Designers of Trendy toys

  Since 2017, the trendy toy brand Bubble Mart will hold a fashion show in Beijing and Shanghai each year. Due to the epidemic, the 2020 Beijing Chaowan Exhibition was cancelled, and the Shanghai Chaozhou Exhibition (STS) was postponed to November.
  Repeated delays will not stop the enthusiasm of consumers. They are fully equipped, bring their own small horses, and the team winds from the north gate of the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition Hall to the corner of the street. After the launch, the people forming the team scattered and ran to organize a new queue at the designated sales point in the exhibition hall. The security guard trying to maintain order repeatedly shouted: “Don’t crowd, everyone can buy it.” He was quickly retorted by the people in the line, “How is it possible, it’s limited.”
  After more than a month, the house was almost on its own. Young companies that have defined and inspired the Chinese trendy play market are listed on the Hong Kong stock market, with a market value of over HK$100 billion. This surprised many investors, why can this seemingly humble toy business attract a lot of cash flow? Why do dolls become a “fashion play” that can trigger a buying frenzy among young people?
  In November 2020, young people waiting to enter at the entrance of Shanghai Chaowan Exhibition.

01 SKULL PANDA, regarded as the IP dark horse of 2020 by Bubble Mart, is more grotesque and dark than the previous cute style.

02 Molly is the first IP successfully launched by Bubble Mart. Its designer was once a shareholder of Bubble Mart.

  Also surprised are the trendy designers. 20 years ago, EDDI could hardly imagine such a scene would appear in China. He founded adFunture, a fashion brand in 2002. At the STS booth, adFunture displayed a lot of independent fashion brand clothing and paintings in addition to fashion, which may be more in line with the outside world’s initial impression of fashion.
  During the exhibition, EDDI received business cards from two executives who claimed to be MINISO. The other party hoped to cooperate with him to design products. “Why MINISO?” He was a little puzzled. In fact, the executives of this retail brand visited every designer’s booth at this exhibition, handing out business cards and adding WeChat to prepare for more original designers. On December 18, 2020, TOPTOY, the first sub-brand incubated by MINISO, opened. 70% of the IP came from outside sources, and 30% were original IP products or exclusive cooperative products.
  Not only MINISO, more and more toy-related or unrelated companies have entered the industry chain, and companies in different industries have become popular in the trendy surroundings. Downstream demand reverses changes on the supply side, and the authorized prices of mature IP are rising. Designers and artists are regarded as potential stocks. As a link in the IP supply chain, their career trajectories have changed due to the rise of the trendy play market.
New concepts, new industries, new opportunities

  The first time Wu Chao heard the term “chaowan” was in 2017. Before that, after graduating from sculpture major, he worked in the film and television advertising industry. Wu Chao and his friends established the “Gravitational Lightwave”, an alliance of fashion designers. This platform has signed contracts with different designers. The online and offline Chaowan collection stores sell products. Both the appearance and the price are much closer to the people. “The price of a blind box is fifty or sixty yuan, and the bulk of the cost lies in the back-end operations and channels. , The profit margin left to creators and studios is about 10 to 20%,” he said.
  Wu Chao was invited to create large-scale sketches on the stage on STS. You can still see the collision between personal aesthetics and pop culture: in the weird alien creatures, a cartoon girl’s body is exposed. At the same time, Gravitational Lightwave also sometimes sells popular blind box doll products, such as a small crab with a hamburger, which is very different from the former style.
  In the past few years, Wu Chao has witnessed many designers entering this industry, and the number has “at least doubled”. Some have changed careers like him, and some are new beginners. They are art graduates, design enthusiasts and even former consumers.
  ”Designers are of course flocking.” said Ha Jia, co-founder of the hand-made brand Hobbymax. “They also want to express themselves very much. This industry allows designers to contact the audience and be admired and liked by everyone. They can use this to build their personal brand instead of being a designer in the company.”
  Before, even if the designer has a mature IP image , It may not be easy to authorize, let alone the negotiation of copyright fees. Nowadays, the copyright fees of the famous IP are getting higher and higher. The proportion of copyright fees has increased from 5% to 10% of sales to 15% and 20%; the one-time guaranteed reserve price has changed from 500,000 yuan to 1 million yuan. Hajia told China Business News that in the past, IP authorization was usually only done in hands, and the corresponding copyright fee was about 300,000 to 400,000 yuan. Nowadays, in order to obtain authorization, companies are also willing to package other products for one to two million. .
  Hajia and Kiking co-founded the figure brand Hobbymax in 2015. They are good at obtaining the authorization of Japanese animation IP and developing collectible figure works. In 2016, 200 sets of the Liu Kanshan series that Hobbymax cooperated with Zhihu were sold out instantly on STS in 2016, which allowed her to see the “tide play” market that was different from the hands. Almost at the same time as Wu Chao, Hobbymax launched JoyBrain, a sub-brand of the trendy play. The current main IPs include the Torn Bear series and the Liu Kanshan series.
  Ha Jia and Kiking, who graduated from animation majors, are two-dimensional enthusiasts for many years. As early as in university, Kiking was keen on researching hand-made prototypes, and then joined a Japanese company to learn prototyping. Due to the need to vividly restore the image in the work, figure players pay special attention to the production process of the toy.
  During this period, it was not easy to find a well-made factory. Factories that can produce collectible toys and understand the production requirements usually supply large-scale foreign companies and have long-term business binding relationships with the other party. “Domestic factories have a small share of shares and it is difficult to receive foreign orders.” Hajia told China Business News that the output of Hobbymax could not meet the production capacity of the large factory, and they could only find a peripheral cooperative factory of a large factory.
  If the process is strictly followed, the production of this type of model toys is first developed by designers and prototypers. Except for the initial 3D modeling, this is a purely handicraft activity. In the development room of Hobbymax, more than a dozen prototypes made toy prototypes on the chopping board in front of them. The silver vacuum pipes entangled on the ceiling like a spider web. An entrance was opened in front of each table to suck out the polishing process. dust.

