By J.B. Bissell | Sep 28, 2014
Collecitlbe toys and apparel
Galen McKamy and C.J. Riggins guide the creation of pop-art toys and apparel while staying true to the company's original identity.
According to Kidrobot Creative Director Galen McKamy, Kidrobot's DNA is equal parts artistic sensibility, thoughtful spirit and progressive attitude -- all mixed with operating just a bit left of center and being forever culturally relevant. It's a successful cocktail for a company that manufactures and sells limited edition art toys originally inspired by an Asian take on action figures.
"Kidrobot was started by Paul Budnitz," explains McKamy. "He was an entrepreneur and during trips to Asia he got really involved in the Eastern vinyl phenomenon, and the stuff Michael Lau was doing."
Vinyl action figures are high-concept pieces that, to be frank, are better suited to display shelves than toy boxes.
"Paul's interest led him to start Kidrobot, and a new culture of Western vinyl," adds McKamy.
Currently, that culture includes stand-up likenesses of pop sensations ranging from South Park to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons to Snoop Dogg. Budnitz has since left the company -- he now is involved in an upstart social network, Boulder-based Ello -- but his stamp remains.
Most of the manufacturing remains in Asia, but the more interesting aspect of the process is how projects are chosen and then completed.
"We're really adamant about speaking to every piece through our own voice," says McKamy. "We basically have a set of standards that we need to check off so that we're really doing it from the Kidrobot point of view. So, we're constantly striving to see what's next over the horizon. Not what's hot now, but what does next year look like."
McKamy and his colleagues have to keep their eyes on the horizon not only to ensure that every undertaking fits the company's character, but also because the figurines take a good amount of time to produce.
"It's a very special product," says C.J. Riggins, vice president of merchandising and development. "Something actually has to be built and molded. Then you have to pour them, let them cool. There's a sculpting process involved. So it can be anywhere from nine to 18 months."
T-shirts, hats and other types of attire, of course, don't take that long. In fact, as Riggins says, "apparel can be done on a pretty quick turn," and Kidrobot does dedicate part of its business to clothing.
"We try to do a couple different things," says McKamy. "We want to continually put out logo wear so that the brand is represented. We've also done collaborative apparel with other street wear brands for which we integrate Kidrobot's properties and DNA into theirs. It's kind of like a perfect storm."
A perfect storm of thoughtful artistry -- and a perfect way to remain constantly progressive.
Challenges: Making contact with the fans who want to buy art toys. "We've moved away from our brick-and-mortar stores so we're constantly working to speak to our consumers where they live," says Riggins. "We've revamped our website and have ongoing blogs to share upcoming events, products and artist bios."
Opportunities: Teaming up with big-name players from various entertainment industries. "We have a very strong brand," Galen says. "It's been around a while; it's had a lot of marketable success in the hype world, in terms of being in films and being worn by celebrities, which really does help."
"Moving forward, we're looking at partnerships and collaborations with other brands that do the same thing," he continues. "For example -- and hypothetically -- in the music space, we might look to tie in a great toy or piece of clothing. What does Snoop Dogg tied to Kidrobot translated onto clothes look like from a great apparel brand? It's like multi-tasking within the brand."
Needs: "Runway," says Riggins. "We're probably 85 percent/15 percent in sales between the U.S. and Europe, and we also have very small markets in Asia and South America, but our runway is really all about how do you create this limited edition product -- this collectible art toy -- and continue to grow a brand internationally? So it's finding partners who can help distribute."
(Publisher's note: join apparel and sewn product professionals at the inaugural Colorado Apparel Manufacturing Summit, October 9, 2014, in Denver, Colorado.)