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June 2010 | Vol. IX - No. 6
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Designer Toys Reach Younger Markets

Non-Traditional Art Pieces Toy with the Imagination


“[Designer toys] are not designed for the mass market or to be bought on a whim, shelved and forgotten.” AdaPia d'Errico, d'Errico Studios Ltd.
The designer toy market is moving collectibles from grandma’s curio cabinet to kids’ bookshelves.

Matryoshka Madness, for one, has reinvented traditional nesting dolls for the 21st century with eye-catching, contemporary graphics. The company is continuing the art legacy of matryoshkas, which were based on souvenir dolls made in Japan that Russian craftsmen elevated to a high art.

“We wanted to make the dolls in toy-safe ABS plastic, after potential issues with the safety of the paint on the wooden dolls currently in the marketplace,” spokesperson Andrew C. Palmer told TDmonthly Magazine. “This gave us the opportunity to update not just the doll, but also the graphics.”

The result? Characters such as Fang and Ninja, and the highly anticipated, soon-to-be-released Pig Matryoshkas.

BROADENING APPEAL

At Tutoring Toy in Salt Lake City, Utah, Buyer Casey Sartain has observed that designer toy “lines are mellowing and spreading their appeal to a younger category and are making them more open to a broader audience.”

Cliff Jackson, owner of The Wizard’s Chest in Denver, Colo., is also “seeing a trend towards items that are younger kid-friendly vs. just adult-friendly, but still maintain that fun and quirky design for adults to get involved with.”

“We’re seeing adults holding onto things they loved from childhood, especially those who grew up in the 1980s,” Jackson told TDmonthly. “There’s not the ‘seriousness’ of being an adult from 30 years ago; instead, today’s adults believe they have to hold on to the spark of childhood or become dull. Designer toys are different, independent, and a little edgy.”

Sartain, who recently brought in MediCom’s BearBricks and plans to expand further into the designer toy area, agrees about the carefree, fun factor, noting the toys’ success comes from tongue-in-cheek humor.

“Some do have serious underlying social statements that only an adult will pick up on, which adds to the enjoyment,” he said.

DRIVING UNIQUENESS

Designer toys defy categorization, ranging from outlandish and bizarre to cuddly and cute. Made of materials that include plush, vinyl, metal and wood, they are distinctive and often thought provoking. Some are 3D representations of comic book, graphic novel or television characters; others spring from strange doodles. Prices can range from a few dollars to thousands for limited-edition collectibles.

Appealing to tweens, teens and adults, designer toys expose their creators’ imaginations. The category blends more well-known brands, such as Pretty Ugly’s Uglydolls and KidRobot, with smaller firms that also develop edgy, artistic and innovative characteristics.

“Designer Toys … are an expression of an artist’s or designer’s creativity, and, in some cases, they are truly collectible pieces of art,” AdaPia d'Errico of d'Errico Studios Ltd. explained to TDmonthly. “They are not designed for the mass market or to be bought on a whim, shelved and forgotten.”

Limited editions, such as the 100-piece release of artist Camilla d’Errico’s giant “Buddha” Kuro, can create a connection with fans, as well as drive collectibility and added value.

“Designer vinyl is so different from mass-appeal, big-market toys,” added UNKL Designer Derek Welch, who collaborates with colleague Jason Bacon on the company’s unusual figures. “Most are created by artists just doing their thing. That approach injects a freshness into the market.”

DESIGNING A MOVEMENT

D'Errico believes designer toys offer retailers something new and unique, with passion and a story for their customers.

“I look forward to the designer toy movement gaining more momentum, with the help of buyers and educated customers,” she told TDmonthly. “Buyers will need to educate their customers as to issues like the ‘cool factor’ behind designer toys, the particular artist’s story and source of the inspiration, almost as though the customer were buying a piece of art.”

