I am super pleased to bring you the following story because this is what Tenshi no Mon is really all about: we keep the history of Volks and help people understand this particular brand of dolls that we know and love so well.
You may know a lot about Volks dolls but do you know about the very first US Dolpa?
In the last fifteen years the landscape of BJDs has transformed dramatically and this is thanks in large part to Volks being introduced to the market. What you may not know is that Volks did not seek out the US market but, instead, was brought here through the efforts and love of a certain group of people in Austin, TX. (Personally I discovered Volks dolls in Austin, TX and this is thanks to a large and active group of BJD fans here in town…)
Enter the ‘Dollfie Fans of Austin’. In the early 2000’s group was dedicated to Dollfies and Volks as a company. I’ve been lucky enough to sit down with previous members to hear the tale of how a dedicated group of Volks enthusiasts proved their love and admiration for their dolls and wound up bringing the dolls we know and love to the states.
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In 2004, after attending a -Robert Tonner Convention- a group of like-minded BJD collectors decided to host the very first Dolpa in Austin, TX. The group was almost exclusively women and had vast connections in the fashion doll and hobby circles. They reached out to hobby shop owner Frank Winspur who ran a brick and mortar shop with an online component in Deland, FL. Many of the people within the ‘Dollfie Fans of Austin’ had a connection with Frank Winspur as he was the only merchant to offer Volks Inc. products in the the USA. Eventually Frank was negotiated to become the official vendor fo the convention via Volks Inc themselves.
Frank Winspur was the very first vendor who sold Super Dollfies to the public in the United States. His family ran a hobby shop out of Deland, FL which was called Doll & Hobby Shoppe. Frank was contracted with Volks specifically to offer their products to a Super Dollfie-hungry public!
But simply promoting products wasn’t enough… people were hungry for more knowledge about the elusive topic of Super Dollfie. This was a time where the dolls were extremely difficult to come by and seeing one in person was a rare and wonderful sighting. One member reminisced about their first encounter stating her appreciation for the body structure the first time she met SD Nono: “Stylistically the sculpts might not have been for everyone but the joints were amazing. It was the first time we had seen anything quite like it!”
The people most passionate about Super Dollfies decided to form a board and host a convention complete with a showroom floor, workshops and meals. Everyone was interested in in helping with the effort to celebrate Volks Dolls and Dollfie culture. The event was decided to take place on the weekend of July 11, 2004 at the Round Rock Marriott. It was the very first convention that would take place at the Marriott in Round Rock and the managers were interested to see exactly what they would be hosting. Gaining the hotel’s approval was the first (of many) hurdles convention organizers needed to clear before the event could be realized. When the coordinators arrived for the tasting menu they also brought dolls so that the staff of the Mariott would understand better what was going to happen over that fateful July weekend. When the hotel administration saw the dolls they had many questions and much admiration! As a result the Marriott became the official venue of the “Super Dollfie Convention 2004”.
Planning was soon underway which included special convention outfits that were designed by the very talented Mary Jordan and Natalie Merritt and sewn by Mary Jordan. It was possible to order outfits for whatever gender doll you owned in customized sizes. All members of the SSDF still agree it was a truly impressive feat of design and execution that they appreciate to this day.
The next hurdle was gaining the trust of an elusive Japanese company that hadn’t had many business dealings outside of Japan. The ‘Dollfie Fans of Austin’ had begun planning the event and named it “Super Dollfie Convention 2004”. When Volks Inc learned of the convention name, the ‘Dollfie Fans of Austin’ received a ‘Cease and Desist’ letter from Volks for using their product name for the convention. But all was not lost!
Through careful communication the initial misunderstanding was corrected and Volks Inc said they would consider attending the convention in person. Luckily this misunderstanding lead to an even better outcome than could have even been imagined: Volks decided to attend the convention themselves!
Another struggle the convention coordinators faced was a “Volks only” convention. In a world where Volks was only just being introduced many people were accustomed to having access to other kinds of dolls, clothing, shoes and/or stands. By mandate of Volks headlining the event (understandably) it was necessary that no other vendors with outside product would be allowed to attend the event.
Though this restriction could be perceived as a drawback, the exclusivity had many benefits as the “Super Dollfie Convention 2004” became a Volks-focused event which ultimately gave them a place in the North American doll market. Volks even went so far as to show lucky attendees video footage of the factory where Super Dollfies are created which included scenes of the doll’s bodies being processed and finalized in production.
It’s extremely important to point out that at this time the term dollfie only applied to Volks Super Dollfie and not other companies. Many people like to argue and quibble that Volks did not invent the ball jointed doll as a general artistic concept (true) but they were the first to mass produce and mass market the sculpts to a much larger market than ever previously established- thus anything “Dollfie” is related specifically to Volks while the term BJD applies to a broader category.
Mikey and Shino Shigeta, who are the daughters of Hideyuki Shigeta attended the event in person. They gave hands on instruction on how to handle and paint their products and also rewarded two of the most dedicated convention attendees with hand painted OOAK heads. As a special gift from Volks, all attendees were rewarded with amazing Super Dollfie Carry bags with stunning tags engraved with the company logo and the convention date. To this day the attendees still remember the Shigeta’s and Volks’ kindness most fondly.
Undeniably the “Super Dollfie Convention 2004” opened the gateway for more successful BJD events to follow in the coming years. The later conventions were for all BJDs not just Volks- though Volks did maintain an important presence at most events. Worries that not enough people would attend such a singular convention were allayed as people came from all over the United States in order to attend. This exquisite show of love and admiration for Volks products in Austin TX undoubtedly helped to influence the Shigeta family in their decision to open the L.A. Sumika.
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There are many, many people who are just discovering Super Dollfies and the wild, wonderful world that is the BJD hobby at Volks. The Super Dollfie information revolution hasn’t disappeared… it lives on- just online. We will continue to do our best to bring the history and world of Super Dollfie to everyone just like the did for thousands of people in 2004.
♬♩♪♩Thank you so much for bringing the hobby to North America! ♩♪♩♬
A huge thank you to former members of the ‘Dollfie Fans of Austin’ including the very talented Natalie Merritt who made this story possible and contributed their time and input. This article wouldn’t have been possible without them. A very special shoutout to tanzerse who helped me -through my own befuddlement- uncurse the angelden link from my phone and computer. You are my hero. All material is linked back to the original posts and all images belong to Volks INC OR their respective owners unless otherwise specified. ❤ Thank you for reading!