Meet the Toymaker: Frances Cain
Founder of A Girl for All Time
Tags: Meet the Toymakers, Dolls, Frances Cain, A Girl for All Time
Posted: 2014-01-23 16:28:10 By: by Stephanie Oppenheim

 

When I first meet Frances I was expecting a proper British accent. After all the company is London-based.  I soon discovered that Frances is an expat with a passion for bringing beautifully crafted dolls to market that celebrate smart and intelligent girls from different periods in history. (As a former history major, she had me at Tudor.)

SO: People always ask me how I ended up in the toy business. How did you find
 
your way to creating beautiful historic dolls?Clementine dressed to impress!
FC: It was really my interest in history and genealogy that really lead me to the toy business. History here is the UK is not taught in a chronological order in primary schools - in other words, the key periods of history are taught in a non sequential order. When my daughter was younger, she found it difficult to remember the correct order of the historical periods she was learning so I started to relate these historical periods to a family tree - and the characters in my doll range developed from there. A very natural progression from there was developing stories for each character in our family tree. History is traditionally written in a very 'masculine' way - there are a lot of facts, figures, stats on wars etc. but very few stories about women ( and girls ) in history. I wanted to bring these historical periods to life for girls with beautifully illustrated and relevant books based on these key periods being taught.


SO: Did you play with dolls as a child? Did you have a favorite?

FC: Yes, I did have dolls! I loved collectibles ( as I think most children do ) and my mom helped me start my very first doll collection - they were the Madame Alexander 'Dolls of the World.' I absolutely adored them, and of course as I played with them, I imagined visiting all of those places when I was older. Interestingly I have managed to do just that! Like most girls, I also had a Barbie - my favourite memory of her was when my dad, who was always something of a feminist, wrapped her in tin foil and told me she was an astronaut. That opened up a whole world for me and Barbie definitely became my ‘action figure doll’ and never again saw the inside of a doll's house, as she was constantly out on adventures of all sorts. My daughter now has my Madame Alexander dolls, though, sadly Astronaut Barbie is no longer with us!


SO: What's the most surprising challenge of being in the toy business?
FC: Manufacturing has been a huge challenge to get right. There is an incredible amount of detail in each collection we produce, from hair selection, to face decorating, to fabric selection and toy safety testing. It was a massive learning curve for me, as I had never been in manufacturing before.  I was a stay at home mom for 10 years when I started this company, but I have been incredibly lucky to find an excellent manufacturing and quality control team.

SO: I knew we were on to something when….

FC: ...both Harrods and FAO Schwartz ordered product after only one phone conversation! They are notoriously difficult to get into, and manufacturers can spend years - literally - trying to get onto their shelves. It happened very quickly for us, which is incredible exposure for the brand and a great endorsement of the product.

SO: We're just so impressed with the level of detail on the clothing for each doll. Each garment is like a little jewel. Can you tell us about the design process?
FC: Thank you so much! Developing the costumes has been a delight, particularly since we have access to so much important historical materials here. Once we decide on the character that we are next producing, we map out her personality and her story and from that decide which costumes we are going to develop and design. We are very fortunate that we are so close to so many primary resources here in the UK. For example, for Matilda's costumes, we were able to visit beautifully preserved Tudor buildings and view portraits and original costumes from the period. Researching Amelia's costumes was equally as fun, and we spent hours pouring over original Victorian editions of British 'Ladies Home Journal', dress patterns popular in the day, advertisements, and of course, the Victoria &Albert and the Museum of London. Every stage of our development is heavily researched before we re-interpret the designs to appeal to today's girls and collectors. 

SO: How do you decide on the periods of history you cover?
FC: Actually that was one of the easier decisions ! I have based the first 6 characters in our range on the key stages of history taught in Primary school here in the UK - Tudor, Victorian, WWII, Georgian, Restoration and Elizabethan. From there, we will be exploring other key periods, both modern and historical.

SO: How long does it take from initial concept to placing a finished doll on the toy store shelf?

FC: Because each collection has a tremendous amount of research and development that goes into it, each range in the brand takes about 14-16 months to get on the shelf, from initial concept to finished product. So we are already starting to map out our product development for 2015.

SO: What's on the horizon for A Girl for All Time?
FC: We have a huge amount in the pipe line, actually. 2014 is going to be a pivotal year for us, with new collaborations and new items being added to each line, as well as looking to develop characters that are specific to the American market, yet still clearly recognisable as an A Girl for All Time® products.


SO: What's your favorite ice cream?
FC: That’s easy ! Rocky Road - always has been my fave, and always will be!

 
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