Monday, November 16, 2009

Katherine's Collection

Several weeks ago, I posted about a strange toothfairy doll that my dentist had. I was completely transfixed by it and wanted to learn more about the manufacturer. "Katherine's Collections" was local, but they turned out to be oddly cagey about their merchandise, which is only available via dealers. Even their website has limited access. I did a little research about the company and found their story compelling. I thought it might be worthy of a profile I could pitch, so I queried them a few times. They did not respond.

Even though the mysterious behavior only fueled my intrigue, I let it go. I didn't think more about it until I returned to my dentist last week and mentioned the doll and blog post. He said that Katherine's Collection was having their once-a-year open-to-the-public warehouse sale starting that day. I couldn't verify the sale anywhere online, but I hopped in the car anyway. Silver Lake is only about 20 miles away.

A temporary sign announced the sale. The lot was packed. Inside the warehouse, people were dragging boxes loaded with decorative finery up and down aisles of ... well ... stuff. I dutifully got a box and started the bovine trek through the cavernous warehouse. I didn't find any Oompa Loompas prancing around, but the merchandise was worthy of a Tim Burton set. Everything seemed to have a point of view. My fingertips hovered over the beaded purses. I perused the bins of shimmering ribbon.

The more closely I inspected the merchandise, however, the more frayed ends and damaged items I found. A darling pudgy harlequin ornament was missing a foot. Another beaded one was shedding its sparkles. Rhinestones were plastic instead of glass. I would be charmed by a figure, then disappointed in its quality. Everything I saw was manufactured in India or China.

But the masks uber-charmed me. Sequins and gold trim and feathers. Elaborate petals blooming from foreheads. They were just seven or ten dollars each. I started to shuffle through the pile. Many were damaged, but I persevered and found three I loved.

Then I came upon the larger dolls.

I loved their outfits and faces and hair. Many of them were about three feet tall--they were marked $80 to $150.

This one was garbed in Christmas finery, but I thought she looked like Laura Bush. She was marked $250 and (nearly) life-sized--that's my hand for reference.

All I had was my phone cam, which barely captures the presence of the dolls.

I ended up with a small mermaid. She is truly wonderful and perhaps a bargain for $8, providing I don't ponder the conditions under which she was manufactured. She'll be fine as long as I set her on a shelf and leave her alone. If we have a little girl as a guest, however, I don't think the mermaid will last very long. She's beautiful, but made with the cheapest textiles.

The same is true of the masks. There are telltale holes in one mask where some accoutrement has already fallen out, another has tears in the backing.

It's tragic that the brilliance behind this success is dulled by mass market shoddiness and the question of Asian working conditions. I can only imagine how breathtaking these creations would be if they were carefully handmade with quality components.

Note to self: don't sell out.

* * *


Jack Cluth said...

"Don't sell out." Amen, Erin...a lesson all of us could stand to learn.

Erin O'Brien said...

It seems silly, but this was jarring to me. It also says something about We The People.

Properly produced, this merchandise would have been spectacular. What about craftsmanship and pride in your work? Maybe Americans don't care anymore. You don't get a sense of it here, but that stuff was flying out of there.

We're more spoiled and fatter than ever. ugh.

dean said...

So I guess the reason they are so secretive is that they don't want people to know they sell crap?

It's a weird sort of marketing plan.

Anonymous said...

This post and the previous one about Ai WeiWei seem to pretty much raise every existential question facing humanity.
When I first saw the photo I just experienced it as a spontaneous expression of joy. Then I went to his site and got to feeling all guilty and shit because he is a true advocate for social justice by taking action at risk of life and limb and I sit around in my comfortable western home and occaisionally write my congressman. And the joy I had felt looking at the photo faded away. Same with your mermaid and the other items in the warehouse. At first blush dazzling but then with closer examination and contemplation of production in sweat shops the sparkle fades. Should I kill myself now or hope your love of the mermaid transforms her and by extension the rest of us a la the velveteen rabbit? Fuck.


Erin O'Brien said...

RJ--I have received your transmission confirming that you are receiving my transmission. This makes me very, very happy.

Tag said...

Erin it is a shame. On the other hand there are craftspeople making quality dolls and other home made oddness all over the country. I know I've been dragged to enough craft shows over the years. Much of it is repetitive, there is much creativity as well.

Gillian said...

I just adore the old lady with the glasses.

LimesNow said...

Cheesy beautiful things, Erin? Sell-out, indeed.

One wonders what the factory workers in third world countries think of the stuff they're churning out.