See designer toys mentioned in the article, and other brands, below:




MSRP: $50.00
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys
Collectibles



To celebrate their seminal debut album “3 Feet High and Rising,” legendary hip-hop group De La Soul teamed with Myong Kurily and KidRobot to create this limited-edition set of 3” vinyl figures. Each comes with distinguishing accessories: Trugoy handles business with a briefcase and glove, Merc rocks the crowd with his microphone and designer glasses, and Maceo bobs to the beat with his headphones. The "Plugs" arrive in futuristic space travel boxes, symbolizing their mission to take hip-hop to the stratosphere and beyond. Limited to 1,000 sets worldwide.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28243      (added 4/28/2010)
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MSRP: $12.00
Age Range: 13 and up
Launch Date: January 2009
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys
Plush



This 7” plush is based on the character Kuro from the Tanpopo graphic novel series by creator Camilla d'Errico. Limited edition of 1,500. Launch date: 2009.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28244      (added 4/28/2010)
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MSRP: $25.00
Age Range: 3 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush
Designer Toys



The Dreamlets are designer fleece plush monsters. Thinko, Stanley, Uncle, Ceecee, Qoindo and Beebee combine bright colors with simple designs and relatable personalities to appeal to all ages. Dreamlets range in size from 6” to 12” tall.
Plastic and Plush called Dreamlets “one of our favorite new plush lines of the year” and observed that the individual Dreamlets characters make the most of the simplified design elements and varied fabrics used.
In the Know Mom’s Erin said Dreamlets were “welcomed into our home with a huge bear hug and a squeal that was so loud, my eyes crossed. … Needless to say, we’re huge Dreamlets fans.” Her co-blogger Sarah was impressed by the quality of Dreamlets, predicting, “These durable handmade beauties will surely last the years.”
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28613      (added 5/24/2010)
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MSRP: $29.95
Age Range: 12 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys
Collectibles



The naive child Pity adopted Gloomy Bear as a cub, thinking he could domesticate the cute little guy. Unfortunately, that cuddly pink exterior had Pity fooled. Standing at an imposing 5”, Gloomy Bear is thirsty for blood and primed to attack in this latest vinyl iteration of Mori Chack's vicious icon.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28246      (added 4/28/2010)
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MSRP: $10.00
Age Range: 4 and up
SKU or Item #: 93044
Launch Date: April 2010
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys
Action Figures
Pretend Play



Series 2 Uglydoll Action Figures feature Uglydog, Big Toe, Poe, Trunko, Uglyworm and Peaco. Each action figure is available in two colors. The series is packaged in a clear window box for a clear view of all the action. Launch date: April 2010.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28093      (added 4/16/2010)
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MSRP: $83.99
Age Range: Adult
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys
Collectibles



These bear-shaped figures feature designs from Tetris, Terminator Salvation, Sanrio, Nickelodeon and other. MediCom has reached out to designers to create the "paint mask" for the figures and has started a "toy fever" among fans and collectors. The assortment of designs varies from series to series.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28248      (added 4/28/2010)
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MSRP: $85.00
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys



As a self-proclaimed protector of humanity, SUG's mission is very simple: to assist people of the world who are in desperate need of help. He has no affiliation with any one government and is not concerned with the politics of his actions, but rather views his role in global, historical and human terms.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28250      (added 4/28/2010)
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MSRP: $35.00
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys



SUG created UlliGUS not only for companionship, but also to assist him with tasks ranging from reconnaissance to tracking. The green H60 UlliGUS says he's better than the blue version.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28251      (added 4/28/2010)
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MSRP: $70.00
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys



As a self-proclaimed protector of humanity, SUG's mission is very simple: to assist people of the world who are in desperate need of help. He has no affiliation with any one government and is not concerned with the politics of his actions, but rather views his role in global, historical and human terms.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28256      (added 4/28/2010)
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MSRP: $35.00
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys



SUG created UlliGUS not only for companionship, but also to assist him with tasks ranging from reconnaissance to tracking. The blue H60 UlliGUS says he's better than the green version.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28257      (added 4/28/2010)
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MSRP: $29.95
Age Range: 12 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys
Collectibles



Joe Ledbetter's Slander Snake reminds of the balance of nature and the importance of a good breakfast.
Packed safely away in a full-color window box, this deceptively cute snake holds a surprise in its tummy: a freshly eaten mouse. Slander Snake slithers into homes as a 4” vinyl toy.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28247      (added 4/28/2010)
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MSRP: $20.00
Age Range: All Ages
SKU or Item #: 10432
Launch Date: February 2010
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys
Plush
Pretend Play



Mynus is an addition to the UGLYDOLL plush family. Mynus' distinct personality traits are that she is quiet, shy and engaged in deep thought. Mynus is also known for her brilliant ideas and helpfulness. Karen Laureigh, Marketing Manager at Pretty Ugly, told TDmonthly, "These loveable, hip, huggable plush characters each have a distinct personality sure to capture your heart and are not a bit UGLY at all...because UGLY means unique and special!" Awards: Parent's Choice Award 2010. Launch date: February 2010.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28013      (added 4/14/2010)
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MSRP: $115.00
Age Range: 13 and up
Launch Date: July 2010
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys
Plush



