Q&A, Erin Black, Founder of Lyla Tov Monsters

Lyla Tov Monsters is a line of plush dolls created by the mother-daughter team of Erin Black, and her daughter, Lyla Black. Recently, The Toy Book had a chance to sit down with Erin and talk to her about doll-making, launching a Kickstarter campaign, the future of the specialty doll space, and more.

The Toy Book (TTB): Starting from the moment that you first saw Lyla’s design for the dolls, can you take us through the development process?

ErinwMonsterErin Black (EB): When Lyla was three years old, she drew a picture of a “good” monster and asked me to help her, “make it real,” as a gift for her daddy. We raided my bins of fabric scraps, and she picked out the perfect fur for the monster body, a well as appropriate fabric for all his limbs and accessories.

My husband loved the monster and suggested we make more to sell. I had a booth reserved at a local craft fair to sell some other products I had made, so Lyla and I decided to make a batch of 20 monsters for her to sell there as well. The monsters flew off the table and into the hands of eager customers, and Lyla Tov Monsters was born.

We first sold a few Monsters on Etsy, and then quickly moved to having a web site of our own, from which people could order their one-of-a-kind Lyla Tov Monster. Soon we had some local retail shops interested in carrying Lyla Tov Monsters, and the demand for our product outgrew what Lyla and I could produce off the dining room table.

We ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund our first run of factory-produced Monsters. Once we had sold enough of these initial two Monsters, we reinvested the money to create two more styles. We now have four limited edition Lyla Tov Monsters in our line.

TTB: The doll space is a very competitive one. How do Lyla Tov Monsters stand out amidst a crowded field?

ForrestEB: I think Lyla Tov Monsters are appealing for several reasons. Their bright colors and interesting patterns and textures make them stand out on a store shelf. Also, they are somewhere between doll and plush toy, so children can hug and snuggle them like they might a teddy bear, but also give them the same life and personality that they might with a doll. Because Lyla Tov Monsters were designed by a child, they resonate well with a young audience that connects to their simple shape and cheerful faces.

TTB: According to the Lyla Tov Monsters home page, you oversaw patterning and fabrication for the doll line. For readers who may not know much about those aspects, can you talk about what that entails, and how it’s important for making a good doll?

EB: Before diving into the world of toy production, I was a costume designer for the Jim Henson Company. Part of my job there was to make patterns, choose fabrics, and stitch garments.  These skills all came into play when I started to fabricate the initial Lyla Tov Monsters prototype from Lyla’s sketch.

I’m used to interpreting a two-dimensional drawing and turning it into a three-dimensional object, so I was able to stay true to the spirit of Lyla’s vision while making sure to create a toy that was interesting and well-constructed. This was especially useful when we started to use a factory for production, as I could send them a finished prototype as well as my flat pattern pieces to work from. This saved us a lot of back and forth in the early stages of our relationship with our factory.

TTB: Kickstarter seems to have become a viable new way for launching a toy. From your experience, what would you say were the greatest advantages and disadvantages of using it as a fundraising tool?

Lyla Black, with monsters

Lyla Black, with monsters

EB: We were thrilled when we met our Kickstarter funding goal within the first eight days! It was a fantastic way to not only get the seed money we needed to produce our first factory-run Monsters, but also to test the waters and make sure there was an audience for our product.

It felt like less of a risk to take the plunge into mass production knowing that people out in cyberspace believed in what we were doing and were willing to back our idea. The only real downside was that it took a lot of work to create the video, and to set up and promote our Kickstarter campaign. It was well worth it because we reached our goal, but it would have been frustrating to have invested that time and energy and come up short.

TTB: What is the current retail situation for Lyla Tov Monsters? Besides Amazon and at craft fairs, where else can they be found?

EB: We do a lot of our Lyla Tov Monsters sales direct to consumers from our website at www.lylatov.com! We are also in several boutique toy and gift shops across the country.

TTB: You recently attended the American Specialty Toy Retailers Association (ASTRA) Marketplace and Academy. What was the experience like? Did you encounter many specialty retailers who hadn’t encountered Lyla Tov Monsters before, and how were their reactions?

CharlotteEB: We had a fantastic time at the ASTRA show. We had the chance to meet and network with shop owners as well as other toy manufacturers. We were thrilled by the number of people who had heard of Lyla Tov Monsters and knew our story prior to the show, and excited about all the new orders we wrote at the show.

Some people came to our booth because they had read about Lyla Tov Monsters prior to the show and knew they wanted to carry them in their shop. Others stopped as they were walking by because they were drawn in by our display. The response we got was very positive and we thoroughly enjoyed everyone we met!