Joshua said...

I love puppets, and am saddened by the shoddy quality. I guess you get what you pay for in this instance, which sucks for the person who labored to make it.


Erin O'Brien said...

Gillian captures it: I'd see something remarkable and be drawn to it. Then after a closer looks, my brow would collapse and I'd think wait a minute ....

KinkyJew said...

See, this is what makes me mad: they're great concepts, but the follow-through is crap. Likewise, I see these beautiful buildings from the 20's and 30's all over New York with fantastic designs and art deco sculptures, but the newer buildings look like crap. I thought, along with technology, we would also be able to make art easier for all people to enjoy... not shoddy craftsmanship and a shitty final product. This makes me sad... on the bright side, I totally heart your blog now!

Bill said...

I guess I shouldn't comment but this kind of crap is of no interest to me. I don't care where it's made or who made it. Land fill is the best place for it. I hope you didn't drag goat along. I'm sure he would have hated it. However; "happy wife, happy life".

word verification: restr: the act of sitting down while wife is looking at crap. As in "restr right here in this chair:

Erin O'Brien said...

Two comments, Bill:

1. The best thing about The Erin O'Brien Owner's Manual for Human Beings is that you never know what you're going to get.

2. The worst thing about The Erin O'Brien Owner's Manual for Human Beings is that you never know what you're going to get.

But that's what I do here, and like I said in the post: I'm not going to sell out.

Bill said...

and that's exactly why i like reading whatever you write! I still want to know if goat went along.

Erin O'Brien said...

Trust in the Lord that I braved this endeavor alone (although I did see a couple of doomed husbands lurking amongst the display trees).

That said, I was fascinated by the whole thing (perhaps that's obvious). Women had boxes LOADED with this stuff. I overheard one say, "They were lined up before 8 a.m. to get in."

I can't help but try to deconstruct stuff like this.

Entrepreneur Chick said...


I was telling my husband, yeah- I mean everythig is material to her (Erin O'Brien). She even had a post about her daughter's rubberbands on her braces!

And then you do something like this...

I believe I am becoming a better communicator from reading you so much.

I've changed the look of my blog and the nature of my posts have taken on a different personality.

MUAH to you! xxoxxo

Julie said...

Uh oh, soft spot poked, rant coming on....I had a small kitschy gift shop in a quaint college town for five years, and the things I had that were handmade locally and of the highest quality and artistic asthetic ALWAYS undersold the small amount of crappy Made in Hell items I carried. I sold my store before I lost my soul, but OH how I loved the customers that appreciated the good stuff without complaining and saying "When is this thing going on sale?" And, my store was considered successful in the town, and I barely cleared a profit - my biggest competitor was Target, 15 miles away, who had no profit issues. Sigh. You hit the nail on the head with this one, Erin!

Verification word: Hoonsuck. As in, "they bought all of the mass-produced hoonsuck."

Erin O'Brien said...

Thanks ladies.

I love that you peeps are having fun with the word verification. Oh how I hated turning that thing on!

Whitenoise said...

Sorry, those dolls are just freaky... Chucky freaky.

Gina said...

I'm saddened by this post, too, because it makes me see how much greed rules people these days. Instead of supporting local craftsman, we buy our chairs at WalMart. We buy things we don't want or need ... we judge others by how much they spent on shoes or a handbag. None of it makes any sense at all to me. What are we doing?

Bill said...

yeah gina, there are lots of greedy people around. don't get me started on sterotyping though. i live in a small community and they have these art festivals all the time. since i don't appreciate any of that stuff i call them chingaderas. (ask a spanish speaking person). but, i do support my local business. particularly the local hardware store. oh. i don't judge people too much either. but, that's because i'm old.

word verification: feapickl: a person who buys chingaderas.

Entrepreneur Chick said...

$8.1 million in annual sales, this company!

Could you query them again? Man, would I love to have you interview them.

They have certainly located the hole in the market place and filled it.

Even running at a 50% profit margin, that's still very good. (Less materials, payroll and taxes.)

Anonymous said...

Well well aren't you so full of yourself.!I see by your judgements of this couple,( who are out in the trenches trying to make a living by designing and delivering excellent goods),that your requirements are quite lofty.I also shopped for the first time this year at her warehouse sale and found the quality of the highly detailed dolls "exquisite".If you found the textiles "crappy" I'm wondering what country you're from? It seems to me you have no room to talk,seeing your picture flaunting the cheap-ass chinese rhinestone bracelet! People like you make me want to YAK.Give it up.Give your mermaid to someone who appreciates craftsmanship-no matter where it comes from.

