Meet Judi Henderson Townsend, the owner of Mannequin Madness in Oakland, Ca. It is the only Black owned mannequin company in the country.
While selling mannequins to retailers is the most profitable part of her business, selling mannequins to the DIY community is the part of the business where she has the most fun.
Judi has always been fascinated by the artistic ways mannequin forms are used in home decorating projects. In fact, when she started the business in 2001, it was the result of wanting to buy a used mannequin to paint and put in her garden.
Pinterest is where she discovered all kinds of mannequin-related art projects. Judi was an early adopter on Pinterest and has over 50K followers today. One of her most popular Pinterest boards is Dress Form Christmas Trees.
When she first started pinning images of Dress Form Christmas trees, she had no intention of designing them herself. But when she pinned this image below people started emailing her with questions on how to make it. She instinctively knew that she had seen an idea that would grow in popularity.
After unsuccessfully trying to locate the actual designer of the tree, she asked a friend who was a floral designer if he could create a dress form Christmas tree. She wanted to document his process and create a digital tutorial she could offer to her customers.
At that time (2012), dress form Christmas trees were primarily seen only in retail store windows like this one in an Oscar De La Renta window display.
That was because it retailers had access to people with visual merchandising skills and mannequins. However, with the rise of the internet, private individuals could now easily purchase mannequins.
And sites like Pinterest were giving the public access to ideas from all over the world which sparked their desire to duplicate what they saw.
Mannequin Madness released its first tutorial in 2013 using fresh garland (because the floral designer friend had easy access to them).
Ironically, exactly one year after Judi’s tutorial was released, a very similar version of the Dress Form Christmas Tree (with upgraded decorations) was included in the 2014 Christmas decorations at the White House during the Obama administration.
Judi likes to think that someone in charge of making this for the White House was also following her Pinterest board and purchased the tutorial. At any rate, great minds do think alike.
The second tutorial Mannequin Madness released was this one which was easier to make and designed sppecifically for people who had limited floor space.
This one utilized faux garland and it looked more like a flirty cocktail dress.
The third tutorial released is the one that has been the most popular. We call it the Grand Diva tree.
Initially the tutorial was only available in a digital format. However, in 2020, Mannequin Madness started offering zoom classes to show people how to make them.
Part of the appeal of Dress Form Christmas Trees is that they are an eco-friendly way to decorate. No tree is cut down in the making of the tree, yet the “skirt” part of the tree can be decorated just as you would a traditional tree.
After the holidays, the decorations can be removed and the dress form can be used as originally intended to display clothing or jewelry.
Better yet, the form can be used throughout the year to celebrate other seasonal holidays — Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving etc.
Or re-purposed as party decor for other celebrations e.g. bridal and baby showers, weddings, cotillions and quinceañeras, birthdays, etc. The dress form investment pays off in multiple ways.
While Judi did not create the original Dress Form Christmas Tree, she definitely brought greater visibility to the idea and the tree has become one of Mannequin Madness signature items.