What do you get when you combine an expertly-merchandised handmade product selling at an affordable price-point ($40), coming in a dizzying range of hues (collect them all!), boxed in environmentally conscious packaging, and offering a compelling story of survival and charity? The answer is the retail sensation known as glassybaby, a Seattle-based company that saw its store network grow to five locations and its sales increase by 25-percent in 2009 to reach $2.5 million.
Started in 2003 by cancer survivor Lee Rhodes, the company’s product taps into the centuries-old tradition of lighting votive candles as a ritualistic aspect of meditation and prayer. According to the glassybaby Website, Rhodes feels personally connected to each unique glassybaby object which is made on a production line where up to 30 glassblowers labor out of the company’s Seattle glass studio, a first employer of many recent art school grads journeying to the glassblowing capital of the U.S. “Each glassybaby is created to be individual and each one is personal to her,” reads the Website about the color overlayed tumbler with clear base. “As they leave the door, she is reminded of her journey and she hopes that the serenity and calm will remain with its new owner.”
The glassybaby story has resonated with magazine editors who have written adoring articles in Elle Decor, Seattle magazine, and the New York Times. Even the Martha Stewart Show lavished attention on glassybaby, to name just a handful of the dozens of media outlets that have featured the product.
The glassbaby votives, the founder’s moving personal story, and its good works (the company supports cancer-related charities by donating a generous 10-percent of gross sales) are an irresistable mix not only for the media. Customers, many of them cancer survivors themselves, fall in love with the product. Watch this YouTube video that documents the block-long line at the company’s recent seconds sale.
The steady growth of the company has even caught the eye of Amazon.com-founder Jeff Bezos, who recently made a substantial investment in the company because he reportedly believes it can grow to $100 million in annual sales, according to an article in the Seattle Times.
Whether or not such exponential growth is possible, the glassbaby story is a testament to the public’s fascination with handblown glass (the glassybaby Website and retail stores showcase the glassblowing process in pictures and video), the special ability of glass to transmit light and color, and the power of a simple but elegant design and story.