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Mistyire Gibbons is back in business

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Mistyire Gibbons with one of her popular gombey dolls (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Mistyire Gibbons used to sell hundreds of handcrafted fashion dolls to stores in Hamilton and Dockyard.

Then her doll-making petered out. Her main outlet, Trimingham’s, closed. She focused on making a living — bus driver, cabbie, security.

She always told herself that when she retired she was going to get back to making her dolls.

“I retired in 2016, not really voluntarily,” the 66-year-old said.

But even in retirement, life was still hectic.

Dolls by Mistyire Gibbons (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

“My sister was sick so I took care of her,” she said. “Then I was renovating the house.”

Last year, her life finally quieted down enough for her to relaunch her business, Fashionable Designer Ethnic Dolls, selling porcelain dolls in ethnic costumes.

A lot has changed since she first started making dolls in the 1990s. Now, she spends a lot of her time on social media creating posts and videos to sell her work.

Also, she has pulled away from selling her work in local stores.

“I just want to focus on custom orders,” Ms Gibbons said.

Her dolls are not meant to be children’s playthings; they are meant strictly for display.

“They are a collector’s item,” she said.

Prices start at about $300 and go up depending on the materials and time taken. Sometimes it takes her a day or two to make a doll; sometimes it takes a week or more.

Some of Mistyire Gibbons’s collectable dolls (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Ironically, Ms Gibbons was never interested in dolls as a child. She preferred to race go karts, ride her bike or go fishing.

“I was a tomboy,” she said.

But she always loved making things. She was inspired to make dolls after taking a trip to Atlanta, Georgia with her son.

“I saw some Black dolls dressed in shorts,” she said. “I wondered what they would look like if they were dressed in African clothing. I bought some of the dolls, then went around the corner to another store that had fabric and got some African material.”

When she got back to Bermuda, she was so excited about her new project that she started designing doll clothing as soon as she walked in the door.

She particularly loved creating families from the dolls she dressed.

Her creations came out so well that her son suggested she sell them.

“At first I did not want to,” she said. “It was just a hobby. But then I thought they could be used as a conversation piece to enhance families, especially Black families. There are so many single mothers out there. I raised my son as a single mother.”

She found that Black dolls, particularly male Black dolls were hard to find. She started ordering porcelain dolls, then painting some of them to be darker skinned, then dressing them up in African or European attire.

At first she avoided making gombey dolls because she did not want to compete with a good friend who made them. But people kept asking.

Then one day a lady came to her and said she really wanted gombey dolls, but could not find ones she liked. She needed them as centrepieces for an event she was holding at the Hamilton Princess.

“I made 12 for her,” Ms Gibbons said.

She used the male dolls of a popular fashion doll line, sometimes cutting the arms and legs to make them pose in a certain way.

After the event, she made only a few gombey dolls for friends and family.

“But somehow I could never keep them around,” she said. “People would come to the house, see the gombey dolls and say, ‘Can I buy that?’ ”

Now, with the relaunch of Fashionable Designer Ethnic Dolls, her gombey dolls are proving popular.

“They don’t follow any particular gombey troupe,” she said. “They are just my designs. I have had a lot of people reach out to me through social media to say they like them or to ask how much they are.”

In addition to the doll-making, she also makes and sells jewellery and hair pieces.

Fashionable Designer Ethnic Dolls

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Published March 31, 2023 at 7:40 am (Updated March 31, 2023 at 9:34 am)

Mistyire Gibbons is back in business

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