Hello Kitty at 40: from coin purse to $7 billion phenom

Celebrations of the anniversary have included Hello Kitty Con in Los Angeles and themed dishes at eateries nearby.

Jae C. Hong/AP
Hello Kitty Con, Los Angeles

Since her arrival in 1974 as a Japanese graphic on a coin purse, Hello Kitty has proved herself to be the little cartoon that could. But this isn’t just kids’ play. Adults worldwide collect her image on everything from clothing to cosmetics to tool kits. Forty years after her introduction, Hello Kitty is worth an estimated $7 billion annually, all without the aid of traditional advertising. 

The appeal of this mute creature, heralded as a cultural ambassador, continues to transcend both age and global boundaries. Consider Taiwan, with its Hello Kitty-themed aircraft, hotel rooms, restaurants, even a maternity ward. And the icon’s 40th anniversary is providing plenty of opportunities for international indulgence. 

In early November, Los Angeles hosted a sold-out Hello Kitty Con, a four-day event featuring original merchandise and fan meet-ups. Even singer Katy Perry showed up to get inked with a Hello Kitty tattoo. Local eateries offered themed dishes and limited-edition pins. Everyone, it seems, enjoys being reminded of a simpler time. 

“Despite that she’s so cute, I never felt like I was outgrowing her,” says Amy Spalding, a Los Angeles-area fan who attended the convention. 

Kayla Cagan, another local devotee, agrees there’s a certain comfort to a character from your childhood that never changes. “She doesn’t flip out or become too trendy, even when she’s dressed by designers. She’s dependable. She’s lovable. And her expression, like the ‘Mona Lisa,’ lets me put any emotion I feel on her,” says Ms. Cagan. 

Earlier this year parent company Sanrio caused a stir when it told a curator for a Hello Kitty retrospective at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles that its star is not a cat, but rather a third-grader from England. Her official bio, printed in the coffee-table book “Hello Kitty, Hello 40,” confirms this, calling Kitty White “a bright little girl with a heart of gold.” 

Girl or cat, she belongs to her fans – who still hold their feline best friend firmly by the paw.

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