Why Are the Karens of America So Obsessed With This Home Decor Brand?

February 23, 2021 Off By Mary Frances Knapp

When did it become so dangerous to live, laugh, and love?

Recently, videos have been going viral on TikTok of shoppers scouring the shelves of TJX corporation stores for home goods by a brand called Rae Dunn. “My first part-time job was at Marshalls [which] is owned by the TJX corporation that owns Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods, a bunch of those stores,” says one of the viral vids, which has accumulated more than 1.5 million likes. “The first time I ever did an opening shift for Marshalls, I was told by my manager to watch out for the Rae Dunn women. And I was like, What’s a Rae Dunn woman? They basically told me that it was this group of women who would go [from store to store to] and buy out all the Rae Dunn," then upsell it online. As the video shows, the shoppers don't just buy this stuff out; we’re talking purge the village, and lick the carcass clean:

We’re afraid. We’re not worthy. We’re full of so many questions, but chiefly: Who is Rae Dunn, and why is she—or it—amassing such a cult-like following?

You likely know Rae Dunn, even if you don’t think you do. Think of #JustGirlyThings, the Hallmark Channel, and Christian Girl Autumn. It’s one of the many Pinterest-ready elements under the cis-core-meets-wine-mom umbrella:

Rae Dunn Clock
Photo: Marshalls

Rae Dunn Wine Tea Round Clock, $16.99 at Marshalls

Rae Dunn His/Hers Mugs
Photo: Wayfair

Magenta Rae Dunn Stem Print His/Hers Mugs, $30 at Wayfair

“[It] consists of a lot of paraphernalia,” says @beatingthebinary, a documentor of wine mom culture, on TikTok. “I often have good luck spotting [it] in airports, department store sale racks, and the kinds of local drug stores that have a home decor section.” Rae Dunn is one of this affirmation-y category's pillars, reminding us to “Slay All Day'':

Rae Dunn Set Of 2 Slay Makeup Pouches
Photo: TJ Maxx

Rae Dunn Set Of 2 Slay Makeup Pouches, $9.99 at TJ Maxx

Overwhelmingly, it’s about the mugs. Mugs that remind us to “Make It Count.” Mugs that urge us to “Smile.” Mugs that say, you are “Wifey”:

Rae Dunn Mugs
Photo: Etsy

Rae Dunn Mugs, starting at $11.98 at Etsy

Now, there’s no shortage of “personality” decor in the world. TJX and its competitors offer a wealth of jolly ceramic garden frogs sipping coffee, and Sea La Vie accessories (see: the beach house wine mom). The internet is filled with retailers of most blessed/ILU Jesus signage, boss lady mugs, and more. But, to our knowledge, only Rae Dunn has buyers “spending over $15,000 in 6 months” and going into serious debt. Is it a secret pyramid scheme? The GameStop debacle equivalent for suburbanite-core, home good upsellers?

The commitment to hunt runs deep. There are hundreds of Facebook groups—many, regional—dedicated to buying and selling Rae Dunn above the market price, all with very specific rules and guidelines, from “Rae Dunn Addicts Sale” to “Dunn with the Drama- Long Island Rae Dunn”; “Rae Dunn Hudson Valley BST, no bullshit” and the largest private group, “Rae Dunn, Dunn Buddies, Buy/Sell/Trade濾濾” with 39,000 members and a whopping 1,200 posts a day. (Our application to join has yet to be approved.)

In one private group, “Rae Dunn Rants & Raves,” guidelines for some 13,000 members are outlined in the hopes of providing a place for Rae Dunn lovers to vent, and maybe throw some playful punches. “Things tend to get rowdy in here,” reads the page, “so you better have your seat reserved & popcorn readily available. You can be yourself in here so don’t feel like you have to hold back. We cuss, argue, call each other out on bullshit, share screen shots & have a jolly fucking good time!”

