Co-founder and managing director Ian Harkin spoke to us about the entrepreneurial journey that led him to Lottie Dolls.
Based in county Donegal in the west of Ireland, Lottie Dolls is producer of a series of child-like dolls. The first doll developed by the company was a limited edition Kate Middleton doll to celebrate her marriage to Prince William. This was followed by William and Kate dolls styled in their wedding attire. Ian explains: “That taught us timing and partnerships are really important, also understanding the marketplace”.
Ian and his co-founder Lucy Follett knew this was a short-lived venture, but had begun to understand there was an opportunity for something more long term. Ian says: “We were being approached by parents saying there was a gap in the market for a wholesome alternative”. Before launching its products, thorough market research with a diverse range of groups, such as parents and child psychologists, was carried out. The result was around 100 actionable points the enterprise could build into its products.
The most fundamental way Lottie Dolls are different to others is that the doll’s dimensions are modelled on a nine year old child. Important issues, such as body image and gender stereotyping, as well as educational topics, such as increasing female interest in STEM subjects, are incorporated as part of different dolls in the series.
Children also have an input into doll design. Stargazer Lottie was inspired by Canadian child Abagail with a keen interest in astronomy. Ian tells us: “Chris Hadfield is her superhero. We designed an astronomy doll for her and we partnered with the European Space Agency to develop content for girls to get them interested in STEM…We asked them would it be possible to send the doll into space. We didn’t think they would take us seriously, but it actually spent 264 days on the International Space Station”. Abagail contributed ideas to Stargazer Lottie, such as the dolls accessories which include a telescope and tripod. The company now runs competitions to develop dolls inspired by children.
The business has also partnered with a range of other organisations. Issues and themes it has worked to promote include leadership in conjunction with the US based group Girls’ Leadership, palaeontology/archaeology and UK based TrowelBlazers, as well as self-defence and Action Breaks Silence, a charity also based in the UK.
Lottie Dolls is also developing cross-overs with other creative industry sectors. In 2016, it signed a three year publishing contract with Penguin to produce a number of Lottie Doll books. Lottie Solves a Mystery is one of the first books to be published.
With the support of a creative momentum project Lottie Dolls recently attended this year’s Nuremburg Toy Show. This provides an important meeting point for Lottie Dolls with its international partners. Ian explains: “We advise them on what’s coming through, provide them with our new catalogue, talk about upcoming events, whether it is new product launches or marketing activities or PR and social media activities”.