All Dolled Up

With the instant success of their quirky creations, these toy-makers prove beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
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2 min read

This story appears in the June 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Pretty Ugly LLC>>
Vital Stats>>
David Horvath, 36, and Sun-Min Kim, 31, of Pretty Ugly LLC in Edison, New Jersey
Company>> Designer and manufacturer of Uglydolls
2006 sales>> $2.5 million

Child's Play>> Uglydolls may not be the most attractive plush toys in the world--one has three eyes, another sports buckteeth--but they were born from two people's passion. David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim had both dreamed of making toys since childhood, and when they met at school in New York City 10 years ago, they found a kinship as unique as the dolls they imagined. "We both loved illustrating our own characters and coming up with stories," says Horvath. "Things sort of formed. There was this master plan--we just didn't know how or when."

Pins and needles>> In September 2001, Kim's student visa expired and she had to return to Korea. Horvath kept their vision alive through letters, always signing his with a drawing of Wage, a character they had created together. The following December, Kim brought Wage to life for the very first time with needle and thread and mailed it to Horvath as a surprise. When e-tailer and fellow entrepreneur Eric Nakamura saw the doll, he immediately ordered 20 to sell in his store, Giant Robot. They sold out in a day, and over the next 18 months, Kim hand-sewed 1,500 more.

Larger than life>> Targeted to people of all ages, Uglydolls are sold globally in 2,500 retail stores such as FAO Schwarz and Newbury Comics, and distribution continues to grow--sales are expected to at least double in 2007. A line of journals, stationery and postcards launched in March, and guidebooks to the Uglydolls Universe will be released in spring 2008. Meanwhile, Uglydolls have attracted a cult following of fans drawn to the one-of-a-kind characters. Some think they do their name justice, but Horvath believes there's no such thing as ugly. "Those funny little bumps and twists and turns that kind of make us who we are--I think [those are] good," he says. "Who wants to look the same?"

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