“From a young girl, I was always the creative one. I wanted to say to everyone ‘see me – this is what I have to say’ through what I created.”
Adrian Holmes, of Cambridge, has used her artistic talents and the heritage of her family to create the beautiful and culturally iconic, “I am My Sister” doll line. This handcrafted, one-of-a-kind doll collection reflects the beauty, pride, individuality, and collective strength of “sister-women” and womanhood. Cloaked in an eclectic mix of ethnic and traditional textiles, each I am My Sister doll is completely made of recycled and re-purposed clothing, jewelry, leather, and other textiles – draped, stitched, and shaped to reflect a story.
Adrian’s creative journey began as a child. She and her sister, Paula, shared a bedroom their entire childhood. It was filled with Barbies, paper dolls, pin-ups from Right On, Ebony, and Jet magazines. In high school at the Philadelphia High School for Girls, fashion started to matter to Adrian, who sewed a new outfit every weekend to wear to school on Mondays. Her love for sewing carried through her adult life as she sewed outfits for her two young daughters as soon as they were able to walk. Later, her sewing was transformed through her company A. Renee Designs, LLC, which specialized in custom faux finishes, window treatments, and interior design.
Influences also came from Adrian’s mother, Mary Green, who was the former First Lady of Christ Baptist Church in Philadelphia where her father was the pastor. Mary, an animated storyteller, was always very stylish and had a hat for every occasion.
“My church family in Maryland allowed me to further explore my God-given gifts through creative expression. We produced dances and theatrical productions beyond our skillset and training. We had several dance groups, each requiring an ad-hoc costume change or new prop – whatever the performance dictated,” Adrian remembers.
Adrian’s mother’s sister, Daisy, was a missionary in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa for over 30 years. She taught Adrian and family members how to wrap their heads, bodies, and carry their babies in beautiful African fabrics. This also influenced Adrian’s sense of style that she says is somewhat bohemian.
After her mother died in 2011, Adrian displayed her mother’s 52 hats at the memorial service – a tribute to her mom’s sense of style. She kept all of her mother’s clothing and accessories, thinking one day that she would eventually wear them. She remembers the day she finally tried one of her mother’s dresses on, realizing that while they looked fabulous on her mother, they weren’t really her style.
The idea for the “I am My Sister” doll line began years before in 1995 when Adrian was stationed at Fort Mead during her 15-year Air Force career. At that time, she made raffia angel dolls using African fabrics and sold them in the Philadelphia area. When people began asking her if she still made the angels years later, several years after her mother died, she realized she could create a new doll repurposing her mother’s clothing and incorporating her Aunt Daisy’s missionary heritage. The newfound project helped her through the grieving process.
“I realized that I could better celebrate the glamour and style of this woman by using her clothing and jewelry in something I created – sharing the fabrics of her life with other women,” Adrian shares.
“My hands were led by this energy. These people were a part of me. I believe these dolls are a culmination of my life and all of the women who have poured into my life. While making them helped in grieving the loss, it also celebrates the woman my mother was and the woman I have become. The dolls reflect and celebrate the real essence of beauty, grace, and style of women who have come before us and who have shaped who we are today.
In creating the dolls, Adrian wanted to make something that portrayed “regal, royal, and goddess” and that could stand in their own beauty. Each doll is handmade and one-of-a-kind. Every deviation in making a doll is an expression of that specific doll.
“Their beauty comes from my humanity – my imperfections become their beauty and uniqueness,” she explains.
As she creates each doll, Adrian is more concerned about the overall aesthetic, not the skin color she uses for each one. She adds, “I am a colorist and don’t see the color of my dolls – it is secondary to the overall design.”
People can request a particular skin color, however, from ivory to midnight, when ordering a doll. In addition to the collection that she has available in her online shop, she custom makes dolls for people, including dolls for people who have lost loved ones, incorporating the loved one’s clothing in the design. Dolls can also be made from a wedding or prom dress or a father’s favorite tie. The process takes about two to four weeks and prices range from $130 to $175 for each doll.
“I enjoy doing this and celebrating the culmination of someone’s life. Using fabrics from a loved one’s clothing means nothing is wasted,” she adds.
“I am My Sister” dolls start with a wooden stand to which Adrian adds a soft doll body. She then selects fabrics to compliment the bodies and embellishments, like jewelry and buttons, to make each one special. She quips, “At my trade shows, my dolls are on risers. People smile when they see them as they look like a gospel choir ready to sing. The dolls are always giving love and receiving love,” she states.
Her categories of dolls include sorority dolls, breast cancer dolls, Afrocentric dolls, military dolls, fancy bridal dolls, and custom/memory dolls.
“The dolls embody the spirit of our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, daughters, and goddaughters, and let us know we do not walk this journey alone!” she says.
~ Written by Amelia Blades Steward