The cotton doll business—the new favorite in the custom plush toy

Custom plush toys have become a very common phenomenon. People describe or present the plush toys they want to customize to plush manufacturers, who form a design drawing and produce mass production. In recent years, a kind of custom stuffed animals called "cotton doll" gradually appeared in people's vision. After blind box dolls and BJD (ball-jointed doll), some young people have started to purchase cotton dolls. So what is a cotton doll?            

The cotton doll business—the new favorite in the custom plush toy- Custom plush toy

Introduction to the Cotton Doll

Cotton doll is a plush toy whose body is made of cotton. It's actually a stuffed animal made of polyester artificial cotton. Plush doll pays special attention to the fine and rich facial embroidery,which can recognize the expression and state through the five features. It originated from the fandom culture and are popular in South Korea initially. Management company will cartoon the images of entertainment stars and make 10-20cm tall idol dolls, which are circulated to fans in the form of official accessories. The idol doll with cute image and star attributes has become a popular celebrity peripheral products among fans. Due to it is light and easy to carry, many fandom girls will take the cotton doll to the scene of all kinds of star activities to support their idols.

Also because of the cute and dressing characteristics of the cotton doll itself, in recent years, the "no attribute doll" (original cotton doll) and "doll’s clothes" without star attributes also grow and rise rapidly in South Korea, America, Japan and other markets, which consumer groups are no longer limited to star fans. Many merchants or distributors will make bulk orders to sell around the world. With the increasing popularity of cotton dolls, it gradually attracts some enterprises layout. Among them are IP copyright owners who develop cotton dolls as peripheral derivatives. Additionally there are special cotton doll brands, such as Rua Waba, MINIDOLL, etc. There are also fashion brands that expand the cotton doll category, such as Bubble Mart, Koitake and so on. Cotton dolls are different from the dolls with uniform shapes produced in bulk in the boutique. Each doll has a strong personality because of its distinctive features and various clothes. The image of the doll is filled with cotton, and the fluff is rich in details. Idols, actors, singers, even e-sports players, cartoon characters, each role has been reconstructed.

The cotton doll business—the new favorite in the custom plush toy- plush doll maker


It should be pointed out that most of the producers of cotton dolls are only responsible for design and sales, and the intermediate production is entrusted to the agent factory.


The development of the Cotton doll

In 2015, at an EXO concert, a fan brought a hand-made cotton doll based on the image of CHEN to the scene for support. Its cute appearance and highly restored attitude quickly became popular among the fans. Later, dolls based on other EXO members became popular and were soon copied by other idol fans . All kinds of dolls quickly became popular among fans, claiming that they can own and dress their own idols and have plastic bones that allow them to play with shapes at a lower price than other dolls. Gradually when seeing the idol's concert, holding a only belong to their own cotton dolls has become the standard way of support for many fans.

However, this kind of cotton dolls made based on the image of stars in 2015 are mostly spontaneous activities of fans, and they were privately traded among fans. At that moment, there was no complete  industry chain for production and sales. It wasn't until 2017 that CJ, the company of the South Korean boy group Wanna one, saw the fan economy behind cotton doll. Wanna One, who appeared in the second season of Produce 101, has set off a new trend in the Korean idol culture circle, and the cotton doll has reached its second peak. It was also from this period that the culture of the cotton doll changed from animals to human figures. And the size of the doll gradually formed the standard of 10CM, 15CM and 20CM. In terms of price, it varies according to whether it is the actual idol group role and the size of the doll.            

The cotton doll business—the new favorite in the custom plush toy- Plush toy

In addition to its popularity on social platforms and offline, it also exploded with data from cotton doll's online transactions. According to statistics, the online bulk order of cotton doll has exceeded 1 billion yuan in 2021. On the other hand, cotton doll's role in the eyes of the player is also subtly changing. From the early simple star peripheral products, it has gradually developed into a personalized fashion play product integrating cultural creativity, cute economy and spiritual consumption. With the continuous growth of the player team, the rise of some cotton doll brands, and the continuous introduction of cross-boundary cooperation such as co-branding, intangible cultural heritage and public welfare, cotton doll has a tendency to break the circle.

