(Editor's Note: A previous version of the article included calculations of the profile's total sales revenue based on the current average price. This is inaccurate as prices have changed significantly over the years. The article has been modified to reflect this.)
Janice Yong is a full time mom and part time doll artist.
The woman, in her late forties, is the founder of Umami Baby. One look at her Instagram page is sure to fascinate you with the collection of big-eyed dolls that she has carefully handcrafted.
In an interview with Vulcan Post, Janice revealed that she has always had a keen sense for craft.
In fact, she ran a craft shop sewing softies and accessories for children.
She later worked as a writer and editor, but left the job after the birth of her first child. She has been a home mom since then, but she started making dolls one afternoon and eventually founded Umami Baby in 2014.
"I've always been very drawn to artistic and collectable toys, so an art form that combined the two was a dream come true," said Janice.
A doll can last up to a couple of weeks
The dolls Janice makes are unique and nothing more than the slim Barbie dolls we're used to.
When asked to describe her dolls, Janice uttered two words: "wistful" and "nostalgic".
"I think my dolls have a vintage, old-soul quality to them, and words I've heard many times to describe them are 'Beatnik', 'Ragamuffin' and 'Minx'."
She shared about her first sale and said she put her first doll up on Etsy. It was "adopted" immediately, encouraging them to continue making dolls.
That first sale helped cover the cost of her doll materials. She already had the dyes, but had to buy woodworking tools like chisels, scalpels, and sandpaper.
Original base doll by Nara (before carving) / Photo credit: Umami Baby
The biggest investment is actually the base doll, which starts at over S $ 100.
This hard plastic base manikin essentially needs to be molded.
At the beginning Janice rips open the head of the base doll and dismantles it. Every single part of it is transformed, including the face, body, eye mechanism, and even hair.
For Janice, doll making largely depends on two factors: time and weather.
Janice Yong's workspace / Photo credit: Umami Baby
Whenever she has free time so as not to devote herself to the obligations and duties of her parents, she parked in her personal workspace – a small corner of her living room – to work on her dolls.
If the weather is really good, I can finish a doll in about four or five days. But the reality is that the weather isn't always really good, so I spend a lot of time waiting for it and chasing the sun. I only like to work in daylight – in full, broad sunshine that can show every detail.
In cloudy, rainy skies, riddled with my mother's responsibility, a doll can sometimes last a few weeks or more.
– Janice Yong, founder of Umami Baby
Average price of $ 2,000 each
Before and After of Nara Doll / Photo Credit: Umami Baby
It is clear that each doll takes a lot of time and effort to make, which is why they come at such a high price.
Each doll costs about $ 2,000 (S $ 2,731) on average, Janice said.
In a previous interview with Channel NewsAsia, she revealed that she makes an average of two dolls a month, "sometimes three or more" when making a commission.
According to Janice, she has sold over 170 dolls so far. She stressed that it is incorrect to assume that she has made over $ 340,000 in sales to date, as the prices of her dolls have changed significantly over the past six years.
“When an artist starts, he must first improve his skills. For at least the first two or three years, my dolls didn't taste what they do now. My very early dolls only cost a few hundred, ”she clarified.
Photo credit: Umami Baby
Janice is currently putting commissions on hold due to important exams for her older children. Therefore, she wants to devote more time and attention to them.
"If I accepted commissions I got several in a month, and there was usually a waiting list. There could be three or four people waiting while I work on an ongoing commission," Janice said.
“A work of art takes some time to complete. It's not something that gets churned up every few days, but Dolly people are very patient. "
When you think of a freelancer, you would call them an unstable salary, but that's just not the case with Janice.
"Fortunately, it (Umami Baby) was well received from the start, so it never lacked stability," she said, adding that she devoted herself to doll-making because she simply loved creativity and artistic breadth.
Money is not something that artists actively focus on or calculate, she stressed. "We are generally satisfied with just going on and creating."
Shooting To Global Fame
In addition to dolls, Umami Baby also sells other items such as shopping bags and cell phone cases, which customers order more often.
Her customers come from all over the world – from America, Australia, Japan, China, Korea, Europe and Southeast Asia.
Photo credit: Stefanie Keenan / Getty Images for just one eye
Her phone case was even used by Hollywood actress Elle Fanning.
Janice herself isn't sure how the celebrity came across Umami Baby, but she has been photographed with it at several events.
“At the time there were articles speculating about the maker that suggested that she had made the doll specifically to look like it, which of course wasn't, as Eleanor (the doll on the phone case) was almost making was a year and a half ago, ”Janice explained.
On social media, Umami Baby has a pretty strong following of over 13,000 on Instagram, despite not being an active user on the platform.
As far as I know, regularity and frequency are keys to using social media effectively, but I tend to just post updates mostly.
The thing is, I didn't know about Instagram when it started, so I got into it pretty late. But platforms like Instagram and Facebook are certainly very helpful for sharing your work with the world.
– Janice Yong, founder of Umami Baby
In addition to Instagram and Facebook, many of their customers contact them directly via email or through Umami Baby's website to place an order.
When asked about future plans, Janice said she didn't really think about it. She just wants to keep improving her craft and making as many little souls as possible.
At work, she attaches great importance to applying her personal life values such as honesty, friendliness, generosity and fairness.
“(Artists should) find their own unique style – not copy or replicate. Find out how to let your soul shine through your work, not someone else's, ”she said.
Selected image source: Umami Baby