Baby Business

Mother-daughter team creates lifelike dolls for profit, therapy

(Photo Left) Chevonne and Arial Porter create reborn customized dolls from their Philadelphia home. Photo by Sarah J. Glover.

The website belonging to 15-year-old Arial Porter and her mom Chevonne features baby Owen. At about 12 inches long, he is pink and flush. His tiny hands are balled into plump fists and he wears knit pants that stretch snuggly over a white onesie.

Owen looks remarkably real, but he is a doll. The Porters are “reborn” artists, who, for the last two years, have sold their lifelike dolls for $100 to $2,500 from their home-based company, Arial’s Dream Nursery.

“Arial gets to have money for college,” says mom Chevonne. “And for me its therapeutic. It’s enjoyable. It’s relaxing” she says of the creative process.

The idea to pick up the craft began when Chevonne, a doll collector, came across a United Kingdom-based website of a reborn dollmaker. “And I was like, I can make those dolls!” she recalled.

Chevonne convinced her daughter to partner with her, and in their spare time they began making the dolls.

The process begins with an already manufactured doll, which they strip of paint down to the raw vinyl.  The dolls are then repainted and oven-cured. “It’s about manipulating paint on vinyl to create (a look of) blood flow and make it look like a real baby,” says Chevonne. They also use polyfill and other beads to give weight to the limbs and dye sheep fur that they hand sew in for realistic hair.

“I do it strand by strand with a felting needle,” Chevonne says. “That process alone can take two to four months. Of one three-year-old sized doll’s hair, she says, “I’ve been working on her since the summertime.”

The Porters have poured countless hours into creating dolls resembling children as old as eight.

While some of their customers are doll collectors, about half use the dolls for purposes ranging from therapeutic to memorial.

“The majority, they treat it like a baby,” says Chevonne. “They take it to the movies, the beach. They walk around with carriers. And there are ones who’ve lost their children. Some want you to put the baby’s ashes in the doll.”

She admits that “freaked out” Arial, so she generally handles those requests.

Thus far, the doll making has been a positive experience for the two, except for the occasional times people have tried to rescue the live-looking dolls when spied alone in their car.

 “They’ve tried to break my window so much it’s ridiculous,” says Porter, who also recounts when a police officer “literally cut in front of me to stop the car” in the parking lot of a hair store after having seen her toss the doll and a bag of its future tresses into the trunk.

 “People are so amazed. You have to be mindful,” she says of such situations.



Baby Business
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.


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