Indie Small Toy Companies - Whole Wide World Toys
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Indie, Artisan, Craft, or Boutique? Are Small Toy Companies Hip Enough?

What do you see in your mind’s eye when you compare a blockbuster movie and an indie film, packaged bread vs. artisan focaccia, or a conference hotel compared to a boutique hotel? What are the colors? The furniture? How are people dressed? How do you feel in each scenario? You can imagine it, I know you can.

That descriptor of the film, bread, chocolate, brewery, hotel, or corner shop, evokes imagery about a product or service that would take whole sentences to describe. Indie. Artisan. Craft. Boutique. It’s shorthand for something, as Urban Dictionary says “you only learn about from someone slightly more hip than yourself.”

What I imagine is a creative place with warm, modern, comfortable, eclectic surroundings. Maybe a vintage neon sign, a worn Persian rug, corrugated metal on the walls, and some graffiti? People who looked stylish, but not expensively so, who are relaxed and engaged in a lively discussion over espresso.

Other descriptors of those adjectives from various dictionaries include:
– new, fresh, daring- bare-bones budget
– distinctive, small-quantity production
– small, exclusive producer
– heralded by the underground
– high quality

That adjective says a lot.

Small toy companies don’t have a descriptor that rolls off the tongue and makes us just a little cooler. Is it an unfair comparison to ask why toy companies aren’t in the same creative company as say the film, music and technology companies at South by Southwest? Or simply the celebration of small films at Sundance?

Do parents and other toy buyers in a child’s life place value on small, agile, creative toymakers? I don’t really think so.

Who champions small manufacturers? Where is the toy industry’s South by Southwest or Sundance Film Festival?

Who celebrates the inventor, encourages more to become inventors and gives folks the forum to celebrate their innovative products? In the case of SXSW and Sundance, the attendees are at least as excited to be there as the artists and scientists are to show their work.

Toy Fair has the Launch Pad exhibitor area, which gives buyers and media who are interested a place to easily find creative new companies.

Is it ASTRA Marketplace? That’s a more affordable option for small companies, and it’s geared at specialty toys, if not necessarily entrepreneurial companies.

Maybe ChiTAG is the nearest equivalent. With consumers, families, inventors, manufacturers, retailers, educators, hobbyists, and the media mingling together to encourage the power and joy of toy invention. Mary Couzin, the Founder of ChiTAG who began as an inventor herself, has put together a hub of opportunities and resources for start-ups and smaller companies, and ChiTAG itself invites consumers, including kids! Mary says “We are the SXSW of play!”

Or maybe it’s an online forum that comes closest? Etsy, Kickstarter, and Indiegogo have done an admirable job of giving new products added value by virtue of their newness. And, yes they are probably hipper than the industry trade fairs by a good margin.

And getting back to the terminology. If you’re an inventor, congratulations, that sounds like an idea consumers can be enthusiastic about. But many inventors are licensing their ideas and the term doesn’t encompass those of us who are producers as well.  We are all marketers as well as producers of toys, and the moniker of “manufacturer” isn’t doing us any favors. In fact, shouldn’t we just stop using the word manufacturer in any communication that might conceivably reach a consumer and replace it with “Indie Toymaker”?

What do you think?

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