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UCLA student crochets for a cause by donating business profits to charities

Third-year theater student Molly Erwin crochets colorful items such as hats and said she hopes to branch out into creating more funky designs. Her crochet shop, Molly’s Dollies, started during the pandemic when she picked up an old hobby of fiber arts. She donates a portion of her proceeds to charities of her customers’ choice. (Courtesy of Molly Erwin)

By Sandra Ocampo

Jan. 3, 2022 12:50 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 5 at 11:55 p.m.

Molly Erwin crochets to make a change.

The founder of Molly’s Dollies and third-year theater student said her crochet shop was inspired by her ability to create doll figures of friends and family but now serves as a way to create custom pieces while supporting social justice movements. At the beginning of the pandemic, Erwin returned to her childhood hobby of fiber arts to provide donations toward COVID-19 efforts through her crochet shop run through social media.

“(The pandemic) is a really good time to put efforts and proceeds towards those community funds,” Erwin said. “Then it can have a good impact and make someone buy my (product) and know that they’re also contributing to something bigger.”

Erwin said she first learned to knit with chopsticks and twine at 9 years old while watching a YouTube video. Crocheting then came second, along with the making of her first doll, Erwin said. Her first big order for her shop consisted of crocheting famous musician dolls for a family friend, which she said allowed her to hone her crocheting skills one doll at a time.

With her downtime during the COVID-19 pandemic, Erwin said she revived her crochet abilities and began to make hats, sweaters and custom orders to begin her shop. Although the business started off small, Erwin said the Molly’s Dollies Instagram account saw a surge in followers during the pandemic, after a peer shared a TikTok video of a bucket hat she made. Initially, 70% of her profits were funneled toward COVID-19 efforts, but Erwin now allows her customers to donate to a charity of their choice.

“During COVID-19, we couldn’t leave our houses and go out and help unless you were a first responder,” she said. “I wanted to be supporting them in the way that I could from my home, and I’m sure that people also wanted to support them and donate as well.”

(Courtesy of Molly Erwin)
Although this Bernie Sanders doll is more recent, Erwin said she began creating crocheted figurines when she first picked up her hook around 9 years old. (Courtesy of Molly Erwin)

[Related: UCLA student celebrates Indigenous heritage through handmade beadwork business]

Erwin’s friend Mason Locker said she drew inspiration from an Urban Outfitters shorts pattern and requested a hat from Erwin. Locker said she appreciated the ability to customize the design and wears the hat during the winter in Boston to keep warm, and she often shares it with her roommates. Aside from having sentimental value, Locker said what made the hat special was the ability to donate the proceeds to her charity of choice.

“Having (Erwin) make this piece for me was just very special to me,” Locker said. “And the fact that 10% of the proceeds ended up going to the Native American Rights Fund is also something that’s very important to me.”

In addition to supporting a cause, personalization was key for Erwin’s roommate’s mother, Lorraine Oneill-Grasso, as she said she ordered a set of dolls for Christmas with each doll representing one of her sisters. The appearance of each doll was strikingly similar to the person it was intended to be, she said. The hair color, clothing and accessories featured in the picture of her siblings were matched in the dolls, Oneill-Grasso said.

In terms of her creative process, Erwin said her design plan for orders consists of a collaborative effort in which she takes the colors and specific ideas of the client and draws sketches from those instructions. She said her goal is for her customers to not only be happy with the piece but also want to wear it consistently.

“I love when people come to me with a creative vision or they say things that they like, and then I get to design it, and it’s a collaborative (effort),” Erwin said.

(Courtesy of Molly Erwin)
Erwin said her favorite part of her shop is collaborating with customers to create custom designs that they will love and want to wear. (Courtesy of Molly Erwin)

[Related: UCLA student embraces activism, community with sustainably sourced crewnecks]

As a form of sustainable fashion, crocheting is something Erwin said she enjoys, and she will continue stocking her shop. Because of the surge in popularity of crocheting, she also said she wants to create awareness of smaller creators, like herself, to keep their livelihoods from being threatened by fast fashion corporations that may steal their designs.

“The more we, as small creators, can overcome (fast fashion) and just keep pushing each other’s work, then we can keep people who actually use this as their livelihood and their main job in business,” Erwin said.

Going forward, Erwin said she will be starting a crocheting club this quarter to provide fellow Bruin crocheters with a community. In an effort to maintain her social justice efforts, she said she wants to collaborate with organizations on campus that focus on community action. As for Molly’s Dollies, Erwin said she strives to complete more challenging designs as she continues to fulfill orders.

“(Crocheting) is very therapeutic to me, and I keep striving for (creativity),” Erwin said.

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Sandra Ocampo
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