When we discovered Indigo Dolls through an Australian social media forum, we were blown away by the noble cause behind the business. Founder and creator, Prue West had managed to somehow include the concepts of diversity, multiculturalism, eco-friendly and social inclusion as the lynchpins behind her doll business. We catch up with Prue to talk dolls and how her rescued and recycled dolls promote more tolerance and acceptance in the world one child at a time.

Prue’s love for repainting dolls came at her like a benign bolt. It caught Prue by surprise because it was a hobby that just chanced upon her when she read an article on Noel Cruz, one of the most distinguished repaint doll artists in the world, most notably recognised for his incredible life-like creations of celebrity dolls.

“I had first seen articles on celebrity doll repainting by Noel Cruz, and his work blew me away. I then came across a Tasmanian lady named Sonia Singh, who was also repainting dolls, but her creations were more for children. I decided to give it a go myself and loved it! Since then I have discovered my own style with repainting, restyling and creating outfits. I then started my own business as I wanted children to have the option to choose a doll that wasn’t typically on the shelves at stores.”

Prue soon discovered that her love for repainting dolls was underpinned by another social cause – to keep environmental impact and pollution to a minimum even if it meant digging up for old toys in her local landfill.

“I decided to up-cycle dolls rather than start from scratch to reduce my environmental impact. So I started saving dolls from the landfill. We live in a very disposable society where it is so easy to throw something broken away and buy a new replacement for minimal cost, rather than take the time to fix it. I feel such pride in taking a broken, dirty, discarded doll and transforming it into a much loved toy once again.”

And Prue’s socially conscious mind didn’t just stop with recycling or reusing when she realised that she could use her little business to teach children and adults alike to be comfortable in their own skin and accept one another regardless of their differences especially in physical traits. The beauty of repainting is that no two dolls would ever be alike – much the same as how no two children are ever the same.

“I have a background in early childhood education, and feel it’s important to promote diversity and social inclusion of children of all abilities regardless of ethnicity and gender. With the increase in social media and the pressure to look a certain way, I feel children are becoming more self aware of their appearance at a younger age. It’s hard to feel accepted when you have distinct physical features or have additional needs, and you aren’t represented. I think this is why custom orders are so popular because you can create something that reflects the child and it is not just a carbon copy of a stereotype. Thankfully companies are starting to realise this, and are beginning to use all inclusive models in their advertising.”

Prue recently created a custom order for a little girl who has profound hearing loss and wears a hearing aid in her right ear and a cochlear implant on the left. “I created the doll to reflect a likeness, wearing a hearing aid and cochlear processor that match hers. When the child sees a doll so similar to herself, her mind thinks that there are others like her in the world and that she is not so different after all.” Another recent order that left us speechless was when a lady running a family day care centre requested a group of dolls to help educate and promote diversity, acceptance, and social inclusion amongst the children she cares for. The final products were nothing short of outstanding and captured the essence of reality so perfectly as opposed to mass produced ‘perfect’ dolls. Prue created dolls that were physically disabled – some were amputees, some in a

wheelchair, and there was even one with cerebral palsy and wore ankle foot othoses to help with his gross motor skills. The details in these dolls were so intricate and bore a true resemblance to people of the world.

Her lateral thinking also opened up the way for creating custom orders for little boys, debunking the popular myth that dolls are only for girls. “I love creating boy dolls, and have had quite a few custom orders for them. Children like fantasy play, but they also like to pretend play with realistic toys and act out daily scenarios. I don’t believe that toys should be limited to gender specifications.”

Prue, who is also a member of an active Facebook group called ‘Rescued Dolls’ says that all parents should think about being actively involved in fun activities that boost their children’s confidence. ‘Rescued Dolls’ is filled with people of all ages from all over the world who are just like me. We share info, tips, successes, and failures, so I’d encourage all parents to join us or a similar group and be a part of the movement! Teach your children that if they are not happy with how they are represented in society, then they have the power to change it.”