New York Toy Fair 2010: The Hello Kitty Jungle

100221-demian-toy-fair-logo-1The Toy Industry Association’s Toy Fair 2010 was just at New York’s Javitz center.  As the show was open during President’s Day I had the opportunity to run through it unfettered by babies or schedule conflicts.  I have been to many design fairs over the years but this was my first Toy Fair.  I was not sure what to expect but my hopes were high.

100221-demian-toy-fair-1What I was met with upon entering the Fair was both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time.  Overwhelming in the sense that most fairs are; the huge amount of stuff on display before you and only a short amount of time to take it all in and make sense of it.  Underwhelming in the realization that a lot of it, no – most of it, was crap.  As soon as I started to walk down the rows I felt a strange sense of familiarity.  Why?  I had never been here before…  Then I realized that it was because I had seen a lot of the stuff on display before.  Maybe not the actual stuff but toys very much like them.  So much of what was showing across the entire Fair were toys that had been licensed to carry familiar characters from the Star Wars, Hello Kitty, Disney and Pokemon brands.  Just like they have been for years.  There was some very cute stuff, but overall it didn’t seem as though there was much innovation.  Maybe I could have found it had I spent more time there and dug deeper into some of the companies.  I am not sure.

100221-demian-toy-fair-makedo-1There were, though, a couple companies that caught my eye.  One of them is a company called ‘Makedo’.  A young company from Australia that developed reusable plastic connectors and hinges that kids can use to fasten boxes and packaging together to make things.  I told the reps that as a kid I used tape and glue to make things out of old boxes.  What makes this better?  Well, they told me, tape is environmentally unfriendly, the Makedo connectors are not.  Hmmm… how much better is Makedo than some tape and Elmer’s glue?  And aren’t we already being totally environmentally unfriendly by buying so much stuff that comes in boxes and plastic packaging?  Hasn’t the damage mostly been done?  Not sure I was convinced.  But I know that some kids just are not self-motivated to be creative in this way.  So if Makedo connectors are the catalyst they need to get started exercising that compositional part of their brain then great.  Job well done.

100221-demian-toy-fair-perlman-1I couldn’t help though, when looking at Makedo’s products, being reminded of an artist whose work I enjoy.  A few years ago the artist, Hirsch Perlman, had just moved and ended up with a room full of boxes and packing material.  He decided to make a pinhole camera from one of the boxes and then photographed the room as he transformed and retransformed the boxes into humanoid creatures that grew, morphed, intertwined and disintegrated.  Hauntingly beautiful photographs I think.  I then wondered if Perlman would have found the Makedo connectors more liberating or restricting had he used them instead of tape?  Of course no way to know, but something to ponder.  Regardless, I think the Makedo system is an interesting beginning to a company that is trying to (yes, I am going to say it) think outside of the box. So cheesy, I know.  I hope they succeed.  In the meantime, I think it might help if they add a few more splashes of color to their building material photographs.  Maybe the kits could come with a couple jars of environmentally friendly paint that the kids could use to paint some of their found boxes with?  Just a thought.

100221-demian-toy-fair-bicplastics-dinki-1Another company that caught my eye was BIC Plastics from Hong Kong.  I will be the first to admit that I am a sucker the whole vinyl figure genre.  I can’t walk by a Kidrobot store. I am compelled to go in and look at everything.  BIC Plastics was no different.  But the most interesting thing that I noticed was that they were featuring a new line of toys by artist Tristan Eaton.  The extensive collection is called ‘dinki’, and is not yet released but it’s essentially a renaming and extension of Eaton’s ‘Runts’ line.  There will be lots of ‘dinki’ figures in lots of different products and all pretty dern cute.

100221-demian-toy-fair-areaware-1Way back in the corner of the ‘garden’ floor of the Toy Fair were friends from AREAWARE.  Veterans of fairs such as ICFF and the Gift Fair, the AREAWARE crew were at the Toy Fair to show their line of wooden toys, especially the new Cubebot by designer David Weeks.  Fun stuff.  Definitely more warm, tactile and visually inviting than most of the other stuff in the Fair.  I just hope kids today know what wood is….

The one other notable thing that I will mention is that the amazing Ugly Doll brand continues to grow.  They have added eight new characters to their line for 2010.  Even through this ugly economy Ugly Doll has kept on growing and expanding their collection and product categories.  They are quite the success story and, dangit, an inspiration to all of us entrepreneurs out there.

Even though the Toy Fair is of ‘giant-robot’ proportions, and the amount of flotsam and jetsam to be waded through is deep, there were still a few gems that could be found.  I hope that the economy recovering its footing will be what the industry needs to spur some more innovation and creativity in its toy designers.