Hula Kitty shows off her grass skirt and some of her favorite beach toys inside Sanrio's Times Square store in New York. The doll ($13) and radio ($19) are shown with a Hula Kitty pen with feather skirt ($4) and plastic totes (starting at about $5.50). Wallets (partly shown) are $3.75.

Sanrio’s Hula Kitty
heads to the beach

NEW YORK >> Surf's up!

Just before beach season gets into high gear, the Hula Kitty line of dolls, towels, totes, binoculars and accessories has landed in Sanrio stores from New York City to Honolulu and wherever Hello Kitty products are sold.

Hula Kitty is one hot chick who's not at all worried about her waistline. The huggable doll flaunts her round tan tummy in a hot pink hula skirt or bikini. At 10 inches tall, she's the right size for a child to take on a family trip to the beach.

"It's almost summer so it's the perfect time for Hula Kitty," said Karen Huang, assistant manager of Sanrio's store in New York's Times Square. "And let's face it. Nothing beats Hawaii."

Hula Kitty is showing off her tan in the window of Sanrio's Times Square store, next to a teen girl-sized mannequin in a T-shirt and hula skirt. Stephanie Lee, on vacation from Vancouver, British Columbia, paused to take a look.

"That's adorable," Lee said. "When I was about 12, I had the Hello Kitty stickers and all that stuff."

Inside the store, Huang was putting the finishing touches on a display of new Hello Kitty fine jewelry in 18-karat gold and silver. Huang, the mother of a 5-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy, said it was her "retail dream come true" when Sanrio's Times Square store opened 2-1/2 years ago and she got the job.

"Hello Kitty is popular with everyone from little girls to teens to women in their 20s, 30s and up," said Huang. "Just the other day, I had a customer who was a woman in her 60s. She's in her golden years and she was enjoying herself, treating herself to some new Hello Kitty things."

The prices of most Hello Kitty products put them within reach of a parent or grandparent, a teen or an adult collector on a budget, Huang said. The Hula Kitty doll sells for about $13. Other items range from $1 for a sheet of tropical-scented stickers to $6.75 for binoculars, $9.95 for a water bottle with fan, $19 for a splash-resistant beach radio and $28 for a big beach towel or a bamboo rush mat with plastic tote.

Tourists love Kitty's tan

Kandice Kido, assistant manager of Sanrio's store in the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu, said Hula Kitty is a hit with her customers, especially tourists from Japan.

"The tan kitty is more popular now," Kido said. "It's different. They've been used to seeing Hello Kitty be white all these years."

In 1974, Sanrio Co. Ltd. of Tokyo introduced the friendly white kitty with the big head, button eyes and nose, but no mouth. Her name? Hello Kitty. The first Hello Kitty item was a vinyl coin purse sold in Tokyo, said Bill Hensley, Sanrio Inc.'s U.S. marketing director.

In 1976, Hello Kitty made her U.S. debut, Hensley said. Since then, the Hello Kitty line has evolved from dolls, stickers and greeting cards to clothes, accessories, school supplies, dishes and home appliances under licensing arrangements worth more than $1 billion a year in sales.

"Hello Kitty gets a new look almost every month and this time the theme is hula because it's so darn cute." Hensley said. "We introduced Hula Kitty last year and it was such a hit, we decided to do it again."

Celebrate Cinnamoroll

The weekend of June 28-29, Sanrio's Ala Moana store will celebrate its third anniversary. The store will become "Café Cinnamon" in honor of Sanrio's newest character, Cinnamoroll.

"He's a little white puppy with a curled-up tail," Hensley said. "He looks just like a cinnamon roll. He's proven popular in Japan."

On both days, free gifts will be given to the first 100 kids age 12 and under to come into Sanrio's Ala Moana store. There will be drawings for prizes, including a plush Jumbo Kitty and a Hello Kitty TV. For $3, a fan can get a picture taken with Cinnamoroll and Kitty. For $5, children can color a T-shirt. And Sanrio designer Donna Suzuki will be available to sign shirts.

For women, Hello Kitty's appeal is almost irresistible, Kido said.

"They grew up with Hello Kitty and it's hard to stop after all those years," she said. "They come here to buy the Hawaii-only items, like the T-shirts, cell-phone straps and key chains. We have the cell-phone holders to fit the small flip phones, like the Motorola v60/v66."

Jan Paschal is a New York-based shopping columnist. She can be reached at


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