young female entrepreneurs
TAPPING INTO CREATIVITY - Kate Lally (from left), Madeline Pollock and Gabrielle Pollock, from Los Gatos, are hosting a summer camp in Saratoga where attendees can bring their dolls with them. (Courtesy of kit & sis)

When 21-year-old Los Gatos twins Gabrielle and Madeline Pollock started a business, they were just 13. Their co-founder, best friend Kate Lally, was only 12.

The trio had been playing with dolls together since preschool, but as they got older, they saw younger kids—who grew up surrounded by new technology—were craving tactile playtime.

They decided to host a doll-and-crafts summer camp in Saratoga, and so, their business Kit & Sis was born.

“We really realized there was a need for this,” Madeline said. “Kids have all this untapped creativity.”

They drew on their own experience of playing with the miniature human replicas, attending Daves Avenue Elementary, while Lally went to St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception School.

Madeline remembers how it all started with their mom telling them they shouldn’t spend $50-$60 on accessories for their toys when they could just make their own.

“Quickly, this challenge became a hobby,” Madeline said. “We were always making miniature doll-sized food out of sponges.”

The first camp, held at Lally’s grandmother’s house, introduced a pathway to real-world playtime for members of a generation raised by iPads.

“We found a lot of kids were really glued to technology,” Gabrielle said. “We wanted to create a really beautiful and fun—and inclusive—experience with kids of all ages.”

They also saw a void in the summer activity landscape, Madeline says, explaining how they were always frustrated they couldn’t bring their beloved dolls to camp.

“There was just nothing that was tailored towards girls and their dolls,” she said. “We really wanted to create that dream experience.”

She describes the first camp as a “shot in the dark,” but says they were pleased that 10 campers aged 5-11 chose to give their idea a try.

TEA PARTY – Kit & Sis’ summer camps focus on crafting with unique themes and materials. (Courtesy of Kit & Sis)

The camp was quite the thrill for these initial customers, Gabrielle recalled.

“It sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s like a magic in their eyes,” she said. “The parents just love to see their kids do what they love to do.”

They’ve continued hosting their yearly camp for the past eight years, and have expanded to sending out craft boxes quarterly (the first one’s free when you buy a subscription, the entrepreneurs note). And this year, they’ve also partnered with the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco’s Union Square for an overnight camp.

Growing a business together is like crafting, but for adults, Madeline says.

“It’s just been the most incredible experience,” she said. “We’re kind of learning as we go.”

Gabrielle says a big part of what they do is re-introducing traditional concepts of play.

“At the end of the day, kids—and people in general—just really value freedom,” she said, adding while many youth choose to pursue this through technology, “—crafting can give you that, too.”

girl holds craft box
UNBOXING – Kit & Sis craft box. (Courtesy of Kit & Sis)

Each day at summer camp comes with unique themes and materials. That could be little easels for an art-focused day, tiny furniture for a home décor theme or doll-sized lunch boxes and hula hoops for an outdoorsy itinerary. The final day features a tea party.

Gabrielle said sustainability is a big part of their approach to business.

“The special thing about our products is our crafts can be used again,” she said. “You make it; you build it; it extends playtime.

“It’s not just a one-and-done-and-throw-it-away.”

Gabrielle says playing with dolls and making crafts in a group setting helps teach confidence and leadership skills.

“It is honestly a one-of-a kind summer camp experience,” she said. “We’ve never had a disappointed customer.”

Madeline explains since some of their customers can’t read yet, they decided to make instructional videos to go with the subscription boxes.

They’re also offering a virtual summer camp.

Meanwhile, the twins started studying business administration at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, concentrating in entrepreneurship.

Since Lally has been taking business administration and graphic communications classes at Stone Hill College in Boston, remote collaboration has become crucial.

“We make it work,” Gabrielle said. “It’s made our friendship stronger.”

-The in-person “Dollie & Me” summer camp will be held June 20-22 in Saratoga and costs $200 (and is currently 20% off).

-The virtual camp will be held June 27-29 and costs $140.

-The hotel camp at The Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square is scheduled for July 9-10 and costs $349.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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