When Annette McIntosh took several of her handmade stuffed dolls to a Devon House craft fair in Kingston, she was elated to sell them all.
That was 21 years ago. Today, Annette and her sister, Yvette are producing a variety of dolls and other craft items at their home in Almond Hill, St. Catherine.
Annette says it was her mother, Cynthia Chung, owner of a craft shop at the time, who prompted her to take the dolls to the fair, after she recognised that they were of a high quality.
Annette McIntosh (right) of McIntosh Craft in Almond Hill, St Catherine completes work on a doll, while Andrea Dinolds (left), an employee of the business, prepares banana leaf skirts for dolls.
“I sold my first few dolls then and got more orders from the Craft Cottage,” she tells JIS News.Annette says that she continued to make dolls for the craft shop but the decision to take the venture seriously came much later when she lost her job due to illness. She recalls that she was forced to begin producing on a larger scale when she got an order from a businessman who wanted her to make between 20 and 30 dozen dolls every two weeks.
“I couldn’t do this all alone, so I had to get someone to help me and that’s when I employed my first worker,” she notes.
Annette attributes the success of the business to her creativity and assistance from her sister, Yvette, who has a more aggressive approach to marketing. Yvette once had a full-time job at a bank in New Kingston, but left to join her sister’s business as Managing Director seven years ago.
Yvette tells JIS News that she has never regretted leaving her job. “I enjoy what I do. I enjoy making dolls and interacting with customers,” she says, adding that she does everything, including sewing, cutting of patterns, and sales. “We complement each other,” she notes. Since Yvette joined the business, the two sisters have taken it to another level and are producing more creative and larger quantities of dolls and craft items.
Princess doll produced from sea shell by McIntosh Craft in Almond Hill
“We are a good team when it comes to running the business,” Annette tells JIS News.
They are both grateful for the support received from their mother and ‘Things Jamaican’, operated by Jamaica Business Development Centre (JBDC), with the marketing of their products. In addition, they have learnt how to budget and manage their business by attending workshops put on by the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and various Government agencies.
At the moment, the business has four full-time employees, while another person is employed whenever the workload increases.
A variety of handmade dolls on display at McIntosh Craft in Almond Hill, St Catherine.
“The persons we employ work approximately four to five days a week, but my sister and I, we’re workaholics. We work every day,” Annette says. She points out that the business produces an average of about 80 to 90 dolls per week, besides novelty items, such as magnets, adding that she is now taking steps to expand her business.
“I’ve done a course in porcelain doll making and have applied for a loan from the JBDC to purchase equipment in order to go into the production of making porcelain dolls,” she says. “Hopefully this will get off the ground this year,” Annette tells JIS News, informing that she will be employing more persons once expansion takes place.
The JBDC is one of seven agencies, which recently formed a conglomerate, designed to ensure greater efficiencies in the delivery of services and to provide development support for persons involved in the small and micro business sectors. The others are Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP), Jamaica Cluster Competitiveness Project (JCCP), National Quality Infrastructure Project (NQIP/SWEDAC), Caribbean Regional Human Resource Development Programme for Economic Competitiveness (CPEC), and the Quality Jamaica Project (QJP).
Annette says the loan from the JBDC will help to purchase a kiln, a potter’s wheel, and a stonecutter to be used for cutting shells for Christmas decorations.
“I love to create products and I love making dolls. To bring out the actual personality in them is a challenge,” she says. Among her creations are Caribbean Queen, straw, banana leaf, sea princess and Beenie (stuffed) dolls. There are also night and day dolls with two heads, showing one asleep and the other awake; polymer dolls as well as a range of straw magnets. Other items produced by McIntosh Craft are wind chimes, shell jewellery boxes and scandal bag dolls.
Annette says that she tries to utilise at least 70 per cent of local materials to make her craft items. “Whether we use banana leaf, jippy-jappa, straw, sisal or shells, we try to keep the product a Jamaican one. Moreover, if we stray from that, we would be putting a lot of Jamaicans out of business,” she says.
Annette notes that she purchases mini straw hats for her dolls from about 10 to 15 persons in St. Catherine and from persons in the Almond Hill district who plait straw belts and mini baskets.
Recently, she has started experimenting making dolls with polymer clay. She explains that this type of doll is easy to work with, since one is able to create individual features. “A lot of people do not want to have the same doll, and you want to produce something that is unique,” she adds.
Despite the success, Annette says it is a challenge to dry their products, especially during the rainy season. “We are working with an organic product. Sometimes it rains a lot and you cannot dry during the rainy period,” she points out, noting that there are plans to put up a shed in the yard.
But despite this challenge, Annette and Yvette are determined to keep the business going. “We have no choice. We want to stay in business and we want the products to be out there,” Annette says.