The world of designer and collectible toys is here
With the rise of creative and innovative artists from around the world, the world of designer toys has taken a captivating turn. In recent years, this trend has gained momentum in China. The production of designer toys has become a popular and lucrative industry. These one-of-a-kind creations, ranging from intricately crafted plush toys to limited edition vinyl figures, are highly sought after by collectors and admirers.
The Pop Toy Show, an annual event showcasing upcoming designer toys and a significant platform for promoting and introducing these one-of-a-kind items to the world, has returned to Shanghai. More than 300 companies from around the world, including Pop Mart, Mighty Jaxx, SankToys, CryBaby, Skull Panda, and many others, present their most recent series and artworks to Chinese collectors in the three-day event, which opens on Friday at the Shanghai New International Expo Center.
Concurrently, New York-based artist Jason Freeny is exhibiting his art toys at the Wulumuqi Road S. art space, Anomaly Open, until the end of October. This is the first issue of Mighty Jaxx and Anomaly Open's "Art for All" cross-cultural collaboration project.
As the creator of the semi-anatomical dissections art style, Freeny takes an unorthodox approach to toy design, delving into science, art, and fashion. His works breathe new vitality into iconic cartoon characters like Hello Kitty, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Garfield, among others.
He reveals the intricate interior workings of these beloved figures by removing the layers of their cute and colorful exteriors. Freeny explains his unique approach to toy design by stating, "People should be more optimistic about what's inside their bodies in order to understand themselves and life better." His work is both a collectible with aesthetic value and a scientific textbook that inspires awe in both children and adults.
As the designer toy industry in China continues to develop, initiatives such as the "Art for All" project and events such as the Pop Toy Show pave the way for cross-border collaborations, innovative designs, and enormous potential for both artists and aficionados.
Jackson Aw, founder of Mighty Jaxx, a Singapore-based designer toy company that collaborates with artists from around the globe to create one-of-a-kind, limited-edition collectibles, asserts that today's youth feel compelled to express themselves and demonstrate their individuality through their collections.
"Generation Z collects items that are personalized, of high quality, and one-of-a-kind," according to Aw. "It means going from 'I have everything' to 'I'm looking for something unique that others don't have.'"
Not only are designer toys playthings, but they are also avant-garde works of art in popular culture. Designed and produced by an artist, designer, or other creative professional, they are often highly sought after by collectors and admirers and can sell for high prices at auctions and specialty stores.
Designer toys, including action figures, puppets, plush toys, puzzles, and board games, are characterized by intricate designs or features that set them apart from traditional mass-produced toys.
Prices can range from entry-level blind boxes known for their adorable and playful designs, often costing no more than 100 yuan (US$13.7), to high-end collectibles created in collaboration with art galleries and marketed as auction- or collector-level items. They consist of colossal monuments and collector's items crafted from premium materials like wood, bronze, and crystal.
The Woodworked Happy POPek, a layered edition with a distinctive layered design and refined wood tones by artist Whatshisname, was sold for US$1,200 and is no longer available on Mighty Jaxx's website.
"Pop culture is ever growing, but it relies on the core of intellectual property, whether is it artist IP or entertainment IP, that is the content, a core for us," Aw said.
A designer toy that is based on an established IP, such as a popular TV program or movie franchise, may already have a fan base that is likely to be interested in the product and has a stronger market appeal and recognition than non-licensed products.
Mighty Jaxx engaged in a partnership with Warner Bros' DC Comics in 2015, marking the designer toy company's first-ever licensing agreement. The DC product line generated four times the revenue of the previous year for Mighty Jaxx.
The art toy company has partnered with top internationally recognized IPs including F1, Manchester City Football Club, One Piece, Stranger Things on Netflix, and My Little Pony. "We hope to connect various fan communities in the fields of art, entertainment, gaming, sports, animation, and music in order to create a culture community that belongs to Mighty Jaxx," Aw said.
In a technologically advanced society, digital collectibles are unquestionably the next stage, and it is the key to imbue these digital assets with additional value and true ownership.
Mighty Jaxx introduced its first digital collectible series, a Nyammy Treats-themed collection, in 2021, offering supporters an exclusive digital experience that was connected to real-world collectibles. A total of 6,000 products sold out within two seconds of their launch. Upon release, the blind box digital collectible of SLOGGU, a series localized for the Chinese market, also sold out.
"All of our digital assets are supported by physical products. Consequently, you must have a physical product or experience. The digital access is an additional feature," said Aw.
Aw believes that there will always be collectors, no matter how the market evolves or what the future holds. "As he/she has a reason for collecting, perhaps to complete a set, out of affection for an IP, or as a huge admirer of an artist, therefore, these are the genuine collectors, and the market for pop culture will continue to expand," he explained.