  After the prototype is developed, it is handed over to the factory for batch production of PVC. After mold opening, injection molding, polishing, manual injection and assembly, the final product is produced. The enthusiasts are rigorously investigating the details of the toy. “One of the criteria for the collection-level figure is sharpness. The hair should be sharp, and the needles on the belt should be sharp.” Ha Jia introduced to the “China Business News” magazine. This puts forward various detailed requirements for the factory, such as not having too many parts in a mold, otherwise there may be lines that cannot be covered, and the workers also need to have certain manual expertise.
  In the past five years alone, “it has become much easier to find foundries,” Hajia said. Now Hobbymax has 15 cooperative factories. The growing demand for domestic trendy games has forced Chinese factories to pay attention to this business. She saw a factory with only 60 people, and it quickly increased to more than 300 people by receiving orders from Chaowan. With the technology and production foundation accumulated before, it is easier for Hobbymax to launch JoyBrain.
  The factory owners even took the initiative to spur trends and play business. “I often see them handing out business cards at exhibitions and asking if they want to come to me for production.” Wu Chao told China Business News that he has 5 foundries in Dongguan. Among them is the foundry of Japanese veteran game company Bandai Namco.
  Like other industries such as clothing and beauty, the advantages of China’s manufacturing have also provided the basis for the explosion of the fashion industry. In 2019, China’s toy exports reached 31.1 billion US dollars, an increase of 24% year-on-year, of which Guangdong Province’s exports accounted for 60%. But if manufacturers want to sell domestically, this also requires a toy brand and the popularity of a concept it leads.
From “tide play” to “Chinese style play”

