When we think of things made in Michigan, wistful images of sausages, potato chips, soaps, and candles often pop into our mind. But the fact is, many other odd and wonderful companies call this state home. Since we love anything weird or abnormal, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to profile a few brands that focus on the macabre, the ghoulish, and the frightening.
CreepyNCute, Scare Bears, and Painted Lady Trashions are just three companies based in the metro area that, while all very different, capitalize on our love for the ominous, sinister, and terrifying.
Founded by Piper Shano Smith and Doreen Sarrach Defauw, Creepy N Cute creates dolls based on the TV series The Walking Dead. Smith, an avid fan, wanted something for her master bedroom to represent her love for the show, but she couldn't find what she was looking for. Before long, Defauw, who's been sewing for some 40 years, and Smith stitched together the first Creepy N Cute doll, and more than 300 have been created in its likeness since.
Working with charities across the metro area, they've donated many of their dolls for raffle, helping raise money and awareness for local nonprofits. While Creepy N Cute isn't a full-time job for either crafter yet, both say they hope their company will soon evolve into a brick-and-mortar storefront. For now, Creepy N Cute dolls can be purchased through their Etsy store, at various craft fairs, and in some retail outlets. Noir Leather and Mystic Mountain Gifts in Royal Oak, and Motor City Art Gallery in Midtown Detroit all carry the dolls, according to Smith.
Though many regular dolls are available, Smith and Defauw also craft custom and portrait dolls for customers and celebrities alike. They've made dolls for many of the actors on The Walking Dead, including Jane McNeill and Lauren Cohan, and presented the creations to them at comic conventions and other events. They also recently presented Satori Circus with a portrait doll to commemorate his 25 years of performance art in Detroit.
"When we create a portrait doll, we do it together," says Smith. "We become almost like one creative person. It's this magic that happens. There's no debate. One of us will put the doll down, and the other will pick it up and just continue working on it."
Clearly passionate about their creations, the women of Creepy N Cute note that you don't have to be a fan of The Walking Dead to enjoy the dolls.
"You don't have to enjoy the zombie genre," says Smith. "And it's not just women and little girls buying the dolls. It's men, too, and they're buying them for themselves."
Jay Langley got his start making grotesque teddies when his daughter got fed up with her little brother batting at her with his stuffed bear.
"She took it from him and asked me to do something with it," he says.
What he did with it was create a gruesome and gory toy that would soon be the object of actor Danny Trejo's affection.
Scare Bears, a line of teddy bears splashed with blood, guts, loose eyeballs, fangs, and claws, are created solely by Langley. And the demand has risen so high that he now purchases large amounts of bears from wholesalers on eBay.
Using a mix of special-effects blood and other secret ingredients, Langley crafts each bear by hand in his spare time. An autoworker by trade, he sells the bears on weekends at conventions, which is where he met Trejo, along with a host of other celebrities who've purchased his creations.
"It's a funny story," says Langley. "Butch Patrick ("Eddie Munster") bought one from me and had it at his table where he was signing autographs at a convention. Danny Trejo's table was next to his, I walked by and waved to Butch. That's when Butch said, 'That's him!' and Danny Trejo came after me! I got chased by Machete!"
Trejo, best known for his role in Machete, loved Langley's dolls and kept encouraging people to buy a Scare Bear. "He got another one from me not that long ago," Landley says. "Michael Rooker also has a couple (and) Tara Reid got two of them from me this weekend." While the gruesome nature of the bears might seem a bit much for young children, Langley says people of all ages purchase them.
"The first time I sold these publicly was at a fall street fair, and when church got out most of my customers were older ladies and kids. I guess kids don't scare easy these days," he says. "You can never gauge what people want these days. They're every age and gender. Scare Bears are universal; everyone should have one."
Painted Lady Trashions
Calling herself a buyer and seller of oddities, Heather Rhea-Wright of Painted Lady Trashions stocks a bevy of strange and unsettling goods procured from flea markets, estate sales, and personal sellers. On any given day, Wright might have for sale an old doll missing the top of its head or a fetal pig in a formaldehyde-filled jar. Other trashions include old stuffed clowns, mummified monkeys, doll legs in a shadow box, porcelain figurines with animal skulls for heads, vintage Halloween masks, death masks, and vintage, child-sized gas masks.
Every weekend, Wright sets up shop at Ferndale's Rust Belt Market from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., where you can find her booth filled with curious guests. "I want my store to be a museum-like experience," she says. And in order to achieve that, Wright says she's constantly searching for the perfect goods to stock her space.
"It is an all-day, everyday search," she says. "I have people calling me to purchase their items, or they come in my store and bring things with them. I'm constantly calling, emailing, texting, buying, selling."
Hitting up local flea markets and estate sales, Wright says many of her unique finds come from the never-ending perusing of other local sellers.
While she'd love to have her own store someday, for now just keeping her space at the Rustbelt filled is work enough.
"It's so much work just to stock for the two days we're open," she says. "I'm really proud of how far I have come in the three years since I've been at the Rust Belt."
Wright says she's always been interested in the odd and curious.
"I've always had a love for stranger things," she says. "I'm completely obsessed with mortuary items and old funeral home pieces. I actually just got my first human skull in today."
Having just procured that special item, Wright says she one day hopes to add an infant Siamese twin skeleton to her collection of goods. For now, she's teaching taxidermy classes and making sure her customers get their fill of the weird and wonderful.
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