“Have you ever heard of a hospital for stuffed dolls? From our perspective, it is just a doll, but people who bring the dolls here tell me, ‘Please treat my family well.’ I always emphasize to our staff that even dolls should be treated with all our heart as if they are a living being.” The Hanyang Journal was able to meet the CEO of Toytalez, Kim Gap-yeon, who created the first doll hospital to treat sick dolls in Korea. Treatment and surgical work at the hospital takes place in the design room, which accounts for half of Toytalez's office. At least four professional engineers work on repairing the dolls in their respective areas with a variety of materials, starting with various fabrics of all colors piled up. The treatment process at the doll hospital is similar to that of a general hospital, and just as treatment is carried out for a sick child, dolls are thoroughly checked on where to be repaired.
1. What is ToyTalez?
Q. Please introduce yourself briefly.
A. Hello! My name is Kim Gap-yeon and I have been running a trading company called PPC World for 22 years. I am also the head of the doll hospital, Toytalez.
Q. Please tell us about Toytalez, a place where imagination turns into reality. What kind of place is it?
A. Toytalez is a part of the domestic business department of PPC World, and it works as a doll hospital that makes various characters based on images and drawings into stuffed dolls and fixes old, ragged dolls.
Q. What was your motivation to create a doll hospital?
A. As a person running a trading company, I figured that the global industrial environment changes every single day. It is no longer sustainable under the mass production system, so we started a doll hospital as one of the business models that could be done in Korea with the core capability and powers of PPC World, which is to design.
2. Toytalez: A Hospital that Revives Memories
Q. Why do you think so many people visit the doll hospital when they could simply buy a new one?
A. People receive dolls from their parents and relatives throughout their childhood, so they basically grow up with the doll. Throughout the many years with the doll, they become very attached to it. The people who come to the hospital for treatment consider their dolls as their family. There are even people who refuse to see the process or cry because when they see the cotton come out or the doll getting poked with a needle, they think it might hurt their doll. It’s almost as if it is alive. That is why I changed the company’s name to a doll hospital after seeing how much they care for their dolls.
Q. There seems to be various departments such as the ophthalmology or dermatology branch within the doll hospital. Which department goes through the most difficult surgeries?
A. We refer to it as internal medicine, dermatology, orthopedics, plastic surgery, otolaryngology, etc. depending on the area the doll is getting treated, just like a human hospital. The most difficult part of the surgery is when we need to replicate the doll into a brand new one. It is not easy to get the same fabric and color that were used to make these dolls 20 to 30 years ago in the current market. I think the department with the most difficult surgery is in orthopedics which requires skin transplantation. The biggest problem with skin transplantation is that it is difficult to match the exact material and color that the customers want.
Q. What is the hospitalization procedure for a doll to be treated?
A. First of all, if you make basic inquiries through photos by sending it to our KakaoTalk or Twitter account on our website, we will diagnose the doll, and ask you to send the doll to us or request a visit to the hospital. Patients (dolls) who have gone through this process are hospitalized, and when they pay their medical bills, they are treated according to the hospitalization order, given feedback, and then discharged from the hospital after confirmation. The specific treatment process is the same as a general hospital. When a patient visits a hospital, we carefully examine where he or she is sick, and check the condition of the doll to provide appropriate treatment. If the condition is serious, you might need to write a consent form.
Q. What do you consider the most important when going through these processes?
A. Communication. I care about communication the most during the overall treatment process. It is important to understand exactly what customers want, but it is also important for the employees to communicate and understand the content. For example, if you put in a new cotton pad, the doll will look very full and puffed up as if it got Botox. Some people do not like it, so it is important to understand their needs correctly and get consent. It is also important that we share our treatment accurately internally so that we get the results that customers and patients are waiting for.
Q. Is there anything a customer should be careful about when they bring their dolls to Toytalez?
A. There is no particular precaution when you bring a doll for hospitalization. A stuffed doll does not break, so you can bring it comfortably. I made this doll hospital because I thought that dolls have precious memories in them and that they are not just objects. It is not just about fixing dolls, but about reviving precious memories, so we are very delicate in treating them just like humans.
Q. What is the most difficult part of treating dolls?
A. As I mentioned before, although there is no technical difficulty with our skills, the hardest part is to match the material. People who have been together with the doll for a long time find psychological stablity from their dolls which is why we are very careful with every single one. They cannot easily throw it away even if it's old and damaged since they personify their doll as an old friend or a family member. Our staff consists of women that have been in this field for at least 20 years but are still trying their best to revive each delicate doll every day.
Q. Does the treatment cost vary depending on the dollʼs condition?
A. Of course. The cost varies depending on the size of the doll and on what treatment they need. Nowadays, an average of 50 surgeries is performed a month. The cost of surgery varies widely from 10,000 won to 500,000 won depending on the condition of the doll.
Q. Toytalez not only fixes old dolls but reforms them into new items. What is the story behind this?
A. Many people get dolls from claw machines for fun. When they get one or two, they display them. However, when they get more, the dolls are usually left at the bottom of the closet, thrown away. Just like these dolls, nowadays, you can easily buy fancy items, clothes, shoes, etc. according to the changing trends but can also easily throw away these things. It breaks my heart to see such a social atmosphere taking place. Many of the items that get thrown out are things people can use for a longer time, but are too lazy to fix. If we continue to buy and throw away things as easily as we do now, the Earth will soon be filled with trash. If your item does not fit the trend or if you are tired of it, reforming it and creating something new can also be a good solution. You can save both your money and the environment.
Q. Do you have any tips on taking good care of a doll?
A. Stuffed dolls are made of thread, so it is better to hand wash them. If you wash it with a washing machine, the stitches often come loose. You should also avoid drying them with a dryer. If the dryer's temperature is high, the cloth sticks together. You can play with your favorite doll for a long time if you wash them with your hands and dry them naturally. If there is a small hole in the doll, you can poke around the hole and pull both threads together and voila, you will not be able to see the hole.
Q. Were there any specific moments when you were proud of running Toytalez?
A. Definitely. I feel very proud and thankful when our customers tell us that they are very fortunate to know that our business exists and they wish for us to stay forever.
3. Toytalezʼs 2021 and the Future
Q. What does “doll” mean to you?
A. To me, a doll is a soul friend that I spend a lot of time with.
Q. What is Toytalezʼs goal for 2021?
A. Toytalez’s goal is to globalize doll hospitals. We want to attract patients from Japan, so we plan to enlarge our business internationally in 2021.
Q. How do you want Toytalez to be remembered?
A. We are treating dolls with genuine care just as if they are human beings visiting the hospital. The reason we put in so much effort is because we know how much doll owners love their doll. So, I hope that Toytalez remains as a doll hospital that treats dolls with the loving heart of the owner.