Good morning! My name is Karen Challender and I've been making dolls for over 30 years.. I first made dolls for my children way back in 1981.. Michigan was in a recession and money was a bit tight, so I made dolls for my kiddo's for Christmas. I made each doll to resemble them wearing pj's and a housecoat, then I made my children the same outfit. What started as a gift idea grew into my small doll business, but it took years to get here.
Two of my sisters were very supportive and kept telling me I needed to try selling my dolls. I started creating dolls left and right and ended up with a closet just off our kitchen full of nothing but dolls.. But now what? Back then, there wasn't the internet, I didn't have money to open a craft shop and a few ads in the paper I ran didn't generate any business.
So, one of my sisters and I started going to craft shows. She sold really unique purses she made and I sold my dolls.. Some of the shows were very productive, most were not.. We got a lot of great compliments, but Michigan was in a recession, and no one had money to spend on extras...We soon discovered how iffy craft shows can be and after about a year or so, we just kind of moved on...
Eventually, we both ended up working outside our homes.. For me, I still made dolls off and on, some for my neices and nephews, some to donate at Christmas time, my youngest sister suggested I do a craft show on her airforce base, she took a couple of orders for me from time to time...I worked for an insurance salesman who knew he wasn't paying me enough (lol) so he suggested I bring some dolls into the office to display them and maybe get some sales.. I did, and they sold.. But living in a very small rural town, there just really wasn't a way to get them out there..
Back then, in the 80's, it was really hard to find good fabric to use for the dolls skin.. I remember going into a dime store once in Angola, Indiana to look at fabric.. They had a variety of fabric for sale, folded on a table.. I found a piece of perfect fabric, perfect skin tone, it was soft and not too stretchy.. It didn't have a name on it, but I suspect it was probably an early version of craft velour.. I bought all they had and used it for years, always looking for more, but never able to find any.. I still have one doll made from that fabric..
Years went by, I worked in office positions for over 20 years, all the while wishing I could make a living being creative, not sitting behind a desk doing endless paperwork and eventually staring at a computer all day long..
I was still making dolls here and there, selling them from time to time, but never enough to ever consider leaving a stable job to pursue a career of selling crafts..
In the early 1990's, I decided to rent a booth at a craft/antique shop for $15 a month, plus a commission charged on each sale..For this the owners were to take care of the booth, the sale of items, and send me a check every month for anything I sold.. It took a few months, but suddenly a check showed up in the mail.. I made a few more dolls, took them to my booth and waited for another check..
I never received another check and after 6 months or so, decided it wasn't worth the $15 a month, so I went to clear out my booth, only to discover all my items had been sold, the original owners had sold the craft/antique store to someone else and taken my money with them.
Hard lesson to learn, but from then on, I knew if I was going to sell my crafts, I was going to have to figure out a way to do it myself.
In 2000, I remarried a wonderful, kind and loving man who understands my desire to be creative.. I made the decision to leave Corporate America behind and figure out a way to do what I really love to do for a living...
I decided to create a website.. Why I thought I could do this, I do not know.. I knew NOTHING about websites, how to create one or how to get one up and running, but somehow, I did it!
Karens Kottage was launched in the spring of 2002.. Sales were very, very slow at first (I think I made $200 the first year. lol).. To supplement my income, I cleaned houses a few days a week, which is one of the hardest jobs on earth! Many koodo's to anyone out there who cleans houses for a living..
After a year or so, I was making enough from sales that I quit the cleaning business and focused on my craft business full time.. It's been a heck of a ride since then.. I love what I do for a living and never get bored!
I still had the problem of finding good fabric for the dolls, though, especially dolls of ethnic skin tones.. Eventually, after a lot of research, shopping and questions, I discovered craft velour and doe suede fabrics, the PERFECT fabric for my dolls... I now buy it by the bolt in a range of colors suitable for every race!
Karens Kottage (www.karenskottage.org) is now the mama website to quite a few others, including Karens Kids, Karens Kats, Special Angel Dolls, Sweet Pea Doll Clothes, Sweet Pea Girls and Karens Kandles...