Monday, November 30, 2015

Burlesque dancing 'cat lady' finds another life creating toys

Randi Warhol sews a cat toy in her sewing room in Brookhaven, PA on August 19, 2014. (Stephanie Aaronson/
Randi Warhol sews a cat toy in her sewing room in Brookhaven, PA on August 19, 2014. (Stephanie Aaronson/
Gallery: Randi Warhol of Polydactyl Cats

Randi Warhol, 26, sometimes notices cats following her home.

Why? The egg rolls in her purse.

But these are not your typical egg rolls; rather, they’re fabric replicas filled with organic catnip – just one of the many products from Warhol’s own cat toy company, Polydactyl Cats.

The Delaware County resident, who happens to be a part-time Burlesque dancer and model, owns and operates the toy business in her home. She says her designs are unique and “100 percent original.” Her company’s first official product line uses inspiration from Chinese take-out food, with egg rolls and squirting sauce packets being some of the top cat-approved items. All of the creations can be found on her website,, which is linked to her Etsy shop.

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  • Why the niche name for the company? The inspiration came from her cat Elliot, who has polydactylism, which refers to cats with extra toes.

    “A lot of toy companies just start sounding the same; it’s one market,” said Warhol.

    Most of Warhol’s toys are made of cotton or recycled polyester, and all of them contain organic catnip to keep kitties occupied.

    “I wanted to create a cat toy option that was different, nothing like a mouse or ball,” said Warhol. “The Chinese food idea just popped in my head.”

    The entrepreneurial redhead has always had big plans for starting her own business. She has used her love of art and cats, along with the motto “You are who you are,” in order to succeed.

    Warhol was born Randi Young but took on the name Randi Warhol after she got a tattoo of an Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup can when she was 19. Her name also served her well when she discovered the world of burlesque dancing in 2006 after moving to Philadelphia. She has performed in such cities as New York City, Amsterdam and Washington, D.C.

    “I liked that I can be goofy and I can think of [routines] that show my talent and personality,” said Warhol.

    Although she enjoyed burlesque, Warhol still planned on starting a business that would use her crafty and artistic skills, but she was uncertain as to what she would make.

    One thing was, and still is, for certain: her love of cats.

    As an only child, the Marlton native grew up with many furry companions, quickly giving her the nickname by school friends as “Queen of the Cats.”

    “Someone once made me a sweatshirt where they wrote that in Puffy Paint,” said Warhol. “I wore it to school.”

    When she moved to Center City in 2006, she adopted her first rescue cat, Elliot, from the New Jersey Animal Welfare Association. And during the startup of her company, she adopted a friend for Elliot named Bowie from the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

    Although cats seem like a natural focus for her business, it wasn’t until after a trip to the beach to “recharge” that she thought of the idea to make creative cat toys.

    To pursue her new career, Warhol attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City from June 2011 to May 2012, where she earned certification in pet product design and marketing. She went back for a year in 2013 to be certified in production management.

    “It’s a slow success,” said Warhol. “I’ve been figuring this out since 2009 and I’m always going to be learning and getting better at what I do.”

    Sketching everywhere she goes, Warhol plans on creating a bunch of toys beyond the Chinese food theme. She said she spends a lot of time doing toy research and figuring out which companies are successful and how they stand out from other pet product suppliers.

    She said she buys a lot of competitors’ toys to see how her own cats interact and play with them, and she uses this to refine some of her own creations.

    Some toy products and companies that Warhol admires and frequently uses are Sweet Pickles Designs, a Portland, Ore.-based company that specializes in cat bow ties. Warhol also found a Philly based Etsy member named Xenotees, who makes clothing and home décor fit for cat lovers.

    “I just want to make something different and give cat owners more options [for toys],” said Warhol.

    Cat owners who have purchased some of Warhol’s toys, including Bensalem resident Samantha Russell, said that the toys are built for even the roughest cat play and the fabric design brings a different look to the average cat toy.

    Most of Warhol’s designs are drawn by hand, but some of her toys use pre-printed fabrics that she purchases and sews.

    “They are a playful toy that is design-oriented, which is something that I liked,” said Chris McDonough of Philadelphia, whose calico Gretchen enjoys the toy duck sauce packet. “It’s a cute little twist on cat toys.”

    Oskar & Klaus, a Seattle, Wash.-based pet product company that sells toys and accessories, recently added two of Warhol’s toys to its line: the sauce packets and a popcorn catnip kicker.

    She also hopes to sell her toys in Philadelphia pet stores.

    And while there may be plenty of people who share Warhol’s love for cats, she said not everyone embraces the idea of a modern cat lady.

    “When people first find out I love cats they immediately ask me, ‘How many do you have?’” said Warhol. “I was just smart enough to turn what I love into my own business.”

    But as an artsy young woman who has danced in burlesque shows, models part time, and owns and operates her own business – she’s breaking all those “cat lady” stereotypes.

    “People are ‘cat ladies’ for all kinds of reasons,” said Warhol. “Personally, they’ve been my companions and I feel close to them.”

    She continues to show a love for the cats, and other pets, by giving a portion of toy sales to organizations like PAWS. Her goals include being able to increase the number of toys she makes and giving some of the proceeds to the ASPCA.

    Warhol also has plans to grow her business so she can spend less time sewing and more time designing toys.

    She is currently working on a line of toys for the next Super Bowl, making different snack food items stuffed with catnip.

    The time it takes to make each type of toy varies, but she uses an assembly-line technique and a stopwatch to study how long it takes her to make each product. She said on average, she can make about 100 of the sauce packets, but other toys like the egg rolls take longer because of their shape.

    With all of Warhol’s ambitions, she just might need a few extra hands, or toes, so the business can expand.

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