This 2’ plush is perfect for hugging or rubbing its good luck belly. It’s based on the Kuro character from the Tanpopo graphic novel series by popular creator Camilla d'Errico. Limited to 100 pieces. Launch date: July 2010.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28245      (added 4/28/2010)
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MSRP: $16.00
Age Range: All Ages
Target Age Range: 13 and up
Specialty: Yes (as of 2010)
Made in: China
SKU or Item #: PTpr
Launch Date: May 2010
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Educational
Designer Toys
Plush



This 7.5" x 6.5" plush representation of the seminal vesicle gland could make a great gift for prostate cancer survivors. It is safe for all ages and packed inside a biodegradable plastic sleeve. It is designed in California and made in China. Wendy Bryan, Founder of I Heart Guts, told TDmonthly this item is a "designer educational plush."
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 28267      (added 4/28/2010)
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MSRP: $15.95
Age Range: 10 and up
Launch Date: January 2009
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Arts & Crafts
Designer Toys
Creative Activities



PIPEROID is a paper craft robot designed and produced in Japan. The robot is made out of paper pipes with pre-drilled holes and marks to cut, fold, and connect the pipes without the need of glue or tape. All one needs is a pair of scissors, and with minimal assembly they can bring your own PIPEROID to life. It's "very easy to make - with only scissors and 30 minutes," Shinya Fujimoto, owner, Magnote, told TDmonthly. Awards: Good Design Award (2007). Launch date: 2009.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 27573      (added 3/15/2010)
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MSRP: $39.99
Age Range: 3 and up
Launch Date: October 2006
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Construction
Designer Toys
Creative Activities



Designed by Cas Holman, Geemo is a grabby, stretchy, quirky companion designed to occupy a child's mind as much as his hands. This playful building block for the imagination is sold in Geemanisms (sets) of five. Geemo's flexible, magnetic limbs grab and repel each other in unpredictable ways. As Geemo comes to life in one's hands, he can build, discover, create and imagine with freedom. Awards: Conduit Brave New Design 2005. Launch date: October 2006. Watch Geemo: Top-5 Video, Toy Fair 2010
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 26906      (added 2/4/2010)
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MSRP: $25.00
Age Range: 3 to 8
Launch Date: January 2010
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Educational
Plush
Designer Toys



Kimochis are small pillows with a feeling (happy, sad, silly, brave) printed on one side and a corresponding facial expression on the other. Each Kimochis plush character comes with a set of three feelings and a how-to Kimochis Feel Guide. The characters — Cat, Huggtopus, Cloud, Bug and Lovey Dove — have a special pocket where kids can store their "Kimochis" or feelings. Using the characters and their Kimochis, kids can get in touch with their emotions through puppetry and play. “Getting back to the basics by playing and communicating with Kimochis™ is a simple, yet powerful way to teach children how to: be aware of feelings, choose how to communicate in emotional moments, and redo mistakes. Children will be drawn to the fun, adorable, accessible characters. Parents will be drawn to the high-quality craftsmanship and the valuable educational content," Susan Schroeder, director of marketing and communications for Plushy Feely Corp., told TDmonthly. Awards: 2009 Creative Child Magazine Seal of Excellence, Best Vacation Products by Dr. Toy, and Kaboose.com's Top 13 Amazing Toys for Preschoolers. Launch date for Lovey Dove: 2010.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 26512      (added 12/28/2009)
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MSRP: $19.99
Age Range: 14 and up
Launch Date: June 2007
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Designer Toys
Collectibles
Plush



These designer plush toys are made in limited edition batches from a Swedish designer. Spok-spok was a runner-up for Plush Toy of the Year 2007 from Plastic and Plush. Launch date: June 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 24675      (added 7/19/2009)
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Claudia NewcornWriter's Bio: Claudia Newcorn has been a freelance writer and editor for over 10 years, after having spent more than a decade in marketing and product management. She writes for both businesses and individual clients, crafting copy, content and advertising. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines and specialty publications nationwide (www.acornmarketing.com). She is also the author of an award-winning fantasy fiction book, "Crossover," and several published short stories (www.claudianewcorn.com). Read more articles by this author

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