  In fact, the concept of “tide play”, which has quickly become popular in the Mainland, has undergone localized “reconstruction”.
  In 2014, Bubble Mart, which is still a “fashion department store”, introduced Sonny Angel, an angel boy with a bare bottom, round eyes, and different headwear and tops, and was classified in the toy category.
  The company behind Sonny Angel Dreams Japan Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Dolimme”) was established in 1996. Its main products are earphones, piggy banks, bath lamps and other daily groceries, which are sold in grocery stores. Sonny Angel is also designed as a decorative ornament.
  The data shows that the sales of toy categories have maintained rapid growth and accounted for nearly 50% of Bubble Mart’s sales by 2015. Inspired by this, Bubble Mart decided to focus on toys. They found an IP image of a little girl with blue eyes and pouting mouth—Molly designed by Hong Kong artist Kenny Wong.
  The key difference is that Molly is no longer positioned as a home decoration, but is given the definition of a trendy toy. “We want to sell toys to adults. The most appropriate word is’trend’ to tell everyone that it is not simply a toy,” said Wang Ning, the founder of Bubble Mart, in a speech at the Trendy Play Industry Forum. “It’s a bit inappropriate to call adult toys.”
  From the perspective of cultural origin, design style, and the production chain behind it, trendy toys—that is, designer toys in a narrow sense—in fact have a hint of anti-mass production at the beginning. The meaning.
  In 2000, EDDI returned to Hong Kong from Toronto. It was the first time to see Hong Kong artists Michael Lau and Eric So at the Fashion Show using their own designs. These toys are not the same as the figures in his previous collection. They are “partially artistic” and no longer strictly restore the inherent image of the work, but instead show the creator’s personal style. Such toys do not cater to children’s audiences and the mainstream market. They are mostly created by independent designers and artists. The image source may be one of their paintings, and they rely on visual expression or the reputation of the creator to attract consumers.
  Michael Lau and Eric So are considered to be the first professional fashion designers in Hong Kong. The late 1990s and early 2000s were at the peak of street culture. Street culture extended to different fields such as music, film and television, and fashion, and it was also used in model toys. KAWS, the most well-known in the current fashion world, was first to try fashion play jointly with Japanese clothing brand Bounty-Hunter’s. The BE@RBRICK, launched by the toy company Medicom Toy in 2001, created a platform-based toy gameplay. Different brands, designers, and artists were invited to create on blank BE@RBRICK prototypes, which were sold as a joint limited edition. Designers such as Michael Lau and Eric So have transformed Chaowan from an additional product into the main product of a personal brand.

  ”It advertised that a group of people in society at that time seemed to express some opinions, and toys were just a carrier.” EDDI once wrote-that was the era when street culture was still called subculture.
  After founding adFunture, EDDI searched for favorite graffiti artists from books and magazines, went to foreign countries to see their graffiti works on the spot, and then found these artists, hoping to try co-branding design trends. The principle of adFunture is that it will not interfere with the creation of artists, even if EDDI itself may not appreciate their strong style. The output of each designer toy does not exceed 500 pieces, and the price is between 480 yuan and 1,450 yuan each.
  As for the method of sale, adFunture will hold individual exhibitions of artists in galleries in Paris, London, Berlin, New York, Shanghai and other places. While exhibiting graffiti artists’ paintings, they will also sell trendy designs designed by artists. At that time, the buyers were basically from Hong Kong, Taiwan and abroad. AdFunture’s products were mainly supplied to foreign channels and sold in toy stores that he thought were “in the circle”.
  At this time, the consumer group is mostly male. Mechas and monsters are common in the image. The design style is often rebellious and anti-mainstream. Due to limited production, unique design, and high prices for trendy play, it has always been limited to a small circle, and it is also a symbol of identity and taste.
  With the disappearance of underground street culture, Hong Kong, Japan, Europe and the United States and other countries and regions have passed the peak of the trendy play. The number of consumers is stable and they entertain themselves in the circle. EDDI has its own clothing and headwear brands again, and the focus of its career is no longer on adFunture. “But I really don’t have a long-term vision, I don’t know that China will develop like this.” EDDI said. It wasn’t until these two years that he slowly picked up the trendy business, but everything was different.
