Local mother and entrepreneur turns her passion of restoring stuffed childhood treasures into unique business
By ERIN COGGINS
HARVEST – A teddy bear was literally the last thing he had belonging to his father. It was last seen the day his father was killed in an automobile incident, only to resurface when cleaning out his mother’s attic after her death. Dingy and falling apart, the man from New Jersey needed to repair this connection to the past.
Like this man, Madison resident Nicole Adams knows the importance of a childhood security item. Her baby blanket, going threadbare, has been encapsulated with new fabric a couple of times. Both of her daughters have now fallen to sleep under this family treasure.
“I experienced some trauma as a child and my baby blanket got me through everything,” Adams said. “I refused to throw it away, so I had to do what I had to do to save it.”
As owner of the Stuffed Animal Clinic of Madison, LLC, restoring stuffed childhood treasures is now Adams’ full-time job. The idea to open the business originated with her youngest daughter who was constantly asking for her fur friends to be mended.
“She loves stuffed animals and would come to me crying to fix this or that with them,” Adams said. “A friend of mine said that she wished she had the skills to repair her children’s stuffed animals. I have the skills and thought it would be a good idea for the community.”
Adams piloted the idea first by starting a test group of mothers on Facebook. Within an hour, she had 200 posts stating that they loved the idea.
“Moms all understand the sleepless nights full of tears,” Adams said. “And you never know what stuffed animal or blanket your kids get attached to that may need fixed.”
Adams grew up with her grandmother teaching her to sew and love textiles. These skills have proved invaluable to her as a mother where she has often mended her daughters clothing until they outgrow them, or they simply have too much wear and tear. Restoring, instead of replacing, has become her business motto.
“In our sort of economy, if something breaks, people just go buy a new one. They don’t try to fix it first,” Adams said.
As a restoration technician, Adams has restored around 500 stuffed animals in the three years since she opened the clinic. She works on stuffed animals, baby blankets and dolls with fabric bodies. She cleans the “lovies” with hypoallergenic detergent, dish soap and baking soda until they look brand new, or pretty close. Her most common repairs include sewing up tears, replacing missing eyes or noses on request, torn limbs and brushing out matted hair.
“I have also replaced voice boxes and baby criers with very simple layouts,” Adams said. “If the animal is ripped or torn, I patch it. I don’t want it to look brand new. I want it to keep its character. The item is restored so it can be kept for support.”
Emotional support providers are how Adams sees these cherished items. And knowing this, Adams understands she needs to build trust with her customers willing to leave or even mail their precious keepsakes to her. Adams saw how important the trust relationship between her and the customer is when she began working with the adult autistic population.
“These stuffed animals are their best friends growing up. Their attachment is so much more,” Adams said. “It was really eye-opening for me. They want me to realize just how important the stuffed animal is to them. It’s like losing a family member,” Adams said. “When I share my story of my own blanket, they realize that I am the same with my 38-year-old blanket. It helps to establish confidence and trust to leave me that important item for a month or two. I never want to cause emotional stress.”
When Adams started her business in December 2020, she was dealing with the loss of her grandmother. She put the word out there about her new upstart, but the business did not take off for another six months when the local media covered the Stuffed Animal Clinic in a news story which was picked up by affiliate channels.
“Since that news story, I have done podcasts, and have been covered by other local media outlets, including Rocket City Moms,” Adams said. “I still mostly utilize word of mouth and do one Facebook ad a month. That ad generates around 200-400 new followers a month.”
Along with the man from New Jersey, Adams has received items to restore from New York, Oregon, Texas, really business trickles in from all over the country. The farthest came from Jerusalem.
“Her grandmother had passed away and she had an item that served as a connection to her loved one,” Adams said. “I usually do not do items out of the country because of the cost and custom issues, but this lady’s parents were coming to the U.S. to visit family for a month, and we worked out a plan before they flew out. They were very appreciative and called to thank me.”
As someone who provides joy in a restored teddy bear, Adams has also experienced the heartache that comes with her business. After a local lady lost her 8-week-old daughter to RSV, she learned about weighted stuffed animals in a support group. She contacted Adams for a custom-made weighted teddy bear.
“I call them memory bears. She picked out the fabric and I made the bear the exact weight of her daughter when she died. She wanted to feel the same weight on her chest as she did when she held her sleeping child,” Adams said. “It was heartbreaking. She later contacted me to do two more in memory of her daughter for her other children.”
Adams says the job has been fulfilling, yet stressful. She checks her email daily and as a self-proclaimed people pleaser, she ensures that what people need and want, is what they get.
“I take my job so seriously,” Adams said. “I feel guilty when I can’t work on them because I am sick or some other reason. But my customers are sweet and understanding. I make a big deal about mental health. I want people to know that they do not have to go through this alone.”
Just as Adams cherishes the stuffed animals that resonate memories of past times, she also appreciates the time she spent with her grandmother and wants to encourage others to do the same.
“My advice is to cherish your elderly loved ones, listen to their stories and don’t blow off when they have something to tell you. There is always a lesson there,” Adams said. “I miss my grandmother. I miss her stories.”