Those Refurbished, Makeup-Free Bratz Dolls Are Still the Hottest Toy Online

The rehabbed dolls sold out in an instant Sunday but will be back on Etsy next month.
(Photos: Sonia Singh/Treechangedolls.tumblr.com)
Feb 16, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Sonia Singh does not plan to become a doll manufacturer anytime soon, as much as her fans would like her to. She can’t produce her Tree Change dolls fast enough to meet demand.

Singh takes Bratz dolls, known for their extreme facial features and abundant makeup, and revamps them to look less like someone who had an inept plastic surgeon. The first batch appeared on her Tumblr late last month and went viral following extensive media coverage. Overwhelmed with purchase requests, the 34-year-old native of Tasmania got to work creating 20 new dolls, all of which sold out almost immediately after they were posted to her Etsy store on Feb. 15. They ranged in price from about $58 to $128.

“We did our best to post them at random times to spread the opportunity and to stop someone buying them as a batch lot. It’s the first time for us, and we think we did OK,” Singh’s partner, John, posted to their Facebook page later that day. He added that the couple would be taking a break from social media for the next few days to gather their thoughts.

Tree Change dolls have become something of a global phenomenon, not in spite of their plain appearance but because of it. After Singh “rescues” the dolls from thrift stores, she removes the paint from their exaggerated eyes and lips with acetone, a chemical found in nail polish remover, and repaints their faces to give them realistic, natural features. Her mother knits all their custom outfits, usually a sweater paired with floral pants or a skirt.

A scientist who recently lost her job, Singh was inspired to make the dolls after seeing so many of them at secondhand shops.

“I enjoy taking old things and giving them a new lease on life,” she said in a radio interview, especially now that she finally has the time to devote to a creative project. “Kids just don’t relate so closely to their toys and dolls, so it’s nice to have something they can relate to.”

Her goal was to make enough dolls to open an Etsy store, but when the dozen or so dolls became an instant media sensation, she decided to keep all but two, for “sentimental reasons,” she wrote in an email. Two that she auctioned off on eBay amassed dozens of bids and sold for about $237 and $169 respectively. Twenty percent of the proceeds went to the International Women’s Development Agency, and the rest went to launching Singh’s Etsy store.

“The interest, support, and response to my work has truly amazed me, and it has just begun to sink in that this could be a life-altering experience,” Singh, whose own daughter plays with the reconstructed dolls, wrote in an email. “This experience has reaffirmed for me that the special and lasting nature of our connection to childhood toys is universal.”

After her much-needed break from social media, Singh plans to release a new set of dolls on her Etsy shop in March. In the meantime, she’s also selling greeting cards featuring photographs of the dolls in their “natural environment.”

But as Singh must constantly remind her fans, she stressed that she’s not a doll factory. The fastest way to get yourself a rehabbed doll is simply to find one at a secondhand store and give her a makeover—or in this case, a make-under—yourself.