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Q&A: How do I get started in designer toys?

How do I get started in designer toys? 

A: This is the most common question I get asked, so I made it the topic of my annual guest lecture in Jason Freeny's Designer Toy class at SVA.

I turned my lecture notes into a slideshow and uploaded it to YouTube (above and here). But the key info is written in the video's description, I will paste it below so you can get the same value that I offer to the SVA students:


The greatest obstacles emerging artists deal with (in my opinion) are:

  1. Getting people to care enough about their characters to drop money on their art, and
  2. the extremely high cost of producing a designer toy.

So my lecture attempts to help emerging toy artists navigate and overcome these obstacles. I will write more detailed notes about all of this in the near future, but essentially my advice is as follows:


Your world is a universe or concept of your own creation.

By that I mean, you cannot just come up with one character and put it out there to buy - you won't sell much. Customers need to identify with the character in order to want to spend money on it.

To get started fleshing out your character's story, think about your answers to the following questions:

  • What is your character all about?
  • What is the concept you are building? What else exists in your universe aside from your main character?
  • Who does your character interact with?
  • Why does anything happen in your world?
  • What are the dynamics?
  • What is the message you are trying to relay?
  • Is there a feeling or emotion you are communicating?

A character does not exist in the vacuum of outer space. There is a world you build to give your character context. Flesh that out and the dynamics become more relatable.

Let me put it another way: if a character pops into your head, no one knows about it or cares about it. You have certain ideas about that character that make it appeal to you for some reason. So, don't just sculpt it up and release it out into the world with no explanation, because your audience won't feel the same way about the character as you do. 

You need to give people a reason to care. If they care, they may spend their hard-earned money on your character, and that is the goal here.

Why would someone care about character? Because they relate to it in some way. This could be identifying with the character's background, physical appearance, strengths or faults, unique qualities, or struggles, missions or triumphs. 

Maybe the character is just silly. But is it silly in a way that other people think is funny? Below are some things to think about:

  • Does your character have enemies or friends? Family?
  • Does it exist in a place or time? Does it travel?
  • Is there an adventure or a challenge? There needs to be a push/pull or a relationship to create a story arc.

The above are questions only YOU can answer. Think about your world and write it out, sketch it, whatever you need to do to give it some context for your character.

As an example, think about Moana - great movie! Moana is on a JOURNEY. I am not an islander and I share no DNA with the people that Moana portrays... but... I care about her character. Why? Moana is on several JOURNEYS during the course of the movie: both personal journeys and literal actual journeys from place to place. So I can identify with her JOURNEYS which include struggles and triumphs.

If Moana as a character was released as a toy, with no explanation, no supporting characters, no mission and no journey... would that be as effective? No, it would not. 

In the first half of this slide show, I show you some examples of world builders in our space and I write on each slide what I think they are doing well. All handles are Instagram handles so you can go and DYOR.


Unless you are a mega wealthy young person with a real creative ability, you most likely cannot afford to design and produce a designer toy on your own at this time.

So what to do? Well, the first step is to get products out onto the market featuring your character so that people have SOMETHING to buy. This will build familiarity with your character and brand.

As you are doing this, make sure you are gathering your tribe in a way that allows you to communicate with them. The best / easiest way to do this is build up Instagram followers and also start an email list using a signup form.

That way, when you have a new item to sell, you can easily share it with the people who care the most.

There are a number of items you can design and self produce for under $100 that would allow you to begin the process of merchandising your IP (intellectual property).

My suggestions are:

  1. stickers
  2. enamel pins
  3. prints
  4. apparel
  5. original art
  6. resin statues
  7. soft vinyl (USA)
  8. sofubi (Japan)
  9. designer toy (China)

The above list is ordered in overhead cost order. You can start with low-cost, low-run (low overhead) items like stickers and pins, and work your way up to collectible toys.

Doing it this way prevents you from going broke while you build up a community of customers and collectors.

In the second half of this slide show, I show you examples of the items on the above list, and I write on each slide an Instagram handle so you can go and DYOR.


There is no shortcut, no matter how excited you are. Typically to gain traction and notoriety in the character art collecting community, it may take you anywhere from 5 to 10 years to gain enough interest and familiarity to allow your IP to begin paying for itself ( and then paying for your life, aka turning a profit for you).

The above are the VERY basic concepts and further info is available, just drop me a comment on any of my social media posts, or message us privately, and ask a question!

- Benny Kline, CEO of