Although the circle based on cotton balls is small, a bulk order can also have more than 50,000$. As a sales platform operator said in an interview, in 2022, a famous woman released a pair of dolls for less than $30, and sold in a limited quantity of 20000. There are more than 130,000 people to buy. These additional purchase information and fan purchase not only shows the explosive market of cotton doll ,but also reflects a problem - insufficient supply chain.

The production process of cotton dolls is complicated

Pre-sale mode, long working hours, and hobbies of the minority make many people associate cotton dolls with JK, Lolita, etc. They will also encounter the same problem, in the process of products reaching the mass market, the production capacity cannot meet the needs of new consumers, which inevitably leads to prices being bid up.

Nancy, who was once responsible for organizing group purchase, believed that the communication with the cotton doll factory was undoubtedly the most tiring in the whole group purchase process. The process of customizing cotton dolls generally includes making design draft, publicizing, screening baby factories, opening deposit, proofing, full payment purchase, two samples, three samples, starting comprehensive production and finally delivery.

In this series of processes, the most important thing is to select a reliable and qualified plush doll maker. Although the cotton doll looks small, it requires high labor and technology. Cloth, embroidery, sewing, cotton mending and finished product inspection are all essential links in the production of large goods. If the skeleton is added to support the baby in different positions such as sitting and standing, the labor cost will be higher. Due to the complex process and high quality requirements, few factories can meet the conditions to produce high-quality finished products. Some doll factories only have production lines that can make dolls, while others are specialized in making cotton dolls.

Victoria mentioned that many manufacturers have the situation that the more samples are, the uglier  the cotton dolls are and the more delay the factories are. They can only humbly urge the factory each time. Therefore, it is very important to find a factory that can not only understand the production process of cotton dolls, but also make high-quality plush dolls on time.            

The cotton doll business—the new favorite in the custom plush toy- Plush toy manufacturing

Where does the cotton doll go

On the whole, since the rise of cotton dolls, the sales channels have been mainly online, and this is still the case now. As the cotton doll gradually moved from the small circle to the public, its sales channels expanded from online to offline. Since the audience of cotton dolls is mostly adult women over 18 years old, the offline sales channels are mainly TOP TOY, X11 and other trendy toy stores, while the traditional toy channels are relatively small. There are more and more offline exhibitions with various cotton dolls as the theme. Fans from all over the world rushed to the exhibition to choose their favorite cotton dolls.

As for the future of cotton dolls, Aggie could not hide her joy: "I hope that the production capacity can keep up with the demand. I hope that the baby exhibition can be more. I hope that a good competitive market environment can be formed, and the right to speak is in the hands of consumers..." She put forward many hopes at one time, and remained optimistic about these possibilities.

With capital and large companies to join the cotton doll market, Lisa believes that this is a good thing: "We hope to provide a better platform, both for buyers and sellers. We need to understand the doll circle culture and meet the needs of the public." Only by respecting the minority culture circle enough, can we take root in entering this market. With more and more players, the consumption track of cotton dolls can also develop in a more standardized direction and tell more new stories.

With the rapid expansion of the scale of the cotton doll industry and the entry of more professional brands, the industrial chain will be forced to actively shift and adjust to cope with the possible outbreak of the industry. A big competition between the world's largest toy industry chain and the new fashion "cotton doll" is under way.

Whether you are chasing stars, visiting offline cotton doll shows, seeing a beautiful picture or relying on friends' recommend and drive, to some extent, raising a unique cotton doll has become a business card for young people to make friends. Whether it is for beauty or for emotion, it has brought a steady stream of consumers and practitioners to the cotton doll circle, and is leading the young people to set off a new consumption trend.

The cotton doll business—the new favorite in the custom plush toy- stuffed animal

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