If you’ve somehow managed to overlook Hazel Village‘s cute cast of stuffed animal characters as you peruse the Flea, either way, they’ve been watching you! They may look inanimate, but with adorable and relatable descriptions to go along with each stitched doll (made with organic materials), it’s hard not to see a sparkle in their eyes. Take Lucas Rabbit for example, who’s called “Pummy” by his friends, “because when he was a newborn and his sister was a toddler, she called him Pummy for some reason.” This sort of attention to detail, not just in the stories behind the characters, but in the actual make of the dolls themselves, is what gives them life—and also what has helped owner and creator Jane Van Cleef keep her business on the rise.
Where do you get your inspiration for the characters you create?
From favorite children’s books—Frog and Toad, Brambly Hedge, Uncle Wiggily, and the Little House books where they basically do non-stop craft projects. Also folk toys, Shaker and early American arts and crafts.
Do you have a favorite?
Gwendolyn Raccoon. She has a hilarious personality that involves a lot of lurking in the shadows. Like Creed from The Office except more sweet and innocent.
Once you decided to start Hazel Village, how long did it take you to really get the business off the ground?
Maybe a year. It’s hard to say; growth has been steady the whole time. After one year I started working on Hazel Village full time and started building relationships with ethical producers in India. A year after that, I exhibited at my first trade show and moved the office out of my attic, because it really did not fit anymore. Now I have hired someone (Arielle, who sells at the Flea—she’s really nice!) and we have about 100 wholesale accounts. But there’s a never-ending list of stuff to do, so at any given moment it still feels like we’re getting the business off the ground. Maybe I will know it when I see it.
Are there any new characters, woodland creatures, or projects on the horizon?
Yes!!!! In the next week we are updating the website to be, like, a billion times better. Improvements of note: two new woodland friends, a greatly expanded dress-up section, a better way to order monograms and a better Stories and Projects blog. And we have some exciting wholesale projects in the works for the holidays! We’ll post updates on our Facebook page as we can share them.
What’s your favorite part of selling at the Flea?
Definitely the kids! We meet cute little babies and their families, and sometimes they take home animals with the baby’s name stitched on. It’s nice to imagine those babies keeping their special toys for years to come. Some older kids get really into dressing the animals up. We have a kid discount at the Flea: 25% off if you’re 12 and under, shopping with your own money. It’s an honor system—we don’t make a great profit from those sales, but it just feels too weird to profit from kids’ allowances.