TTB: Given the success of the first wave of dolls, what does the future hold for the line? 

EB: We hope to expand our line in the next few months so that it will include six varieties of Lyla Tov Monsters. We have found that customers really love to have a choice and spend a lot of time deciding which is the perfect Monster to buy as a gift, and that retailers are eager to display an assortment of Lyla Tov Monsters. Lyla is already working on the designs for the next two Monsters we will make!

TTB: What do you think the future holds for the specialty doll space? What is it about this type of dolls that’s so appealing to consumers?

EB: There is a bright future ahead for specialty dolls and toys. I think these days people are really drawn to small manufacturers, supporting family businesses, and having the chance to give a gift or buy a product that isn’t available on every corner. Boutique stores like to sell toys that have a story to go with them, and customers feel more invested in their purchases if they feel part of that story.

The Jim Henson Company Launches New Doozer Creek App

DoozersThe Jim Henson Company has launched a new app, Doozer Creek, based on the new animated preschool series from The Jim Henson Company and DHX Media. The release coincides with the show’s premiere on Hulu Kids this past April.

Available now from the App Store for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, Doozer Creek is designed for children 5 and under, but lets fans of all ages make their own Doozer Creek environment. The app includes seven play pieces free to try with additional playsets available for purchase. Each play set comes with a primary character, as well as a variety of buildings, vehicles, and objects.

Players can place characters, vehicles, buildings, and other elements from Doozer Creek onto a blank play mat where they are brought to life.

The Jim Henson Co. Debuts New Preschool Property

Jim-Hensons-Chatter-Zoo-300x137The Jim Henson Co. is launching Jim Henson’s Chatter Zoo, its first preschool property to be released “digital first” for mobile platforms. The new app is a collaboration with Mindshapes, the creator of mobile learning applications for kids. Chatter Zoo aims to teach early language acquisition as young preschoolers interact with four baby animals.  

Chatter Zoo, which was created by Alex Rockwell (Pajanimals, Bear in the Big Blue House), will premiere as a digital property prior to any other platform, and will be available in iTunes for iPhone and iPad on August 8. The Amazon Kindle Fire launch will follow in September. The Jim Henson Co. is simultaneously developing the property for television and ancillary products.

Mindshapes’ Chatter Zoo appisode includes two “Learn & Play” activities, two interactive stories, animations, and music content. Mindshapes’ Livebook format allows users to interact with the characters through touchscreen interactions. Users will experience four different activities in the Chatter Zoo house: Playtime, Mealtime, Bathtime, and Bedtime, all relatively time-appropriate (“day” or “night”). The app also features adaptive experiences like cause and effect, care giving, and responsibility, all taught by the Chatter Zoo characters, demonstrating positive social and intrapersonal values.

Mindshapes, The Jim Henson Company Launch Sid the Science Kid-Sid’s Slide to the Side

Kids and families can now take Sid the Science Kid on-the-go with a new mobile app available for iOS devices. The app, which launches today, coincides with the DVD and iTunes release of Jim Henson‘s Sid the Science Kid: The Movie, a feature-length film following the adventures of Sid and his curious friends.

sid's slide to the side screenshotSid the Science Kid – Sid’s Slide to the Side is the first in a new app format from Mindshapes called an “Appisode,” enhanced story–based adventures that feature rich learning and game and play activities, all wrapped around a storybook. This fun and interactive Appisode is a new approach to mobile learning sure to get kids engaged and entertained with their favorite franchises. The Appisode features  songs, interactive games, reinforced learning activities, and colorful characters from the Sid the Science Kid television program on PBS.

The Jim Henson Company Announces Tiered Release Of “Sid the Science Kid: The Movie”

sid science kidSid The Science Kid: The Movie, a co-production with The Jim Henson Company and Chinese partners Nine Eyes Stone Pictures and Shanghai Animation Film Studios Group, is making its broadcast premiere on PBS Kids on March 25 (check local listings). Young fans of are in store for more fun when NCircle Entertainment releases Sid the Science Kid: The Movie on DVD and iTunes on April 2.

Select PBS stations across the U.S. will be hosting Sid-themed movie premiere events with hands-on educational activities throughout the month of March. Select events will include meet and greets with Sid the Science Kid, red carpet arrivals, and presentations by real scientists. To learn more, visit https://www.facebook.com/sidthesciencekid.

Additionally, NCircle Entertainment is sponsoring events for kids and families at children’s museums in more than 20 cities across the U.S. in March and April. More information is available at http://www.facebook.com/NCircleEntertainment.