For others, the obsession isn’t that jolly. Blogger Dedreanna Drost of Where We Summer recently explored her Rae Dunn addiction at length, explaining that she was no longer sure if she was collecting the brand just for the thrill, or if she actually liked it. Dedreanna is based in the Canadian Maritimes, and writes that she “started [the blog] as a spot to showcase my love for the East Coast, but over the last year it’s evolved into a space to chronicle my self-love journey after separation. Through each post, you’ll find me discovering myself a little bit more through my evolving style, my spiritual journey & my writing.”

In that vein, she paints a powerful, detailed picture of how hard it can be to recede from the Rae Dunn lifestyle. “Another time where I realized I had a problem,” she writes, “was during the initial release of the Rae Dunn birdhouse shaped clock. EVERYONE wanted these clocks, and posted about them all day every day. I was sitting at home in my pajamas one night when someone in our local group posted a photo of clocks on the shelf at Winners and fall mugs. My son was also in his pjs [sic] watching TV, and the second I saw that post, I sprang out of bed and told him we were going to the store.”

Rae Dunn BIrdhouse
Photo: Etsy

Rae Dunn Mugs, starting at $11.98 at Etsy

So, where do we get to point our fingers here, if at all? It turns out that Rae Dunn is a real woman, living in the Bay Area, who is a self-described “classical pianist, painter, and frequent world traveler,” and has “been influenced by many cultures and artistic pursuits” in her designs.

"When I first started, my pottery teacher was [like] 'Smooth those out you want it to be perfect,” Dunn told ABC30, “and I was like, 'I don't want it to be perfect— I want it to look like somebody made it’ […] I feel like I'm so not a wordy person and I feel like my pottery resembles me—quiet, soft-spoken." A career in pottery was not the OG plan for Dunn, who came to the craft later in life. “I flipped a coin and it landed on clay,” she told Country Living about the decision to pick up ceramics as a hobby, “I took the first class [at Sharon Art Studio] and completely fell in love with it. It slowly started taking over my life until it became my life."

Eventually, Dunn partnered with a manufacturer named Magenta to keep up with demand for her pieces. But, as she told Country Living, she “never expected it to be this insane."

We all know how this movie ends: The cult aspect seriously bums her out, but you get the impression she feels there’s not much she can do about it (it’s all in Magenta’s hands now). The brand has transcended Dunn’s humble potting wheel, once a spotlight for a love of simple objects with sparse, thoughtfully placed words, and hyper-populated those words onto every inanimate object with an inch to spare:

Rae Dunn Kitchen Set
Photo: Amazon

Rae Dunn Collection Kitchen Set, $41.50 at Amazon

Dunn also told Country Living that she doesn’t own much of her line these days. Instead, her home is filled with her own one-of-a-kind pieces that speak to her love of wabi-sabi, the Japanese appreciation for all that is imperfect, which initially informed her brand. In lieu of the mug-packed hutches of Rae Dunn fanatics on TikTok, Dunn’s own studio is a minimalist retreat:

Price and retail accessibility is also key to Rae Dunn’s cult success. Many of the brand’s items sell for under $20, offering easy entry points into the thrilling world of competitive upselling; this is a game in which your greatest advantage is not so much your pocketbook, but whether or not you have the power to vulture over the Marshalls’ entry at the crack of dawn.

Therein lies the brand’s success within Live-Laugh-Love/wine-mom culture: the notion of doing the most, with less. It gives buyers a price-accessible, gold star on the forehead with an influx of one-word affirmations and reminders for self-care, or valuing family (although the latter of which lives in a very his-and-hers, hetero-traditional Nuclear Fam zone). Rae Dunn is about making you, and only you, feel seen in your attempts to try. “Rae Dunn,” writes the seller of the above mug pyramid, “is known for being perfectly imperfect.”

For whatever it has become, it’s important to remember that the Rae Dunn origin story tells of a mindfully-founded, woman-owned brand. It is also a brand that continues to try to help other women feel seen in their attempt to live, laugh, and love. In 2019, Dunn came out with a book, In Pursuit of Inspiration: Trust Your Instincts and Make More Art (Creativity Exercises, Art Book for Artists Techniques) to help her folks explore their own creativity in a way that is unique to them. It's also hopefully a reminder to stop clawing each others’ eyes out at HomeGoods for a birdhouse.

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