  The popularity of Sonny Angel proves a successful design direction for Bubble Mart-a feminine, healing child image, mini size, supplemented by a blind box, a low-cost sales method that stimulates people to keep buying.
  As a result, the model of popular household groceries and the concept of niche trendy toys have combined to create a “Chinese-style trendy play.” After transforming from a retail grocery store in 2015, Bubble Mart directed its products towards women, using the blind box method, and continuously launched unlimited new models, opening up the audience. Toy collections that once represented the “superiority” of the subculture have become commodities that the general public appreciates and buys daily.
  In the following years, the “Chinese-style tide play” style driven by Bubble Mart swept the market. “Cute” seems to be a design element that cannot be ignored. “In the past, designers always wanted to express anger. Why can’t it be sunny and positive?” Wang Ning understands this cute trend led by Bubble Mart. What he envisions is that the trendy play without any practical functions will be deeply involved in future art and design, and finally a culture will gradually form, which may rise to the mark of this era.
  Beginning in 2018, there have been auctions dedicated to tide play in China. In 2019, there were 16 auctions, the number of auctions reached 1,494, and the transaction prices were mainly in the range of 50 to 30,000 yuan. However, KAWS alone accounted for more than 75% of these auction works. The momentum of trend art in the contemporary art market brings confidence to Bubble Mart. Wang Ning revealed to China Business News that this year, he will focus more on larger and more collectible products, such as oversized toys with a height of 70 cm and 28 cm.
  ”One is popular to guide art, and then to commercial at the same time; Bubble Mart is commercial to promote popular, and is still working hard to influence art.” Zhao Longkai, director of the MBA program at Peking University Guanghua School of Management and professor of finance, defines the origin and The difference between Bubble Mart.
  In other words, the previous trendy play followed the route from subculture to popular popularity. Brands first gained loyal consumers through the close emotional connection between the artwork created by the designer and a certain group, and then reached a wider range of people. Consumption. But Bubble Mart did not do this. It first verified a market through mass consumption, gave it a concept, and then influenced the design orientation of supply chain designers through the market. At this time, it not only changed the definition of Chaowan, but also affected the future direction of Chaowan.
  ”Fashionable toys may deeply influence a generation of Chinese design and art students.” Wang Ning said.
  What impact does this approach have on the fashion designer industry? On the one hand, it connects the designer with the market more closely: the designer designs what the market needs; on the other hand, there is also a hidden crisis: there is no longer a relationship between consumers and designers How to build emotional connection and loyalty?
  A subtle operation is that Sun Yuanwen said that 1/3 of the products in TOPTOY store “sold but not push”, only display but not sell, so as to tell the designer to keep the minority. In TOPTOY’s first store in Grandview Plaza, Guangzhou, there is a wall used to display large dolls of the “big artist” IP, which Sun Yuanwen described as “showing the bottom of the house.”
  As for what products to sell, based on the designer’s own wishes, Sun Yuanwen will tell them the data shows what products have more commercial potential. He also hopes that designers can be closer to consumer needs, such as in the community. Raise product image.
  There are four basic trading modes between TOP TOY and co-designers: traditional buy-out, products are only sold in TOP TOY channels; TOPTOY, as one of the retail channels, assumes inventory; TOPTOY only provides consignment sites and collects sales profit The inventory is borne by the designer; in the end, it only displays and does not sell, and TOPTOY charges the designer the cost of display.
  In addition to continuing to sign contracts with external designers, Bubble Mart has also established an internal IP incubation platform PDC (POP MART Design Center), which uses past design experience to “make stars” and at the same time use the allocation of platform traffic resources to “hold stars” . Kenny Wong, who contributed to Molly’s milestone in the development of Bubble Mart, once became a shareholder of Bubble Mart, but withdrew in August 2019.
Compete for original designers

