keep creating dolls.” She adds, ” I’d really like some more time to do more OOAK face-ups, which I do from time to time, and post it on my Yahoo group or on ebay. I haven’t had much time lately, because of my two little ones at home. Hopefully when they both go to Kindergarten, there will be more OOAK dolls offered on Garden of Dolls in the future.”
Photos above from top: Nabiyette prototype head detail, Nabiyette prototype.
Garden of Dolls – company website