Later this month, Zeinab ElKady will stage a new exhibition for Knottella hand-knitted dolls. The exhibition will be held in Kuwait City where ElKady started her Knottella (“Every knot tells an adventure”) Academy / Factory project in 2014.
“Genies is the theme for this exhibition. I know that girls love fairytales, so I thought why not bring each girl her own genie from the world of fairytales,” said ElKady.
The dolls on exhibition are the production of ElKadi herself and a team of over 60 from all over the world working with the Knottella Factory for close to two years. “So, we bring different inspirations and twists, but we all observe the guidelines of the theme, and certainly the top-quality standards that have been a key factor in the success we have had since our early launch.”
It was in 2014 that ElKadi, a full-time housewife and mother that had been based in Kuwait along with her family since her marriage in 2004, first attempted crochet.
“I was home and bored and looking for something to do. I decided to learn how to crochet from the Internet. A few months down the road I managed to assemble a nice blouse for my daughter. Then it was first for the first knitted animal – first a rabbit and then an elephant. Then came the very first doll,” ElKadi recalled.
It took ElKadi close to a year to gain perfect proficiency. “Learning to do the very small little things like the curves of the elbows, the ankles and the knees; learning to pick up the right material and to make sure that the final product is attractive for a young girl and appealing to the parents to buy — this took time,” she said.
In a year, ElKadi had her first Instagram page and she connected to other women and men all over the world who were knitting dolls. Then, she got her first client who was collecting dolls. After setting up a Facebook page, she started selling online.
“It was a success right from the start. Then I went on for my first ever exhibition through a Facebook event dedicated to new artists. The following morning, the followers on my Facebook page jumped from 2,000 to 30,000. It was very exciting and I was getting lots of requests for the Knottella dolls,” she recalled.
With such high demand and with the fact that each doll would need no less than two weeks’ hard work, if not four, if there are many details to incorporate, ElKadi decided she needed extra pairs of hands to join the knitting process.
To make sure that she had the right team, she started an online teaching course that allowed from women from all over the world to subscribe, learning through the Facebook Live facility.
All photos of Knottella courtesy of : Zeinab ElKady
“Social media has been essential to my project. I got to learn and to introduce myself and then to build my team through social media,” she said.
Members of the courses, which were divided into three levels, who eventually became members of the Knottella Factory were boys and girls, younger and older women alike.
In a few months, ElKadi had established an elementary team that was producing dolls on five continents, readying them for sale either in Egypt or Kuwait.
ElKady was strictly managing quality control. She used an online auctioning facility to decide the price range, which is now standing at anything from a few hundred pounds to a few thousands, if it is a made-to-measure doll.
“I don’t accept too many made-to-measure orders, because the idea is that we are a factory that produces seasonal collections. The team is always busy for the twice-a-year exhibitions,” she said.
Throughout the past two years, Knottella came up with varied themes, including dolls in pajamas, dolls in winter clothes and dolls in professional clothes. For the most part, the collections have been a big hit each time, according to ElKadi.
One reason for this success, ElKadi suggested, is that she is making sure that the dolls look both pretty and innocent. “I am producing something that a little girl would love to cling on to; soft enough for her to hold anytime of the night and day,” she said.
Unlike much more famous brands of plastic dolls that come in different shapes and different sets of clothes, ElKady said that her dolls are designed to be loved and cherished by little girls, rather than being toys. “These are two different concepts,” she said.
Knottella’s dolls are not offering any specific beauty standards. Many come in long hair that is either straight or curly, blonde or brown. But some also come with very short hair, some with glasses, while some are fuller in “figure” than others.
And when she took a group of her team last year to visit the children’s cancer treatment hospital (57657) to donate many dolls, those had no hair, but all with big smiles.
“There are two things here: first, the message we are putting out for children; we want to tell children that they are innocent and not sexy girls; and then there is the social responsibility of Knottella Factory and this is what brought us to donate some of our dolls for the lovely kids of the 57657 hospital. I think these two things are very important for anyone who is working with children,” she said.
The next collection of genies will also look innocent and pretty. She is currently going through that dolls that have been shipped to her from her team all over the world.
Tuesday, 9 October, ElKady paid a visit to Cairo for consultations with the Union of Small Projects on how to expand her commercial presence in Cairo and how to move on to exporting.
“I have many newcomers to the Knottella Academy. We can certainly produce more and sell more. And we can have an impact on today’s world of dolls making. I am confident that we can,” she said.