“Roulette” is a 16-inch alpaca bear designed by Isabelle Lee and released by Charlie Bears in a limited edition of 500.
Just seven years since Charlie Bears was founded, the British maker of artist-designed bears and friends is preparing to launch its biggest collection yet—about 60 new plush characters that will be available in more than 30 countries around the world in February 2013.
“It’s our largest range of plush bears yet, as we will now only launch one collection per year of the plush and one collection of mohair bears,” said William Morris, who founded the company with his wife, Charlotte “Charlie” Morris, in November 2005. “The overwhelming response from our stockists is that it is our best collection to date.”
The first Charlie Bears were released in February 2006, but the story of Charlie Bears’ origin goes back much further than that—to the fateful day when William Morris decided to buy a teddy bear to cheer up his hospitalized mother and ended up at one of Charlie’s shops, buying a bear from Charlie herself. It took a few more visits before William worked up the nerve to ask her out. The rest, as they say, is history.
A panda of a different color, 15-inch “Savoury Pudding” is made from long-pile plush with faux-suede paw pads.
Charlie had been collecting teddy bears since she was a child and at one time she had a small chain of shops in and around Leeds in the United Kingdom. Sadly, by 2000, she was out of the bear business—at least temporarily. Once again, it was buying a teddy bear as a gift that was the catalyst. Now married, William and Charlie Morris saw a need for high-quality, affordable teddy bears in 2003 and began figuring out how they could fill that niche in the market.
It took years, and the investment of their life savings, for the couple to research safety regulations and line up everything they needed, from artist designers to suppliers to the right manufacturers. The company struggled for the first year or two, but got a break when Charlie Morris convinced the QVC home shopping channel in Britain to offer some of Charlie Bears’ handmade creations. The trial was a success, and Charlie Bears still appear on QVC to this day, though North American viewers probably won’t be seeing them on TV anytime soon, William Morris said.
“Currently, Charlie Bears has a 62-week production back order due to the huge demand from our current stockists, although this is falling weekly with new manufacturing facilities and a huge staff-training program in place,” he said. “We are taking on new stockists all the time now, but to take on another big company like QVC in the United States would get us into trouble with our other stockists.”
“Wilson” is an 18-inch mohair bear designed by Isabelle Lee and limited to 250 pieces worldwide.
The company is planning to expand further in North America, however. After opening a new “cubhouse” in Victoria, Australia, in 2012, William Morris said they hope to open a distribution center in the United States soon. “We are hoping to base ourselves somewhere on the West Coast. We’d be able to service all of Canada and the United States from there. Charlie and I will be visiting North America during 2013 to, hopefully, move this forward with a view to opening a facility during 2014 or 2015.”
Fortunately, there are a number of North American dealers who offer Charlie Bears—wherever you live you can find your nearest dealer at using the store locator at the Charlie Bears website.
Charlie Bears releases two collections each year, one in February and one in September. The company’s current collection includes 22 plush and 40 mohair bears. Because the bears are made by hand, edition sizes tend to be small, with some limited editions as small as 250, while the average production from launch to retirement is around 3,000 worldwide.
According to William Morris, many ideas for new bears come from collectors themselves. “A huge amount of inspiration comes from our collectors, and this is the great thing about the company—we will always evolve with what our collectors want to see. We also draw a lot of inspiration from current fashion trends and world events, which sometimes push us in a different direction,” he said.
“Charlie and I have been out on the road this year meeting with well over 10,000 collectors at 15 events across the U.K., and we are now just bursting with ideas for future collections which have been given to us by collectors as young as 3 and as old as 104,” he added. “You can always send in a name suggestion or design idea to firstname.lastname@example.org, although we can’t promise to use them all, we do tend to choose the ones that have lovely stories attached so that we can really bring the bear’s personality to life.”
Joyce Greenholdt is the editor of Dolls Magazine.
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