This Christ can cuddle; Magnolia inventor, investors see rosy future for Huggy Jesus

The "Huggy Jesus" doll, which was advertised for a month last December on five billboards in Seattle, is poised to hit the big time in the world of toys, according to its inventor and backers.

The bearded and robed doll - which has already made local and international news - was invented about a year and a half ago by Magnolian Sean Pinkerton following a literally visionary moment. Pinkerton said he used to work as a supervisor for a number of companies that supplied machine parts to the Boeing Co. But he was repeatedly laid off as Boeing cut back on production, and he was eventually evicted from his rental house in Lake Forest Park because jobs had dried up for him. Times were tough, Pinkerton remembers.

"Within a couple of years, I was out of money and I was physically sleeping right here in Jay's office," he said of Boat Fetish, the Interbay fiberglas-repair business owned by longtime friend Jay Craig. "I didn't have any resources, and I was hoping that I would come up with something," Pinkerton added.

A reassuring vision

And come up with something he did, thanks to a trip to the Ballard Food Bank on a miserably cold and rainy day in December 2001. Pinkerton said he stepped into the Trinity United Methodist Church on 23rd Avenue Northwest to get out of the rain for a few minutes.

He saw a small cross on a table just inside the front door, and that's where he also saw "what looked to me to be a vision of Jesus," Pinkerton said. He described the vision as looking like a golden-hued hologram about a foot tall. "Right in front of the cross, he was just standing there."

Pinkerton said he actually lay down on the table to get a closer look at the vision, and it was still there, although a bit blurrier.

"I really didn't know what to make of it," he added, still sounding amazed.

But Pinkerton also suddenly felt "an overwhelming, overpowering sense of comfort" after seeing the vision, he said, adding that he felt that everything was going to be all right.

Meanwhile, Christmas came and went, and Pinkerton said he'd been unable to get his grandchildren any gifts.

"I wanted to do something for them," he said.

Pinkerton said the idea of making Huggy Jesus dolls for his grandkids came to him out of the blue.

"I don't want to say it was divinely inspired," he cautioned.

Pinkerton borrowed a couple hundred bucks from Craig, rented a sewing machine, drew up a design, bought some materials and cranked out a doll, he said. "The original pattern worked perfectly." Pinkerton's sewing skills weren't perfect, though.

"The first one was crude," he said. "The stitching was weird."

But with the help of his mother, who lives on Orcas Island, the concept was cleaned up and the first commercial version of the doll was made, Pinkerton added.

Kids love them

His grandchildren loved the doll, and Craig thought a lot of youngsters would like them, Pinkerton said. "With Jay's encouragement and his financial resources, we just started going away at it."

Craig's backing and help also made it possible to set up a Web site (, and he ponied up the $5,000 needed to pay for billboard space last Christmas, Pinkerton said.

The Web site generated around 1,700 hits between its launch date two Aprils ago and the point at which the billboard advertising began. Within a week of the billboards going up, the number of hits climbed to a whopping 180,000, Pinkerton added.

The dolls were sold on Amazon. com last Christmas. The Internet retailer set a sales limit of $1,500 for the dolls, a limit that was quickly surpassed, Pinkerton said.

Stuffed with hypoallergenic polyester filling, the dolls are made of muslin, and the nose and eyes cannot be pulled out, he said.

"You can toss Huggy Jesus in the washing machine," Pinkerton said.

"But he doesn't come out of the dryer for three days," Craig joked.

On a more serious note, Craig said about the dolls, "I thought this was brilliant." Craig noted that he hand-delivered all of the dolls in Seattle.

"I wanted to see who wanted our doll, and it's an amazing assortment of people," he said. "It's not religious freaks; it's grandmothers wanting to pass on something having to do with ... Jesus to a child."

Craig found that some adults were buying the dolls for themselves, and he discovered that children who received the Huggy Jesus dolls loved them.

"It's a very simple doll, but it means a lot to some kids," he said.

A few people have called and e-mailed to complain about Huggy Jesus, Pinkerton said. But he has also asked numerous members of the clergy what they think of the doll, and the reaction has been favorable, he added.

Around 380 of the dolls have sold so far for $30 a pop, plus shipping and handling, Pinkerton said, adding that the dolls are numbered and come with certificates of authenticity.

Pinkerton - who currently delivers pizzas for Romio's Pizza in Magnolia - estimates he's invested around $1,000 and hundreds of hours in the doll project. Craig said he's spent around $20,000 on Huggy Jesus production and advertising.

Reaching a larger market

However, the men said they signed on two investors just last week who are going to pump substantially more money into the venture. One of them is Adam Kariotoglou, founder of the Romio's Pizza chain. The other investor is Sean Fay, a Queen Anne resident who owns and runs Envision

Response, a television direct-marketing company. Fay, whose previous experience includes working on The George Forman Grill Show and the Oxiclean commercials, is excited about the sales potential for Huggy Jesus.

"We'll make it a household name by Christmas," Fay said.

To do that, he said, he plans to produce and air two-minute Huggy Jesus television commercials in large test markets nationwide beginning this week. Sales of the dolls in stores are also planned.

"We plan to roll it out in retail stores at the appropriate time," he said.

The job of making the doll has now been farmed out to a company in south Seattle that has the capacity to produce 10,000 Huggy Jesus dolls a month, Craig said.

Craig added that an order for 10,000 of the dolls was placed last week, but Fay estimates that hundreds of thousands of Huggy Jesus dolls could be sold by next Christmas. That could be just the start, according to Pinkerton.

"I think we can sell a million dolls," Pinkerton said.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at[[In-content Ad]]