If you have a young daughter, then like me you’ve probably struggled at some point with the whole “playing with dolls and being all girly-girly” thing. You can subtly mention that maybe Barbie isn’t the best role model for a growing girl (even with her “geek” outfit). You can discourage them from walking down that hideously pink aisle at the toy store. And once they have infiltrated your house (and they will), you can try as hard as you like to actually avoid being involved in the playtime yourself — but you will not escape it.
As a man, I have spent far too long brushing Barbie’s (and all her friends’) hair that I might as well have set up a salon. I have helped her slide into numerous far-too-tight-and-skimpy outfits — I shudder to think that one day my little girl might want to wear clothes like that. I have effected a faux American accent and played the role of Ken too many times — the only way I can get through that one is by imagining Toy Story 3, but it’s hard because the modern-day Ken looks like a boy band reject. So when Makies first appeared on the scene I followed them with interest, seeing a potential solution!
Makies were first launched in 2012, and they were right on the cusp of the 3D printing revolution and their unique selling point is that you get to design the face yourself and have it 3D printed. The design is very reminiscent of Blythe dolls from the 70s with the oversized heads and eyes. Initially they only came in white, but as the technology has evolved, more lifelike skin tones have been added, the pieces have been made smoother, the faces refined and, crucially, the cost has come down to £69 — which is almost half the launch price. Makies received their official 3+ certification earlier this year, and now they are moving into the children’s market properly as the “World’s first 3D printed toy” with redesigned “Cutie” faces and new outfits. For adult collectors, there is also a collection of four limited edition dolls (named Ada, Tesla, Curie and Hopper) now available at London department store Selfridges.
The first step to getting your own Makie is to design it. The online Makie Creator allows you to first choose the gender and skin tone of the doll before moving on to customise almost every aspect of the features on the face. Eye positions, colours and shapes, eyebrow style, position and angle, eyelids and so on with ears, nose, mouth, jawline and cheeks. There are also different hair styles and a range outfits from which you get to choose one.
Purchasing the doll from the makie.me website is simple, but because of the customisation aspect, they’re a pretty tricky thing to give as a present. You can buy a Makies Gift Box containing a code for the recipient to enter at checkout to pay for a Makie they have designed themselves. Once the order is placed, the head is custom 3D printed and finished before being assembled by hand in MakieLab’s London workshop. It is then dressed in the handmade outfit of your choice and shipped to you — the whole process takes about 2 weeks.
My daughter first became aware of Makies and the Mini Maker Faire in London over the summer, and since then has created about 20 virtual dolls. She was overjoyed when I told her that she could get one, and then spent hours deliberating on which one she would “make real.” Should it be the one that looks a bit like Daddy? Or maybe the one with the really crazy hairstyle? In the end, she went for the one that she made of herself and was very excited when it arrived, addressed to her personally. We ordered a hand-knitted beanie, an extra dress and a pair of winged trainers too, so she wasted no time in undressing the doll and changing her outfit, of course — the handmade dresses are much better quality that all of the Barbie ones I’ve seen. It wasn’t long before I was called in to help again though — this time with the shoes. Because all the parts are solid plastic, you don’t always just put the shoes on the feet — sometimes you have have to remove the feet and then click the shoes on at the ankle.
The overall quality of the doll is superb. All of the joints feel secure and solid and have just the right amount of friction to keep them were you put them, which makes posing the dolls very easy. They stand up on their own too, and with the shoes on she can even stand on one leg — something that cannot be said about Barbie and Co. from my extensive experience! The eyes are very lifelike, apart from being oversized, of course, and the hair thick and strong. They may be more expensive than the dolls you can get off the shelf in a toy shop, but you can really feel the difference. Initially, I was worried that they weren’t as robust as a Barbie, and wouldn’t stand up to regular play sessions with a seven year old, but after seeing them “in the plastic,” I’m pretty sure she’ll be OK. Hopefully, the fact that she created the doll will instill a bit more care into my daughter!
That “creation” angle is a really big selling point of the Makies overall. In their online shop they sell a range of 3D printed accessories, including glasses and shoes. They also sell a kit containing a USB stick (housed in a 3D printed spanner of course) loaded with the actual 3D models used to make the accessories, together with several lengths of coloured filaments for you to load up into your own 3D printer and run out your own copies. Even better still, the models are available on Thingverse for you to download for free! Likewise, they also offer a range of handmade outfits for sale, alongside another “Create It” kit containing patterns, fabric and materials for you to make your own. I know people have been making their own clothes for dolls forever — I remember my Mum knitting jumpers for my Action Man figures when I was a kid — but Makies are taking it to a new level.
And that’s just the beginning of the customisation potential. The Makies forums are full of people doing all kinds of mods on their dolls, from sharing clothing patterns to dropping Arduino-powered circuits inside the body and head, and even fixing Lego to them with Sugru to make an amazing “Mechkie.” The faces are suitable for applying “make-up” to with a little preparation — basically covering them with watered-down PVA glue and then using watercolour pencils to apply the colour as shown in a little video Makielab posted. The possibilities are endless, and none of them seem to include finding a nice boy to look after you, going shopping with the girlfriends or waterskiing at the yacht club!
I’m really looking forward to seeing where my daughter is going to go with the doll. She’s already talking about making her own clothes and badgering me about getting a 3D printer. Will the Makie join the Barbies in the pink plastic “Dream Home” or be kept out on her own and given special treatment?
Disclosure: A big thank you to MakieLab for providing us with a Gift Box code.