Above: Spring Arbor resident Danielle Allore-Taylor repairs a stuffed mouse, its white fur mostly rubbed off, at her home recently as part of her business, Fluff Restoration.
By Julie Riddle
SPRING ARBOR ― Danielle Allore-Taylor didn’t intend to become an internet sensation when she posted a TikTok video featuring a stuffed dog named Max.
Now followed by more than a million fans and featured on outlets from the Drew Barrymore Show to a radio program in Australia, the Spring Arbor woman still marvels at how a one-time hobby turned into a chance to touch lives around the world.
A back room of her home serves as headquarters for the business, Fluff Restoration, that sprang up unexpectedly at the height of the pandemic. Piles of rolled fabric, bins of noses and eyes and threads of every color surround Allore-Taylor as she tenderly and painstakingly cares for her customers’ most precious objects, the stuffed animals of their childhoods.
She doesn’t promise to make the stuffies, as she calls them, look new again. No, they can’t be returned to store condition ― they have taken on personalities of their own, built by the love and memories they hold, Allore-Taylor said.
With needle and thread, she gives new life to toys loved long and well, rubbed-off fur and holes and wonky eyes bearing witness to their place of honor in someone’s life.
Restoring stuffies also restores something important inside the people who treasure them, Allore-Taylor said.
“It isn’t just about the animals,” she said. “It’s their story that makes them special.”
As millions across the globe waited out COVID-19 shutdowns, Allore-Taylor and a group of friends took to making TikTok videos to fill their days and create community from their living rooms.
Looking for extra income in late 2020, Allore-Taylor had posted a note to Facebook, offering to repair people’s stuffed animals. She had learned the skill from her mother, who lovingly fixed and re-fixed Allore-Taylor’s favorite stuffed rabbit through its rough-and-tumble existence during her childhood.
The Facebook post got almost no response, but a woman from Illinois noticed it and asked Allore-Taylor to fix her fiance’s stuffed dog, Max.
Allore-Taylor turned the restoration into a video and, thinking little of it, uploaded it just before dinner one night in December.
A rack of inside-out stuffed animal skins hangs to dry in the basement of Spring Arbor resident Danielle Allore-Taylor’s home last week. The drying process, part of Allore-Taylor’s toy restoration business, takes up to three days.
As she and her family ate, “All of a sudden, it was like, ‘Ding. Ding. Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding.’” Allore-Taylor said, describing the flood of responses to the video that exploded onto her phone “We’re all like, ‘What is going on?’”
By the time dinner was over, the video had tens of thousands of views, and Allore-Taylor had a new business.
With hundreds of requests for her services pouring in, she got her kids to bed and then hastily put together a website and picked a business name. And she has not stopped hearing from prospective customers since.
Before long, she had set up shop in the back room. In the first year after her video post, she performed 40 to 50 restorations, restoring about five animals a week working eight-hour days. She recently completed her 800th restoration and hopes to reach 1,000 by the end of 2023, Allore-Taylor said.
She still creates videos of some of her restorations, her work followed by 1.3 million ardent followers on TikTok and 22 thousand followers on Instagram.
Along the way, her work and its broadening internet audience caught the attention of numerous media outlets and landed her a guest spot on a show hosted by actress Drew Barrymore, who Allore-Taylor idolized growing up.
Outlets across Michigan and as far away as a radio show in Australia interviewed Allore-Taylor, and her work earned her a collaboration with Netflix in the making of “Lost Ollie,” a short series about a stuffed rabbit in search of a child.
The fame is fun, but the work with people’s precious belongings touches her heart the most, Allore-Taylor said.
She feels like a surgeon caring for someone’s loved one as she opens boxes from across the country, pulling out animals in various stages of disrepair. The animals aren’t just toys, she knows. They are, in many cases, the most intimate, treasured object in someone’s life.
Pulling out each stuffie’s stuffing and carefully washing and drying it, she holds the toy, studying it, learning its strengths and weaknesses, weighing the best placement of a stitch, finding a replacement for this or that from among the odds and ends she picks up at thrift stores.
As she restores the stuffie, she also gives something back to its owner. Like, for example, the relief her work gave the 20-something sisters who had to abandon their burning house, where only one childhood toy, a stuffed pig, escaped the fire.
Christina, a lanky white bear, was a staunch companion in a time of childhood trauma for another customer. The bear’s restoration helped the woman feel renewed, herself, Allore-Taylor said.
“It’s not just fixing a stuffed animal,” Allore-Taylor said. “It’s helping someone heal.”
The work still comes with surprises, like the request from giant toy company Gund to repair Snuffles the Bear, the childhood toy of a Gund employee. Or the two vacuums donated by a vacuum company in response to a comment on one of her videos.
She remembers many of her restored stuffies by name, like Spot, another stuffed friend caught in a house fire and the inspiration for a scholarship she offers for people who can’t afford her services. She stays in contact with her customers, who sometimes, she said, just need someone to listen to them.
“I’m happy to be that person,” she said. But, with every phone number of every customer still on her phone, “I’m going to have to get more data.”
She’s behind the camera in most of her videos, but once in a while she gets recognized, like at a recent festival when she was eating a corn dog with her daughter and a fan approached her, delighted and grateful for her work.
“After she left, my daughter asked, ‘Are you her friend now?’” Allore-Taylor recounted. “And I told her, ‘I think so.’” (More below)
Stuffies still show up on her doorstep from across the country and overseas. She’s not the only toy restorer on the internet, certainly. But customers tell her they choose her because they can tell from her videos that she handles her fluff-filled patients with love, treating them like the treasures they are.
Holes patched and eyes and noses sewn snug, fur brushed, filled with new filling and with cloth envelopes tucked inside holding bits of fur or other pieces that couldn’t be restored, the stuffies pose for an “after” photo and then get lovingly bundled into boxes, ready to head home to hands longing to hold them again.
“And then,” said Allore-Taylor, “they’re ready for more memories.”
Contact Julie Riddle with questions or story ideas at email@example.com. Follow her on X/Twitter at @jriddleX or on Facebook at julie.riddle.77770, or visit her blog at withmarshmallows.blogspot.com.