Erin O'Brien said...

Dear Anonymous,

As for the rhinestone "ERIN" bracelet, a friend of mine purchased it at a second hand shop for 50 cents and sent it to me, knowing I can full well appreciate a joke. I thought the photo indicated as much.

Thanks for dropping in and commenting just the same. I stand by everything I said in this post.

Happy New Year, baby.

Danny said...

I just had to comment on your article I have been selling Katherine's Collection mannequin dolls and ornaments for over seven years. I must say the dolls are just beautiful they are all handmade and each life size doll can take up to three months to make. Decorative living are based in the UK and we ship worldwide. Another thing that the dolls are very collectible and they sell out very fast.

Online uk gifts said...

Well I had read all the comments on katherine's collection dolls about the workmanship I must say that yes sometimes there are a few things are wrong but you have to remember that they are handmade in most cases the dolls are well beautifully made and the detail is absolutely stunning I have customers who have purchased dolls from us for over eight years and the customer feedback is well 10 out of 10 judge for yourself then go to happy customers page.

James king

Decorative living

Anonymous said...

Everything in the warehouse sale is there for a reason. Samples, below quality standards, damaged, or returned merchandise. This is why you paid 8 dollars for a $22 mermaid.

Anonymous said...

I have been collecting their beautiful dolls for years. They ar one of a kind pieces that are full of wonderful detail. Many of my rooms are decorated around their themes. At the warehouse sale they often sell what isn't good enough to sell retail. I am happy to buy a slightly imperfect piece at a fraction of the retail price. I hope since you were so put off by the quality of the product that I won't have to see you at any future sales.

Katherine's Collection said...

Dear Erin,
One of my associates just stumbled upon a post you wrote ages ago (11/16/2009) about Katherine’s Collection. I was not with the company at that time so I can’t address your past experience but I wanted to address some of your comments and also, would be happy to invite you in to our offices and for a tour of our art room.

First of all, we design and manufacture holiday d├ęcor items and, as a wholesaler, we do not sell to the public — we sell only to retailers. That is why only registered retailers can see our prices online. This is a common practice, manufacturers who sell only to retailers do not quote pricing to the public. We do not provide retailers with MSRP’s either.

With regard to the warehouse sale, we open our doors to the public only 1 day per year and, at the warehouse sale, we sell either damaged or discontinued items. We advertise the sale in a local paper and send a flyer to anyone who has registered to receive information about the sale.

The most disturbing part of your blog to me was your inference about the conditions under which our products are made. We take great pride in ensuring that those who make our products do so in environments with good working conditions. For all of our custom designed pieces, when our CEO purchased the company, he was not comfortable with the conditions under which our products were made (most of our dolls are made in the Philippines). It is very hot in the Philippines and when he was there, it was over 100 degrees in the factory. As a result, we opened our own factory where the workers are not only paid at least minimum wage (and in many cases above minimum wage) but we have installed a misting system which keeps the temperature inside comfortable. Moreover, when the typhoon hit a few years ago, while our factory was not damaged, many of our employees lost their homes. Our CEO personally set up a relief fund, we helped every one of them get temporary housing, and did all we could to help. We are so proud of our factory (the conditions and treatment of our team) that we are quick to invite our retailers to tour it at any time.

Again, I would be happy to invite you here to see our facility, meet our artists, and visit our showroom but, the other reason I felt compelled to respond (albeit 5 years late) is because, I hope that before you jump to conclusions, you do your research. I can’t address why they were not willing to provide you with information then (I was not with the company then) and I assume that made you suspicious of the company but your presumptions were all wrong.

Take care and feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like additional information (or a visit).

Erin O'Brien said...

Thank you so much for this thoughtful response. It is heartening to learn that your CEO endeavors to help the workers. Per that country's National Wages and Productivity Commission, the daily minimum wage in the Philippines for non-agricultural work varies by region and ranges from 205 - 466 pesos ($4.66 to $10.59 USD). I am no expert in the cost of living in that part of the world, so I'll just assume that between $5 and $10 a day is adequate. The misting system and relief fund also sound very generous.

Holly Roberts said...

I have an older collection of these creations. They are quite animated and always bring a smile to the faces of those who see them when they are brought out of the dark each October. The company may very well be a more effective business manager, however, they should have handled the collection's Creator with more care. The current merchandise of the new company "Katherine's Collection" has become generic and lacks soul.