Meet Waltham Forest’s biggest Hello Kitty fan

Amy Allen tells Victoria Munro how her unusual obsession began

Amy Allen at home with her collection
Amy Allen at home with her collection

One of the most fateful meetings of Amy Allen’s life so far took place at a car boot sale when she was eleven, where the now 38-year-old first crossed paths with Hello Kitty.

“I thought she was a total babe,” she said, recalling the little stuffed toy that started her lifelong passion. “At the time, I collected Miffy [a cartoon rabbit] but she was much cuter.”

Amy’s collection of Hello Kitty merchandise fills her very large bedroom in a Walthamstow guardianship wall-to-wall, ranging from tiny badges and buttons to a stuffed toy that is easily the size of a small person. While she is sheepish about speculating on the total she has spent over the last 27 years, saying it would make her “depressed”, it must be in the thousands, especially given her habit of buying two of the items she likes: “one for the collection and one to use”.

“My mum, if she liked something, would often buy two or three of it and I kind of picked that habit up,” Amy said. As the child of two antiques dealers, she “grew up in a house that looked like the Adams Family home, full of dead stuff” and feels her parents “gave [her] a real appreciation for the past and history” that arguably sparked her interest in collecting.

Hello Kitty was created in 1974 for the Japanese company Sanrio and, though she is now the tourist ambassador for Japan, was at first simply a nameless cat, receiving her famous moniker a few years later. One of Amy’s oldest items is a suitcase from this transitional period with “I’m Kitty” written on it, which is so historically significant a London museum has expressed interest in borrowing it for an
upcoming exhibition.

Funnily enough, it was also one of her cheaper purchases, costing her just £5 on Facebook marketplace from a woman in the “deepest, darkest depths of south-east London”. She travelled two hours to pick it up but has spent far larger sums and travelled much further to add to her collection, including two trips to Japan, as she tends to shop “splurge by splurge”. Only last month, she travelled to Las Vegas to marry the other love of her life – in a Hello Kitty dress and shoes, naturally – and dropped close to £300 in the city’s Hello Kitty Cafe.

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As a self-identified “purist”, she estimates her collection is around 99% authentic Sanrio merchandise, although she strongly prefers the more niche items, “anything that’s not the average lunch bag or pen”. Among her strangest finds are a vibrating Hello Kitty “back massager” – unused – and a tin of Hello Kitty-shaped spaghetti hoops, which she said she would find impossible to eat given they are shaped like her face. Sanrio also regularly loans Hello Kitty out for unusual brand crossovers, which is how she acquired a Jurassic Park cup depicting her dressed up as a T-rex.

Amy is faintly disapproving of Sanrio’s determination to wring as much money as possible out of their most iconic character, describing a collaboration with McDonald’s as an expression of “corporate greed”. That said, as a collector she admits she has a “complicated relationship” with rampant commercialism like this – she still went and bought all of the McDonald’s products after all – adding:
“In Japan, they put her face on toilet roll and it’s like ‘oh my god’ but then, of course, I will buy it.”

For Amy, the appeal of Hello Kitty is as a source of comfort, a constant companion that has shepherded her through some of the most difficult periods of her life. “The designer said she created her with no mouth so you could project any emotion onto her and you really
can,” she said, “she’s been there with me during the darkest times.

“Wherever I go, I try to take something with her on it, whether it’s just my glasses or my bag, and it means I always have a small reminder of the past and what it was like to be a young kid. Sometimes, it’s nice to forget about having to be a grown up and work and all the noise society puts on you for ten seconds.”

Funnily enough, given her husband was once asked if he was in a child’s room when he conducted a Zoom job interview from her place, she is not that keen on children, describing herself as having a “love-hate relationship” with them. In terms of irony, however, this pales in comparison to her hatred of cats.

Amy – easily the biggest Hello Kitty collector in Waltham Forest, if not London – is not only “not a cat person at all”, she is also actively allergic. “I’m a big dog person,” she said, “I prefer an animal I can play with and take on walks.”

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