What is the story of Cabbage Patch Kids?
The Cabbage Patch Kids were born, according to the brand’s website, in 1976 when a 21-year-old art student from Georgia named Xavier Roberts combined his interest in sculpture with the quilting skills he learned from his mother. He began creating soft-sculptures, using a German fabric technique called "needle molding” from the early 1800s. A couple years later, Xavier began showing off his one-of-a-kind creations, which he called Little People Originals, at arts and crafts shows. He even snagged a first place ribbon at the Osceola Art Show in Kissimmee, Florida, for his doll named Dexter.
Building on his success, he renovated an old medical clinic in Cleveland, Georgia, into “BabyLand General Hospital,” a store made to look like a birthing, nursing and adoption center for the dolls. The toys even came with a birth certificate and adoption papers. (Just wait—it gets weirder).
In 1981, marketing mastermind Roger Schlaifer came into the picture. Together they developed a mass-market, plastic head version of the dolls, which they renamed Cabbage Patch Kids, and took their show on the road. Apparently, they reached out to a bunch of toy companies, and allegedly were turned away because the dolls were too ugly (no argument here). But then, they found Coleco.
Roger told Syracuse University Magazine in 1988, "It was ideal timing for us. Smurfs had had their day. E.T. passed quickly. Strawberry Shortcake was on the wane. We saw a vital opportunity, timing-wise, to position Cabbage Patch Kids. All the psychological factors were right. It wouldn't have happened, I don't think, three or four years earlier."
The toys began appearing in major publications like Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and Atlanta Weekly, who were all marveling at their ballooning popularity. By 1983, it was a full-on Cabbage Patch craze. The proud new parents (er, owners?) even had to recite an oath before taking their treasures home. At first, the kiddos were going for $40 a pop—but once they started getting really popular, product shortages caused a price spike. By 1983, TIME reported prices ranged from $125 to $1,000.
But let’s circle back to that origin story, shall we? There’s another version of events that was detailed in a documentary which premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. It’s called "Billion Dollar Babies: The True Story of the Cabbage Patch Kids,” and it’s narrated by Neil Patrick Harris.
Who Really created Cabbage Patch Kids?
According to the documentary, Xavier Roberts might not be the true creator of Cabbage Patch Kids. The film says there was a legal battle between Xavier and a folk artist named Martha Nelson Thomas, who passed away in 2013. The movie claims Xavier stole the original design from her.
In 2015, Vice also covered this side of the story when they traveled to Kentucky to meet with Martha's friends and family and tell her side of the story. Martha's husband, Tucker Thomas, claimed in a video that Xavier not only ripped off the design of Martha's Doll Babies, but that the whole adoption concept was Martha's as well. Those close to Martha claimed Xavier purchased Martha's dolls at a fair and she denied him permission to sell her dolls, and that's when he decided to take things into his own hands.