When I was a child my most treasured belongings were my Hello Kitty accessories: combs, mirrors, address book, wallets, pencils. I loved the compactness of the designs, the attention to detail, the use of high quality materials. Back in those days, you couldn’t find Sanrio toys in the United States; everything I owned came from Hong Kong. As a sign of how much I loved these items, I stored all my Hello Kitty paraphernalia in a special box my grandmother gave me. Now still in excellent condition, I have passed them on to my kids and know they treasure these things they way I did.
So I was especially interested when Hello Kitty stuff started to become more accessible in the US. You can now find Hello Kitty just about anywhere, especially at Target, where there are items created exclusively for the store under their licensing deal. My five year old daughter is just as into Hello Kitty as I was, citing “Hello Kitty stuff” as the only toys/accessories she really wants.
But what made Hello Kitty stuff so appealing when I was a child was not the image of her character, but the design and quality her character represented. With the licensing of her character, Hello Kitty is slapped on the same bags, shoes, clothes that you’ll find next to similarly made items with Barbie, Disney princesses, or Dora the Explorer on them. Even when I want to buy Hello Kitty “stuff” for my daughter, I find nothing worth buying unless I go directly to the Sanrio store. Hello Kitty has lost its cachet with me, and not because it is no longer an exclusive brand. The brand doesn’t represent the same things it meant to me 20 years ago: thoughtful, well-made, well-designed accessories for children (and even some adults).