Updated: May 14, 2019
I remember distinctly when the glassybaby sign first appeared on a corner in Madrona, in 2003. I strolled in one day with my infant daughter, expecting cute onesies and maybe Scandinavian toys, and was surprised to find myself in a tiny gallery lined with shelves of colorful glass candleholders. I’ll confess that my first impression wasn’t overwhelmingly positive; I just couldn’t get my head around a store full of fancy $40 candleholders. But this brand has since grown on me like a cozy, flickering fire, and I’ve discovered that there’s quite a bit more to the story.
Here are five reasons why I admire this exquisite brand.
1. POWERFUL STORY
I believe there is nothing like an authentic, memorable founding story to anchor a brand and give it emotional power and richness. Glassybaby’s is one of the best I’ve come across. Its founder, Lee Rhodes, found peace in the colorful vessels as she battled a rare form of lung cancer while raising three young children. As described on the glassybaby website:
“She had endured surgery, countless rounds of chemotherapy, and was searching for a few moments of serenity to escape the fear that encompassed her life. Lee filled [the glassybabys] with tea lights and scattered them throughout her home. She found great hope and healing in their color, light, and love.”
One especially lovely thing about glassybaby is that each purchase, each gift, becomes its own story as you select exactly the right shade, and name, for the occasion. On Mother’s Day, I chose baby, a pale peachy hue I know will look perfect in my mom’s beach house, and red, red happiness for my mother-in-law.
Each glassybaby is handmade by artisans in the Madrona hotshop—in fact, you can peek in and see them at work on any given day. The high quality is evident in the heft and stunning color of each unique piece. I love that they have been able to continue manufacturing locally even as they’ve scaled up to supply new shops around Seattle and in New York. The obvious care and craft makes each glassybaby feel that much more special.
Since 2003, Glassybaby has donated more than $900,000 to charities dedicated to health, healing, and quality of life. In each collection, several glassybabys are offered to benefit specific organizations that align with the company’s mission. I was surprised to see a prominent glassybaby presence at a recent Seattle Sounders Women match, but it all made sense when I read more about the partnership behind it to “kick cancer.”
This deep commitment to worthy causes—in a way that authentically supports the brand’s roots—adds meaning and grounding to what might otherwise be perceived as a style-focused brand. Another generous (and all too rare) detail that stands out is free everyday shipping from their online shop.
It takes incredible focus and discipline to do one thing and do it well. Pressures from retailers, media, and investors to deliver something new can be intense, but I’ve observed too many brands spin out from their centers as they rush to expand with new products, lines, and categories. There is a compelling purity and simplicity to a glassybaby shop that I believe amplifies the deep power of the brand.
I have a soft spot for companies that play by their own rules, and I love this quote from Lee Rhodes:
“Even with my early success, I can’t tell you how many people told me that my product and my company wouldn’t work. Many doubted that I could hand-make a product in the USA; others doubted that I could be successful with a single product; still others questioned my decision to give a portion of revenue away. All of these people underestimated the power of color and light. I knew I had something special because you can’t help but look at a glassybaby and feel something.”
For me, glassybaby is a model for brand cohesion. The powerful story at the core shapes everything, from how the product is made to the causes the company supports, and the effect is a warm, sustaining glow. What memorable details can your brand’s founding story inspire?