April Tate gets hands-on when bringing back your favorite childhood memory dolls. A one-woman show, Tate has her own business of crafting homemade modern rag dolls, softies and plush toys for your kids! Cuteness is not optional when it comes to the fabrics and styles of each individual toy. The dolls are a product of the fun and playful imagination of Tate that your kids are sure to enjoy.
Why did you decide to start Riley Construction?
I was one of those folks making and selling handmade art online before Etsy was a thing – back then, I was creating handmade accessories and using a lot of upcycled materials. My son was a toddler at the time and I remember feeling so frustrated with the toy options in big box stores – they were all poor quality, plastic, or overly gendered. I thought, hey, I can sew, why not use some of my upcycled fabrics and make him something that we will both like? I sat down with some scraps of wool fabric and drew up a simple hedgehog plushie. I loved it. The process was so much fun and I immediately wanted to make more.
I experimented with other types of handmade toys in those early days also, including hand painted wooden blocks, but plushies were the thing that stuck. My business name (Riley Construction Toys) is inspired by those first experiments with handmade toys; it’s also named after my family’s construction business. I come from a long line of small business owners and makers and it was a wonderful way to honor that legacy.
What got you started making these dolls?
I’ve never not made art. I remember “designing” new Strawberry Shortcake dolls when I was in kindergarten and plotting how to sell my designs to a toy company. It’s so funny how you come back around to things as an adult that you loved as a kid! I’m fortunate there are platforms out there now for selling and promoting handmade work.
What kind of products are the most popular?
Rag dolls are always the most popular, especially mermaids! I love making mermaids, they’re whimsical and sweet and colorful. I also make silly stuffed animals like furrmaids (half animal, half mermaid), plush foods, and plush play sets. I think that people are most drawn to the rag dolls because they remind them of cherished family heirloom dolls they grew up with but they have a modern design sensibility.
What is your favorite thing about your company?
I love that I have the freedom to evolve and play. I make what I love and fun is a priority. I also love that fresh designs are part of my model; I can’t imagine only making one thing. I am also grateful that I can work near my family.
What makes Riley Construction unique?
I am not a slave to trends. I just make what makes me happy. I believe in having fun and I want to make things that help others have fun. My inspiration comes from a combination of childhood memories and my imagination. I also love my mix of materials – children are sensory, tactile individuals and they like interesting textures.
How big is Riley Construction?
It is a one-woman show! My son and husband provide excellent craft show/art fair support, but everything else is a product of my own two hands. I especially love learning to use new power tools to make my own custom displays and signage. There’s such a learning curve to running your own creative business – I have to figure out marketing strategies, packaging, and shipping, where to source materials…all of the things!
Is there anything special you’re trying to promote?
I’m most excited about the new plushies I’ve been designing on Spoonflower fabric – they’re just the right size for little hands, are printed on an amazing plush fabric, and are super cute besides. I’m working on everything from rainbows to cacti to happy sunshines. I’m bringing a whole squishy pile to the Bowood Farms Maker’s Market.
What challenges have you overcome with your company?
Time is always the biggest challenge. I work a full-time day job in an office and have a kid so I devote my evenings and weekends to making what I love. I would love more time to spend on design. My work is labor-intensive but I love it. I just wish I had more time to do it!
I’d say the other biggest challenge I’ve overcome is quality control. Sometimes you want to run before you can walk. I’ve invested a lot of energy and time in constantly improving production and design quality and it has definitely paid off.
Where are you located and why is STL a good area for your company?
I am a St. Louis transplant (raised in the South) and I currently live in South City. I love that St. Louis has a thriving art/craft community and that lots of families are devoted to city living and supporting local businesses – it’s an incredibly supportive community!
I also love the size of St. Louis – it’s not so big that you are completely lost in the mix but not so small that there are no opportunities.
What do you see for the future of Riley Construction?
My dream is to eventually be a full-time toy designer and travel the world for inspiration. For the immediate future, I am focusing on designing, showing my work at art shows, and perfecting my craft.
What makes you passionate about Riley Construction?
I love kids and toys! They are two of my favorite things and I am lucky to be able to make something that brings joy to others. It’s also an amazing creative outlet for me and have given me so many interesting opportunities, connections, and experiences. The connections I make with my customers and creative friends are beyond valuable.
More than just toys, Riley Construction is bringing the love and passion of craft making dolls into St. Louis. Cuddle up or play with all sorts of different toys today and follow Riley Construction of Facebook.
Photo Credit: Riley Construction
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