The sample life

Marie Kare

Remember when Cabbage Patch Kids were all the rage? Kids wanted them, and parents became crazed trying to get their hands on the yarn-topped dolls. Well, Marie Kare has caused a similar phenomenon with her Sampler. Primarily a promotional tool for indie businesses, the Sampler is a subscription-based goody bag chock-full of handcrafted goods and samples (think buttons, hair accessories, soaps, note cards and zines). Kare runs the one-woman project from her Land Park home, where new loot arrives daily. With only 100 subscriptions available a month, the Sampler has become quite the coveted item—for adults and kids alike. Subscriptions are $23 a month ($53 for a three-month subscription)—that is, if you’re lucky enough to get one. April’s Sampler is already sold out, but keep your fingers crossed, and you may score one in May. Visit for more information.

What is the Sampler?

It’s a sort of marketing and promotional tool for indie businesses of all kinds—crafters, zinesters, artists, musicians, record labels. It’s a fun way for these businesses to get their stuff directly into the hands of their target market.

How did it get started?

I had my own store in Berkeley, and I also had a wholesale business. It was really a weird pairing, because how much time do you focus on each? Either could be a full-time job. I was finding that people were coming into my shop, and they were more likely to buy something because they could touch it, feel it and see it. Sending out a line sheet or having a Web site is not as immediate. I really wanted to know how I could get things in people’s hands. I knew a lot of people with Web-based businesses who had lots of stuff that they could get out. I really was just kind of lying around one day and thought, “Why don’t we do this?” I e-mailed a couple of people who thought it was an interesting idea. A week later, we started taking subscriptions. The first Sampler had five contributors and 20 subscribers, all of whom were customers at my store. The Sampler started requiring more time, and I wasn’t able to make anything to sell at my store, so I closed it.

Is it a full-time job?

It is now, but it wasn’t always this way. I probably work on it as long as I’m awake.

How many contributors are there?

It depends from month to month. There are usually about 100 to 120 contributors.

Are most of them from the Sacramento area?

No. I get a lot of submissions from Italy, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore. As for the United States, it’s pretty spread out. I have maybe four from Sacramento.

What’s the weirdest item you’ve received?

I can tell you what’s the weirdest thing that has been suggested, ‘cause I turned it down: penis-shaped hand-crocheted potholders. I wasn’t too into that. I have 8-year-old kids who get the Sampler, and they’d be like, “Mom, what is this?” I’ve also gotten vagina earrings—that was a little too much.

Do you reject a lot of items?

It comes in waves. For some reason, one month it will be all genitalia-themed stuff. A lot of it is about empowerment, and that’s great, but it’s not appropriate for a 6-year-old. I don’t want to be responsible for initiating “the talk.”

How many subscribers are there?

Each month there are about 300 subscribers and 100 contributors, so about 400 Samplers go out. Still, only 100 subscriptions will be for sale, because you can buy up to a three-month subscription. That confuses people.

Is there a waiting list?

No. I send out an e-mail to the mailing list with the details on when the Sampler will go on sale. Subscriptions go on sale at two different times—because of all the time zones—and usually in about two to five minutes, they’re sold out. I feel bad. It’s very hard to get a subscription. Sometimes people will write in when they can’t get one, and they’ll be like, “You broke my daughter’s heart. My daughter is sick right now, and you broke her heart because she couldn’t get a subscription.” It’s just awful.

What do contributors gain from submitting their goods?

Exposure, mostly. They also get a Sampler back. I send Samplers to editors at magazines; I take pictures of items and post them on the Web site; I e-mail sneak peaks to people on the mailing list. I think that what’s important is that contributors get results, and once they see that they can get results, they’ll tell their friends.

What do you like best about your job?

It’s pretty satisfying when you get to open a package of stuff. I know that I’m not keeping any of it, but it’s still exciting. I think that’s sort of the best part of getting anything, that moment when you get it—the hunt is fulfilled.

Is this something you see yourself doing for years to come?

I can keep my fingers crossed. I would love to do it because I really believe in it. It’s doing a good job of supporting itself financially, but not necessarily me, which is tough because I’m not sure how long I can sustain it. I’m doing everything I can to keep it going.