Buteelchi dolls, made by Mongolian designer Baatar and his team, are displayed on the grassland. (Photo/China Daily)
Barbie may be the most famous doll in the world, but a team of artisans in Ordos, the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, is carving out a niche market with their handmade, Barbie-sized dolls dressed in the intricate, traditional costumes of the plateau.
In 2014, Baatar, a 32-year-old member of the Mongolian ethnic group, started to make the dolls, named Buteelchi, which means "pioneer" in Mongolian. The poseable dolls have been gaining attention at Chinese and international arts and crafts fairs, and last year the business received its first foreign order for more than 600 dolls priced at 6,800 yuan ($1,034) each, giving them international exposure.
After graduating from the University of California's School of Art, Baatar founded his company with other 30 Mongolian art lovers at the College Student Pioneer Park in Ordos' Dongsheng district. Combining painting, sculpturing, costume designing and other arts, they created a distinctive product that collectors are expected to prize.
"The more national, the more global," Baatar said. "I learned that many foreigners are very interested in Mongolian culture when I was in the United States, such as how Genghis Khan's descendants live and what Mongolians wear. We wanted to create something ethnic and to fully show foreigners our Mongolian culture."
More than 100 different Buteelchi dolls are on display at the company's exhibition hall, like characters performing an old Mongolian tale. The dolls have fair skin, vivid expressions, elaborate Mongolian robes and headdresses inlaid with red coral, agate, turquoise and silver. Every Buteelchi doll is poseable, created with spherical joints.
"It takes seven artists two to three days to complete one Buteelchi through drawing, sculpturing, modeling, polishing and so on," Baatar said. "They are all handmade, and the makeup on every tiny face is very delicate."
The challenges of starting a new business when money was in short supply led to diversity in its products.
The push to enter the international market with the Buteelchi dolls has achieved the most success. The dolls have been sold in Europe, the US, Japan and South Korea.
"Next, we plan to make 480 Buteelchi dolls to show 28 scenes from an Ordos wedding, which is a national intangible cultural heritage," Baatar said. "Then those Mongolian Buteelchi dolls will be exhibited extensively in China and abroad."