Since its inception in the year 2000, TOY2R has become synonymous with the designer/DIY toy revolution. With the creation of their first model, the monster like Toyer, to multiple animal incarnations, (e.g., bear, cat, dog) the QEE has reigned supreme among toy collectors. Why? Well, itâ€™s probably the most functional toy design, since you can actually use it as a key chain. It was also one of the first toy platforms to be used to showcase the work of an emerging graphic design industry who longed to apply their commissioned work to more than just 2 dimensional canvases, or the odd Ikea-inspired furniture piece. Read on as we dish out the gospel according to Toy2Râ€™s head honcho, Raymond Choy.
â€œThe art must be compelling and have more than just a static appeal. It must hold your attention and make you feel something. It is a lot like going to admire the work at an art gallery.â€
Format: Can you tell me about the first year of Toy2R? Â Was it difficult to get the company off the ground?
RC: When I started TOY2R, I was already in the toy industry for years. I had a retail store and worked with several of today’s top creators and retailers. In 2000 we developed our iconic art platform toy, the QEE (pronounced Key). It was one of the original platform DIY figures to enter the market and became a launching pad for many artists. It has become one of the most recognizable platform toys and has attracted the attention of global corporations, fashion designers, films, music artists and some of the biggest names in designer toys.
So, no, it wasn’t that hard in the beginning because TOY2R was one of the very first companies to offer DIY platform toys and designer art creations and there was a real hunger for product. Fortunately the hunger has continued and has allowed TOY2R to create and release more than 1500 original QEE designs worldwide – and we have so many more planned!!
Format: What is a day in the life like for the owner of one of the world’s largest vinyl toy companies?
Raymond Choy:Â Our days are quite busy. From working with new and established artists to reviewing countless works from submissions sent to us daily. It is incredible but the amount of artistic talent out there appears to be limitless.
Add to the mix, the continual review of our production as we strive for the highest quality possible and with the new laws being passed for testing, we are pleased that TOY2R and QEE have met or exceed the expectations for a great collectible.
We are diligently working on developing new designer figures and take great pride in working with artists to develop great new figures as well as designs that innovate and inspire the category.
My day is filled with email and phone calls to ensure the best for our creations and now with the new direction of licensing the QEE brand into other product categories, our days have become increasingly busier, but I would not have it any other way. This means people still love QEE and want to collect more.
Format: How do you choose artists that you feature/collaborate with? Is there a certain quality that you look for?
Raymond Choy: We work with artists of all ranges and styles, so yes, it can be difficult to choose a handful of artists for a particular project – but fortunately we have some many projects planned that we can accommodate several at a time.
A few years ago we released series 5 of our very successful Artists QEE Series Collection – a collection featuring 10 or 12 artists in one assortment. We are pleased to announce we are returning to that series with new art from some of the best and talented artists available.
Collaborating with artists is one of the best experiences because it allows for both us to become very thoughtful and creative. Artists have very different qualities and while I can work with one artist on a project, the next day I can be totally inspired by a completely different project. The art must be compelling and have more than just a static appeal. It must hold your attention and make you feel something. It is a lot like going to an art gallery and admiring certain works. They can move you and make you feel a particular way. If an artist can make that happen – you really want to work with them.
Format: Do you still design your own toys?
Raymond Choy:Â Absolutely. Each year I release one or two new Qee character designs. We started with the BEAR, CAT, DOG and TOYER in 2000 but since then we have increased the Family of Qee to almost 20 characters. The same holds true for our Baby Qee line. We introduced several new characters last year and we have some new ideas for the future.
Format: how do you predict what designs and styles will be most successful when you release a toy?
Raymond Choy: There is no predicting. If someone’s artwork is compelling, then I believe it will sell and not be hindered by styles of trends. It can stand for itself and perhaps set new standards.
Format: what is the most unusual/creative toy custom that you have seen so far?
Raymond Choy:Â We had been following the development of an artist, Emilio Garcia. He is a very talented young man and developed the resin figure known as the Jumping Brain (a brain with frog-like legs). When I first saw it I was not sure what to make of it but the more I studied it and saw the detail and the talent that was poured into the figure, I grew attached to it. So we contacted Emilio for permission to show the figure in our booth during Toy Fair. The response was so overwhelming that we are now working out the details to re-create his vision into vinyl, mini figures and more.
Then there is Jason Freeny who developed the QEE Anatomy piece for us. He is a very talented individual. I got to meet him in New York and he showed me a lot of his work and I was very impressed. He used our Baby Qee figures for a couple of customs and I was so impressed that we are going to reproduce them as limited collectibles. We are also working on the QEE Anatomy piece and are planning to develop it into our flagship release for 2010!
Format: You recently attended Toy Fair 2009 in NYC. Â How was that for you? Â Did you see anything that impressed you?
Raymond Choy: Well, as I said, the two artists pieces were fantastic but then I was impressed by the reception at Toy Fair. It was the first time we had ever displayed and the response was great. Especially when you consider the overall economic worries, I really did not know what to expect. We met a lot of new retailers and even the larger mass retailers came by and were impressed by our presentation.
Positioning our booth in the “designer” section was important but I was concerned at the lack of other companies I assumed would be displaying. It was good for us because we had a fantastic offering and we did our best to make sure everyone knew that the designer genre was alive and strong – especially for TOY2R!
Format: Where do you see the future trends of vinyl going?
Raymond Choy: With the economy hitting everyone very hard, I think that a lot of companies will shift their focus from large, expensive vinyl releases and look to the more affordable blind box presentation. I know for TOY2R, we are very conscious of the current times and we are striving to develop items that fit everyone’s budget, retailer and consumer. Hopefully this will not last long and we can see relief soon.
Some say that the “designer” category is getting too saturated and in some ways people are right. However, as with many things in this world, evolution is key! While TOY2R continues to develop artistic creations and limited edition releases – we do see the opportunity of making bigger lines and working with licensed properties. TOY2R has done well with the original Simpsons Qee designer release and will continue the success with the release of the DOMO QEE line from Dark Horse and projects TOY2R is developing for RESERVOIR DOGS and more.
One could point out how the bigger toy companies are releasing “urban art” or “designer figures.â€ You could say that the category is dying but I like to look at it as a sign of how inspirational the category has been on the toy industry as a whole. This does mean good things for the future for real designer toys and collectibles. The category will surely change, but that is a good thing. With change comes fresh and new ideas, and that seems the direction we are headed.
Format: What is coming up for Toy2R in 2009?
Raymond Choy: Our biggest releases for 2009 include the launch of David Horvath’s Bossy Bear & Friends line. We originally released the Bossy Bear figure last year and it grew to be a highly sought after item. AT the same time – collectors wanted to know when the rest of the characters would be released. That time has come as we are working with David on the release of the Turtle and Crocadoca figures from his children’s book as well as new Bossy Bear figures.
Next is our partnership with Dark Horse in presenting the DOMO QEE line. The response to this assortment has been fantastic and we expect big things from this little character. Other notable releases include Kozik’s TOYER Z massive 10″ vinyl figure, the re-launched Artist Qee Series 6 & 7, and our very own Reservoir Dog Qee line.
Also look out for our new partnerships with several big name manufacturers as we are beginning to license our QEE brand through our USA division. There will be apparel, accessories, and many other great items that QEE collectors will love. 2009 is expected to be one our biggest years and we look forward to bringing everything to our fans that they have been requesting for years!