Red & Olive Co.’s co-founders, Destiny Conner and Lita Barreda are making dolls stitched with love, stories, and a mission.
Their tight bond as a family helped them find inspiration in their children and grandchildren Reed and Olivia, whose liveliness became the crux of Red & Olive Co.’s products.
“What inspired us most was the essence of my children,” says Conner. “Obviously they come everywhere with us, so during the whole design process, I just really envisioned my children and Lita envisioned her grandchildren. We wanted to make dolls inspired by their essence, but that wasn’t specifically them.”
To say the least, Red & Olive Co.’s dolls don’t exactly fit the mainstream box of what dolls are supposed to represent or look like. Sassy Cassy is an adorable cat, with a fuzzy, burgundy sweater and a bold sense of humor. Mr. Beary is a sweet, caring bear with a little, yellow beanie and knit sweater. Foxy Ballerina is a fox who’s a ballerina, complete with a bubblegum pink tutu and a big bow to match. and Stinky Reed is an adventurous skunk, donning bright blue overalls and rollerskates. All the dolls come with matching accessories that are fit for children, so they can further be a part of the toy they’re playing with and feel more connected to it.
“Animals are things that everyone can relate to without necessarily identifying that they’re human,” says Conner. “But I feel like our dolls really have a personality, which is why you can look at one and say ‘Oh, that’s so me!’”
The stepmom and stepdaughter duo — “I wish stepmom didn’t sound so evil,” laughs Conner — didn’t set out to make dolls, though. Conner, who was born and raised in California, went to college for fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing (FIDM) in Los Angeles. After graduating, she became interested in jewelry design and pursued that for a while before opening up her own clothing boutique with a friend. However, once she became a mom, her work went “on pause” for a bit.
On the other hand, Barreda was born in Peru and raised in Ecuador and Venezuela. At 18, years old, she moved to California to go to school for fashion design at FIDM, just like Conner. In 2016, she married Conner’s dad.
Barreda, who draws most of the dolls’ designs, was really inspired by Reed and Olivia’s personalities and lifestyles.
“Reed doesn’t always like to take a bath or whatever, so there’s Stinky Reed, what better way to represent that?” says Barreda. [Stinky Reed] also has sleepy eyes because my grandson has sleepy eyes, so I just loved to portray things like that in my designs.”
Similarly, Foxy Ballerina’s bald head and bow are inspired by Olivia’s love of dance and the fact that she didn’t start growing hair on her head until she was two years old. Sassy Cassy’s attitude is also based on Conner’s daughter.
“Olivia is just sassy,” says Conner. “She’s not going to do anything she doesn’t want to do like, she’s just great.”
Though Barreda has a speediness to the way she works, and Conner appreciates steps and figuring out the “big picture” of things before diving into anything, they’ve learned to work together.
“There was some work at trying to figure out the best way we designed together because it’s a collaborative thing,” says Conner. “We’ve each learned to take both of our sides into account and how to mesh our ideas together and when we’re both in sync, you can feel the magic.”
Kristina D’Angelo, a Red & Olive Co. customer, was first introduced to the brand through a friend. She said that she appreciated the ways that Conner and Barreda’s mom and grandma identities were woven into the brand.
“I love that Destiny and Lita are both moms and grandmas,” said D’Angelo. “I think they have a unique perspective on what kids want and what parents want for their kids. It’s wonderful that they get to collaborate, be creative and really drive their small business and make an impact in our world.”
However, it’s not just Conner and Barreda who have a part in making their visions come to life. In fact, the team has hired female artisans — many of which are friends of the family — in Peru who make these dolls by hand. Barreda draws the dolls’ designs and sends them to a factory, where physical samples are developed. From there, the Peruvian artisans hand-knit the dolls. They send them back to the factory for measuring and stuffing. Finishing touches are added–the dolls’ smiles, the little x’s on their overalls, the proper eye shapes– before they’re sent back to the company’s headquarters in California.
Incorporating Peru into their business was an important facet. Both Conner and Barreda are Peruvian and felt that, throughout the process of creating the identity of Red & Olive Co., they wanted to empower other women and mothers as well.
“I have a passion for giving back, that’s always been in my heart, and we take so much pride in being connected to these women,” says Conner. “I knew that anything I ever did, I knew that there had to be some sort of ethical, ‘give back’ model.”
Customers like D’Angelo not only enjoy the company’s products but the fact that Red & Olive. Co is a social impact brand that’s always looking to give back, as well.
“I love how they are not only able to support local foundations here in Los Angeles, but artisans in Peru, I thought that was really great,” said D’Angelo. “Their products are adorable, my daughter was instantly attracted to all of them… and I just thought they were different and unique.”
It’s clear that Conner and Barreda didn’t just want to make dolls or a business, but a lifestyle that was instilled with love and encouraged a passionate sense of play. They work together to create dolls that can grow with kids and be something more permanent than toys,– which sparks imagination, play, and friendship.
“When you’re little, you play with your dolls, you go through life with them, they become your companion or your best friend,” says Barreda. “I remember when I was a little girl, I loved my dolls. I slept with them, played with them, and cried if something happened to them, so dolls are really important for children’s emotional development.”
Right now, Conner and Barreda are continuing to make new dolls, including some inspired by their family pets and Barreda’s 22-year-old daughter.
“We’re just really trying to inspire joy for your children, the artisan’s children, the artisans, and for humanity,” says Conner. “It’s important to start a brand that pays attention to whether things are being ethically made and it’s important for kids to learn that and hopefully, teach that to future generations, so it’s just all about joy and making people really feel that.”