Hug Me Dolls

Hug Me Dolls

I was feeling pretty happy that I’d found some locally made Christmas presents that were appropriate for my nieces, so I bought a ‘Hug Me Dolls’ T-shirt while I was at it.
People practically tackled me the first day I wore it. “Hug Me!” the logo commands, and people are drawn to Obey. No complaints here.

I had to know more, so courtesy of entrepeneur Jet Odrerir:

When did you first come to Cambodia?

January 2001 was my first trip here. Spent four event filled weeks going from Kep to Kampong Sahm to Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Jammed with some bands, met lots of people, loved it.

What drove you to create your own line of dolls from scratch?

While here I looked for a doll for my then nine year old daughter. The best I could do was one of those wooden, Thai marionettes. I’ve been self-employed most of my adult life so the seed was planted for a new project. I came back every year and continued to look for a truly Cambodian doll but never found one. I started rough designs in 2002.

How’d you start it up, and get the ball rolling?

In 2003 the housing market in the States was leveling off so I sold my house and decided it was the perfect time to get a new project going. I knew a few people in the tourist trades who gave me some numbers, introductions. I hired a Cambodian woman that spoke English well and started combing the markets for what I needed and continued to work on design.

Who designed the cool logo?

I had a rough idea and various scraps of paper scribbled on by many friends at many bars. Then a Spanish graphic artist named Jose pulled it all together for me. Funny enough, I was spending months trying to get the face of my dolls just right and at the time they were all embroidered by people (now they’re done by computer).
Nothing seemed to work out and they were very elaborate and detailed and someone told me, “Why not make them just like your logo?”
I did and it seems to have been the right move. Simple and cute.

When did the first doll go on sale, and what was the reaction?

October 2004 I worked my way into a few shops which surprises me now, looking back. The dolls had a long way to go and sales that first year reflected that.
(More importantly, did your kid like it?)
My daughter had sentimental attachment to the first few and still has a couple prototypes though the dolls I produce now are now vastly better. And, well, she’s almost 15, hanging out with friends, playing drums, etc. Doll days are over for her. Sigh.

You’re partnering with some different groups like Kroma, NYEMO and NCDP. How’d that come about? How do both sides benefit?

Well before I even lived here I was starting to come up with the concept/general design and being that there are so many NGOs here I thought that it would be perfect to give work to them by working on my sample designs. It was, umm, interesting to say the least to deal with some of them but luckily I’m working with some very fine ones now.
The benefits for those working with/for the NGOs are that they are being paid a livable wage, learning new skills and are working in a healthy environment (from their literature…). These are the basic missions of the ones I work with and without something to make and sell (I am basically buying items from them) they would merely rely on donations to keep any empty shell program afloat.
The benefits for me are that I don’t have to manage a large work force or hire and fire depending on the demands of the season. I’m in charge of every aspect of the business so I’d rather be designing something new or making sales calls than trying to explain in my pigeon Khmer why a collar isn’t correct.

It’s an NGO oriented economy here, as a small business owner have there been special challenges? Or do dolls defuse it all?

I’m not sure that I understand what you mean by “NGO economy”. I do know that if I can’t sell my dolls then I’m going to lose the thousands of dollars that I’ve put into the business. Many people told me at the get go to form an NGO and get some grants and have a salary to be my safety net but then you are not in control of your own ideas and I’m not ready for that. And as far as challenges go everyone’s heard that “to make a small fortune in Cambodia, start with a large one” or have government connections. The obvious stuff.

Any strong reactions, positive or negative?

It’s been over two years that I’ve had them in shops and the vast majority of strong reactions have been positive. I keep hearing how kids want to pull them out of their bag and start playing with them. And I also have a continued strong response from certain ‘markets’. I feel weird just saying that but there’s not really another way to say it.
Most strongly negative reactions come from people that just don’t really ‘get’ dolls and that’s their loss.

This is primarily a value added product for the export/expat market, what’s local demand looking like?

Any product can be considered value-added if it is originally grown by the farmer and increased in value “by labor and creativity.”
Got that when I was trying to get an exact definition.
The local market has been limited to two things so far; price or ‘getting’ dolls.
Things have been on the tough side for the folks here the last four decades so you can see huge gaps in what they have caught on to and what they haven’t. Computer shoot-em-up games they can do. Team sports? Very limited by money and lack of green spaces. Picture phones and sporty scooters are plentiful but not so much things requiring imagination. Kinda like America. Except that there’s a huge history of playing with dolls there, as well as many other countries, that does continue, while here many people look at you funny and say, “OK, so what’s it for? What does it do?”.
Unfortunately, many of the locals that do like the dolls couldn’t afford what it costs me to make them much less my mark-up and the consigning store. I’m hoping that my next line of dolls will be more in their price range because the girls that really like them like them both because they’re cute and because they represent Cambodia. They will definitely cost less as they will be smaller and won’t have the extensive embroidery, hand-made silk, etc.

There will be more dolls eventually. Where do you see the market going in the future? Can you handle some competition?

Well I hope anyone who decides to jump in the doll pool with me does some market research!
There are cheap, acrylic Caucasian dolls available along with the Popeyes and Poohs out there and some dolls available at various NGOs but nothing like I have. The only market expansion that will really happen will be from increased tourism, market saturation and international sales, the latter being hampered by the high cost of shipping to and from Cambodia.
Can I handle some competition? Well gas stations sell more gas if they’re located across the street from each other. And if/when the cheap knockoffs come out I can tell you from experience that I’ll be able to handle that kind of ‘competition’. A cheap version would obviously be a cheap version, they’re not like making t-shirts, and the same people looking for quality made dolls using Fair Trade practices will still purchase mine. People who stay at Raffles aren’t lured lakeside by the prices.

By God I made it!

Jet Odrerir
Jet [at] hugmedolls [dot] com
Tel: 012 240 019

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7 Responses to “Hug Me Dolls”

  1. tismselfstorage says:

    They’re gorgeous… but the schoolgirl doll appears to have a mullet??!

  2. Jinja says:

    Hi Tism Self Storage! Hope all is well. Been meaning to check out ‘Jovial Fellow’ more often.

    Hee hee – it’s just the photo.
    Just got a bucket load of Oz zines from a visiting pal! I’ll have to review some of them.

  3. [...] an interview with Jet here: (in english) Dolls are made by NGOs in Cambodia and their sales fund some charity programmes in [...]

  4. [...] living in Phnom Penh. His website: and an interview with Jet here: (in english) Dolls are made by NGOs in Cambodia and their sales fund some charity programmes in [...]

  5. I like too much this doll..
    I want on for present, i need to ask to my husband.

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