The Jim Henson Company Appoints Mindshapes to Develop Interactive Educational Entertainment for Pajanimals, Sid the Science Kid

The Jim Henson Company has announced a partnership with Mindshapes, a leading kids’ mobile learning company. Under the deal, Mindshapes will create appisodes based on The Jim Henson Company’s current preschool series Sid the Science Kid and Pajanimals as well as content for new Henson properties that will be announced later this year. These appisodes will feature stories, games, and learn and play activities, as well as animated video and music content for a fun kid-friendly experience.

The first product, Sid the Science Kid’s Slide to the Side Appisode, will be available beginning in April, following the premiere of the new feature Sid the Science Kid: The Movie, premiering on PBS KIDS on March 25 (check local listings), and will coincide with the release of the movie on DVD and in iTunesLater in the year will see the release of an appisode featuring the Pajanimals, the musical series that airs every night on 24-hour preschool channel Sprout and on the NBC Kids weekend block.

Tomy Launches Pajanimals Toy Line in Time for the Holiday Season

Just in time for the upcoming holiday season, a new line of toys from Tomy, based on Pajanimals, is now available at retail and online. A co-production with The Jim Henson Company, Sprout, and Sixteen South Television, the television series airs daily on Sprout during The Good Night Show and on Saturday morning on NBC. [Read more...]

Women in Children’s Media Relaunches as Children’s Media Association

Children’s Media Assocition (CMA), formerly Women in Children’s Media, has partnered up with Sesame Workshop to offer a puppetry workshop event on October 10, hosted with puppeteer John Tartaglia. The workshop will feature events that cover a wide array of topics related to television, digital media, and publishing.

CMA welcomes new board directors that include Jocelyn Christie from Kidscreen, David Kleeman from the American Center for Children and Media, and Nicole Goldman from The Jim Henson Company.

Jim Henson Extends Agreement with Tomy

The Jim Henson Company has extended its licensing agreement with Tomy International, naming the company the global master toy licensee for its Pajanimals brand. Tomy International was initially appointed U.S. master toy licensing partner in October 2011.

Under the terms of the multi-year agreement, Tomy International will develop an assortment of toys and juvenile products for the global marketplace. Among the products and merchandise being developed for international retail are 9-inch and 15-inch plush toys based on each of the series’ four main characters (Sweetpea Sue, Squacky, CowBella, and Apollo), nighttime projectors, monitors, nightlights, and a Snuggle Up Story Mat to help children transition from play time to nap time.

Tomy will debut the first Pajanimals products, the plush and Snuggle Up Story Mat, in the U.S. in October. The same product lines will also debut in the fall in Australia. The broader line will roll out in the U.S., Europe, Latin America, Australia, and Canada next year.

This post was originally written by Loren Moreno and published by ToyBook.com. For more news, visit www.toybook.com, follow The Toy Book on Twitter, and like The Toy Book on Facebook. The Toy Book is a bimonthly trade magazine covering the toy industry, published by Adventure Publishing Group.

All Aboard: Amtrak, The Jim Henson Company Join Forces for Big Big Dinosaur Train Sweepstakes

All aboard the Big Big Dinosaur Sweepstakes, the new national summer promotion for the animated preschool series Dinosaur Train, which airs daily on PBS Kids. The Jim Henson Company, producers of the series, have joined forces with Amtrak for a second year to present a fun and engaging summertime promotion that will award one family with an Amtrak vacation.

Amtrak launches the Big Big Dinosaur Sweepstakes in August. Families can enter the sweepstakes by logging onto www.henson.com/Dtsweepstakes and following the entry directions for a chance to win a vacation to Chicago and Washington, District of Columbia, where they’ll have the opportunity to visit the National Museum of Natural History with exhibits featuring dinosaurs.

As part of the national summer promotion, Amtrak will distribute more than 65,000 free Dinosaur Train themed activity booklets to young travelers and 1 million Amtrak Dinosaur Train ticket jackets to passengers, as well as 20,000 placemats for use in Amtrak’s dining cars. Sweepstakes details will be posted on the websites of Amtrak, The Jim Henson Company, and Tomy. Tomy is the master toy licensee for Dinosaur Train in the U.S.

This post was originally written by Sierra McCleary-Harris and published by ToyBook.com. For more news, visit www.toybook.com, follow The Toy Book on Twitter, and like The Toy Book on Facebook. The Toy Book is a bimonthly trade magazine covering the toy industry, published by Adventure Publishing Group.