When Jane Cher’s mum announced that she had “watched all the YouTube videos she was interested in”, Jane knew she had to do something.
Over the past few years Jane had watched her mum leave her full-time office job to become a housewife at the family home. “Her day had a very monotonous routine,” Jane, 25, says. “She’d get up, do some chores, cook lunch for the family, do more chores, make dinner, and watch online videos. I could tell she was bored and I wanted to help her.”
Worried for her mum, Jane started trying to think of fun ways to bring more joy and purpose into her life. After a few days, she recalled the time when she was 17 years old, and her mum repaired her childhood Winnie-The-Pooh toys for her. “I remembered how pleased she was after she’d replaced the old stuffing to make them as good as new,” Jane says. “She was so satisfied to see me happy. I wanted Mum to feel that way again.”
When Jane suggested the idea of mending toys to her mum, she was not convinced. “Mum didn’t think people would want their old toys repaired when they could just buy new ones, but when I explained how much my toys meant to me – giving me a sense of comfort and familiarity since I was a child – she came around to the idea.”
Telling Jane to “bring me the customers and I’ll do it for you!” the challenge was on.
Comfort & familiarity
Jane came up with the name for Stuffed Toys Hospital, launched a Facebook page, designed a company logo, and created a contact form for customers looking to give their toys some TLC. Four months after setting up in 2018, they received their first enquiry from a lady with an old Eeyore in need of new stuffing. The ‘patient’ was dropped off at Aljunied MRT and the ‘operation’ was completed in a few days. Says Jane, “The lady left us a really good review online, I added a video onto social media, and the rest is history.”
Business at Stuffed Toys Hospital boomed. What started as a side hustle to inject some fun into her mum’s day soon developed into several toys in need arriving daily. Jane’s online postings of ‘before and after’ images drummed up interest fast, and her mum’s skills developed quickly.
“Mum devised some great repair methods such as her cleaning technique which involves carefully removing stuffing, using certain cleaning agents to minimise damage, and being mindful of the patient’s original fabric to determine the best drying process,” Jane explains.
Before long, Stuffed Toys Hospital was welcoming up to 30 patients a month into their home with a variety of ailments: threadbare hands, discolouration, and poor eyesight were common conditions. Some had been in fights with other people or pets. Many simply no longer had an oomph for life. Despite having no formal sewing training, Jane started to learn the ropes from her mum so she could assist with repairs around her day job as an Operations Manager. However, in 2022 when patient turnover was rapidly increasing, Jane quit her full-time employment to dedicate her time to the toys.
Tale behind the toy
Jane continues to run the hospital from the family’s home, and to date they’ve saved the lives of over 5,000 patients. Now her mum has a full-time job, Jane oversees every element of the business herself, including answering requests, meeting the customers, making a diagnosis, carrying out surgery, monitoring the aftercare, and returning the patient safely. She keeps on top of stock by shopping online and making regular visits to Spotlight and Chinatown.
On average, Jane works on three toys at a time and the hours are long – up to 15 hours per day during hectic periods. Yet passion drives her forward. Jane, who studied architecture at Singapore University of Technology and Design says the toy hospital has opened up her mind to creative possibilities. “My previous education helps with what I do now,” she says. “In architecture, you have the concept, the design phase, the drawing phase – it’s the same when a toy comes in. I have to devise a systematic way of making the repairs successful with an added artistic touch.”
As every toy is different, Jane says there is no fixed way to operate and she’ll do “a little bit of everything each day” including washing, drying, cleaning, stuffing, sewing, and more. Intense projects like fabric replacement or facial rejuvenation take her up to one day.
When she meets customers, they inevitably tell Jane a tale behind the toy. Many are from childhood (her eldest customer is in his 60s); others are prized possessions of young children; one toy gets a Christmas clean every year. A lot belong to men, but they’re admitted by a female on their behalf. One husband presented Jane with the Dumbo toy he’d bought for his now wife 20 years ago – he requested it be spruced up as an anniversary present.
Such an emotional attachment between the customer and toy burdens Jane with a huge sense of responsibility once the patient is in her care. “I do get nervous that I won’t be able to achieve exactly what’s required,” she says.
“To date, the hospital has saved the lives of over 5,000 stuffed patients”
Thankfully, over the years she has learned what’s achievable and what’s not. For example, someone asking for an old toy to be repaired to “look like new” is unrealistic. “Instead, the toy will just end up looking ‘different’ which nobody wants for a toy that’s meaningful to them,” explains Jane, recalling a particularly painful procedure involving a Piglet.
She also rejects toys if they’ve almost disintegrated from too much love, or too many play dates, and their original look and shape is unrecognisable. Very old vintage toys where the stuffing is an old type of polyester, or the stitching is so different from how it is today, are also turned down in case any work causes further damage. Jane says earnestly, “If the patient is not going to pull through, I will be honest.”
The best moment is when the patient is discharged. “It’s only when I see the customer smile and know that they’re happy with the result that I relax.”
Alongside her schedule, Jane continues to showcase the toy transformations on social media. In addition, she runs Toy Workshops and designs and makes little toy outfits.
Despite the tireless nature of her work, Jane adores that her job is artistic and challenges her every day. Starting Stuffed Toys Hospital has also brought her closer to her mum. “I feel like she’s the only one who understands what I’m doing,” she says. “The business has strengthened my relationship with her which is a huge plus. Mum really feels like part of me.”
Is there a toy doctor in the house?
A small history of patients.
E.T. had been accompanying his guardian since he was little, being there for him when he got scolded as a child. Unfortunately, E.T. was washed in the washer by his guardian’s spouse and his neck got horribly torn. E.T. was with us for eight weeks, mostly because we had no idea where to start.
Barney came in with fabric thinning all over his body. The owner is super-lucky that we were able to find a very similar-looking fabric for him. It was requested for the light green handkerchief to be kept as it is, but stitched nicely to the belly.
Mei Mei was originally light yellow/off-white. Pinky promise we didn’t swap Mei Mei out for another completely different stuffed dog.
Ishuah has been accompanying his little owner since his NICU days. We could see that he had been well-loved by his owner. Look at the satisfaction on Ishuah’s face after the intense deep cleaning session!
Aljunied MRT Station, 388310 stuffedtoyshospital.com