  This is not a problem for Sonny Angel, because it itself does not consider itself to be a trendy play, let alone an artwork, or even the protagonist in the scene, but home decorations. Compared with the various new dolls on the market, Sonny Angel’s modeling guidelines of “maximizing the temperament of a baby with the simplest design” seem a bit simple.

On December 18, 2020, TOPTOY, the first sub-brand incubated by MINISO, opened its doors.

  But Sonny Angel cannot ignore the rapid changes in the objective environment of the Chinese market. There are two paths ahead: be involved in this wave, and treat the original product as a trend; don’t be disrupted, and move forward in accordance with the precise positioning. “Maybe after the heat wave, it will return to calm.” Dolly Meng’s chief designer Changshan Gao Shi told the “China Business News” magazine. Nevertheless, its Shenzhen branch also tried to join the market with an ambiguous attitude in recent activities.

  Hesitation is not the way of Bubble Mart, transforming, looking for IP, launching products, and holding exhibitions, all the way to IPO. At this stage, the task of Bubble Mart as a platform-based brand is to obtain and praise more IPs and raise the barriers. The prospectus released on June 30, 2020 shows that Bubble Mart operates 93 IPs, including 12 own IPs, 25 exclusive IPs and 56 non-exclusive IPs.
  In the past, Wang Ning always said that Bubble Mart is going to be “China’s Disney”, but now his view has changed. He likes to use the analogy of record companies. With the birth of the recording industry, the works of musicians can be promoted to the general audience with the help of records. “We are both a record company and a management company. We distribute records for a lot of people and we have signed a lot of top artists.” He said. Kenny Wong, author of IP Molly at the head, Long Jiasheng, author of Labubu, and others can be regarded as the current “number one artists”.
  The agent is also the identity understood by TOPTOY, a fashion brand under MINISO. Taking advantage of existing supply chains, retail channels, and marketing, these new companies promise designers that their works will quickly enter production and large-scale distribution, as well as continuous online and offline exposure.
  In the past six months, TOPTOY founder Sun Yuanwen has cast a network on social media, looking for original designers who are already self-marketing. He personally visited many brands, studios and designers to enter the trendy circle. When encountering designers who are afraid that the popularization and commercialization of IP will lose their original value, he emphasizes that he will first preserve the artistic value of the other party, and then maximize the commercial value. In particular, he will say that TOPTOY will promote the trendy play culture. Both the artist and the studio are willing to cooperate”.
  A subtle operation is that Sun Yuanwen said that 1/3 of the products in TOPTOY stores “sold but not push”, only showing and not selling, so as to tell the designer to keep the minority. In TOPTOY’s first store in Grandview Plaza, Guangzhou, there is a wall used to display large dolls of the “big artist” IP, which Sun Yuanwen described as “showing the bottom of the house.”
  As for what products to sell, based on the designer’s own wishes, Sun Yuanwen will tell them the data shows what products have more commercial potential. He also hopes that designers can be closer to consumer needs, such as in the community. Raise product image.
  There are four basic trading modes between TOPTOY and co-designers: traditional buyout, products are only sold in TOP TOY channels; TOPTOY as one of the retail channels, assumes inventory; TOPTOY only provides consignment sites and collects sales profits. The inventory is borne by the designer; in the end, it is only for display and not for sale, and TOPTOY charges the designer for display fees.
  In addition to continuing to sign contracts with external designers, Bubble Mart has also established an internal IP incubation platform PDC (POP MART Design Center), which uses past design experience to “make stars” and at the same time use the allocation of platform traffic resources to “hold stars” . Kenny Wong, who contributed to Molly’s milestone in the development of Bubble Mart, once became a shareholder of Bubble Mart, but withdrew in August 2019.
Fashion designer and representative image since the 1990s

Source: Compiled based on publicly available data. Note: Only toys for designers and artists are included. Derivative toys such as figures are not included

  At present, Bubble Mart will release personal promotional content for its designers through media channels such as WeChat public accounts, hold small signing events, and provide on-site interviews, hand-painted sprays and other appearance opportunities at large exhibitions. This can also be regarded as one of the ways for the platform to establish an emotional connection between consumers and designers.
  ”They give full play to their creative abilities, I do a good job of brokering and selling, and through brand endorsements, channel promotion and user numbers, I will praise designers as’popular but not indiscriminate’.” Sun Yuanwen said that both parties “get what they need.
  Today’s trendy play designers and consumers remind Hajia of civilian idols like AKB48. Her personal experience of running the two brands is that compared to the entanglement of craftsmanship details when she was doing hand-made brands, now the trendy brand is more adapted to the way FMCG comes to the stage: advertising KOL on social platforms and short video platforms , Use private domain traffic to do community operations, so that designers are active in the fan group. Wu Chao is a little uncomfortable. Even though he switched from pure art to fashion fun because of his commercial value, he still doesn’t want to spend too much energy on marketing and operations.
  As more and more designers enter this industry, there is another set of successful templates on the market, and homogeneity appears.
  ”Excellent designers need to settle. Now in order to grab designer resources, some designers who are not mature enough have come out.” Ha Jia found that when a large number of entrants appeared, everyone had similar design concepts and elements, and crashes would inevitably occur. At this year’s STS, she saw at least three brands using the same element: let the doll sit on a car, airplane and other mounts to swing. Hajia decided to allow JoyBrain to incubate only two IPs for the time being, and didn’t want to grab more IPs, and first made design capabilities and professional craftsmanship as the core competence to compete with peers.
  However, consumers’ aesthetics may not be so singular or change rapidly. For example, SKULLPANDA, which is regarded as the IP dark horse of 2020 by Bubble Mart, is more grotesque than cute. To grasp the direction of the trend, it is not as easy as imagined for designers.
  EDDI will occasionally show a trace of nostalgia. Earlier he collaborated with graffiti artist FUTURA and others, but the artist was guiding him. For them, “I am sharing what I like with you, and I believe you like it too.”
  Now the gameplay has changed. When the original product is sold out, only 500 units will be sold. The second and third models will be released when they sell well. Now one product requires 10,000 units to be sold. After returning to the Chaowan business, he also began to take orders for pure business cooperation, only designing but not producing, and he would not write the name of adFunture. “I can do business, play in accordance with the new rules, and try to some extent, but I will still maintain the distinction between art and design.”
  EDDI has accumulated a product catalog, which contains his business cooperation for several years. Image works accumulated over time and more in line with market preferences. “Some of them won’t cooperate in sales.” He pointed to the adFunture toys on the shelf.

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