Family’s handmade doll business builds legacy

Jayla’s Heirlooms is more than dolls for children.

Nicole Hawthorne launched the heirloom doll business along with her four-year-old daughter Jayla to provide high-quality dolls color. While Hawthorne was pregnant in 2016, she contemplated what she wanted Jayla to see and what she could add to her world.

“There is a lot that I try to practice and preach,” Hawthorne said. “Minimalism is one of them and having handmade and handcrafted things that resemble us in real life. I started searching, and I could not find a brown [doll] that I felt really truly captured the essence of what I thought my beautiful baby would want to play with.”

Hawthorne began by curating dolls with designers to assemble a small collection for Jayla. When people began inquiring where she found the dolls, Hawthorne began researching women-owned companies that stress sustainability. They co-branded dolls with other artisans across the globe, including Paris, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, Belgium and Belarus.

Jayla’s Heirlooms launched in November and has sold over 40 dolls thus far.

In May Jayla’s Heirlooms received a $10,000 grant from Durham-based NC IDEA to fund increased scale and determine the prototype of a branded doll to be launched on Black Friday as an Amazon exclusive.

Jayla’s Heirlooms is among the businesses selected for Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator, which will provide access to mentorship, financial assistance, marketing and promotional support. Hawthorne will work with a strategist provided by Amazon over the next year.

As an Afro-Latina woman, Hawthorne wanted to support women in Latin countries as well. She is working with a woman-owned workshop in Peru on the Amazon exclusive.

“Peru has a long history of making dolls, which people don’t know,” Hawthorne said.

Jayla is heavily involved in the decision-making process, Hawthorne says, as the quality assurance expert who tests dolls.

“She says, ‘Mommy, this one is the best,’” Hawthorne said. “We are trying to start with what children would like to see and play with, but also what their parents desire them to have as well, because we know some of the parents are going to be the buyer initially and the child will be the users.”

While the Amazon exclusive doll will not be available until later this year, Jayla’s Heirlooms is taking presales for other dolls on their website. A custom doll and can take up to eight weeks to arrive. Hawthorne hopes to cut down on that time through the Amazon collaboration.

Overall, Hawthorne’s vision is to create a legacy with her daughter. She also makes sure Jayla knows it is OK to ask for help and take part in building a supportive community through the family business, where Hawthorne’s husband, Jiles, a graphic designer, created the company logo.

“That is why that heirloom piece is so important,” said Hawthorne, who is a project manager for Have Her Back, a Chicago-based startup. “I have a loving husband who supports me, and he knows when it is time to take the lead and Mommy needs some quiet time. I ask for help. I have been making sure I am proactive about I can only handle so much and I am only great at so many things.”

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