I had never been to a toy fair before. These are industry events where toymakers and distributors, buyers and sellers, meet to find out about the latest toys and trends. It’s a time for writers like myself to find out more too. I also thought it would be a fun place to take the kid to, so we made a day of it.
Some of the stands are very popular and secretive, none more so that LEGO. You have to make an appointment to get taken through to see what they have in store, and no photographs are allowed inside.
New LEGO sets preview
LEGO have pretty much a cradle to grave product – beginning with the most basic Duplo through to the adult fans of LEGO (afol) market. We were pretty excited to get a tour of what they have coming up.
Seeing the whole range, I was struck by how far they have recently progressed in terms of gender representation. So many sets now feature female figures as standard, regardless of theme.
For instance in our tour, I saw the Duplo rocket had a boy and a girl, superhero sets featured Wonder Woman, Katana, Black Widow (with Falcon), and most surprisingly Spider-Girl! This incarnation had a reddish/yellow outfit and long brown hair. Can’t wait to get our hands on that set. Their City range continued to be inclusive (as I have pointed out before).
Even their new Nexo Knights range has female characters – my daughter was lucky to get her very own Macy minifigure (who has a very cool mace as weapon).
To me, LEGO Friends has always been problematic from this perspective, but even here there has been progress. The new LEGO Friends sets are far more activity focused than previously. They have just released an Adventure Camp set, and we were shown a very cool and interactive Amusement Park one.
We saw a great new Volcano theme that highlights the science aspects, some nice new superhero sets, such as the aforementioned female heroes, plus a tantalising glimpse at Marvel’s Doctor Strange one (his New York townhouse). There was a line based on the forthcoming Angry Birds movie, and I also spotted some Star Wars sets that I wasn’t supposed to see – so I’ll respect their wishes, and say no more about those…
A Star Wars fan’s delight
Star Wars was unsurprisingly a dominant theme of the toy fair. Thinkway Toys displayed their range of Star Wars remote controlled vehicles and drones, including a preview of their fantastic looking BB-8 remote controlled toy – which will be nearer full sized than a current rival toy.
There were lots of cool stuff in the Amerang stand, who distribute to the adult collector market. My highlights were seeing the giant sized Leia as Boush, plus their Lightsaber chopsticks.
I was glad to stumble upon the Zeon stand. They make Star Wars homewares, and are the company who made our Death Star tea caddy (supposed to be a cookie jar) that my wife & daughter gave me for my birthday. It makes me smile every day 🙂
My daughter was entranced at the range of Star Wars cuddly toys on display at the Posh Paws stand.
Her Star Wars highlight was probably at Underground Toys.
They make and distribute lots of licensed toys and homewares. While I was being shown round, my daughter kept wanting to go back and cuddle these large sized BB-8 and Chewbacca cuddly toys.
She also left with a mini talking Yoda plush toy, which she was very pleased about.
Underground also have the UK license for FUNKO collectables, and there were some great ones featuring female characters, from the Star Wars and Superhero range among others.
It wasn’t all about Star Wars
Away from Star Wars, we were shown the forthcoming sets from Playmobil.
The range of themes and sets has made this a popular toy in our house. Of the new ones, there is a cool looking new space theme (including a female astronaut), plus a fashion range that gives the dolls interchangeable clothes.
This starkly illustrates the range of play ideas on offer. My daughter liked both.
Elsewhere, it became a bit of a blur – things that caught either mine or my daughter’s eye were the the return of Stretch Armstrong (just as ridiculous now as the seventies), Tekstra robotic animals, and lots of new Peppa Pig, Ninja Turtles, and the forthcoming Finding Dory and Zootroplois tie-in toys.
The smaller toy companies hoping to make a big difference
A big highlight for us was going to the Lottie dolls stand. We love Lottie, and have featured the brand on the blog regularly, as it is exactly the kind of doll I want for my daughter – who is as happy being a superhero as a ballerina.
If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and check out the wonderful Lottie range at lottie.com. If you buy anything, enter the code blogambassador at check out for a 20% discount. Happy shopping!
We had an appointment at the end of the day with a smaller comany, Coiled Spring Games, and we were really taken with their Batman Story Cubes – a collection of die that have different Batman elements on them.
Roll them out, and then make a story from what icons lands face up. It’s a cool idea, and I was really glad to see they featured images of the likes of Catwoman and Harley Quinn. So was my daughter 🙂
Regrets? I have a few…
My biggest mistake in hindsight is not making the time to explore other smaller – and newer – toymakers. I have no idea what wonderful toys they may have had on show, and that is a real shame.
As I pointed this out to my daughter, the ladies on the stand started chatting to us, and the MD, Frances Cain, recognised my blog name. She explained how these dolls, beautifully made and outfitted, have a brilliantly simple but engaging theme.
They follow a matriarchal family tree, so each doll is part of a social history narrative following one family through the ages. Each doll helps illustrate the role of women at that time – from the Tudor period, right through to the latest contemporary dolls – unveiled at the toy fair – of Maya and Nisha.
What these two dolls also add to this social history is the racial diversity of modern Britain, as Nisha is clearly darker than her ascendents.
Children love narratives in their play, but this line is inspired by research that shows the emotional benefits of children knowing more about their family history. A Girl for all Time is to be supported by a range of books mapping out this story. It’s a premium high quality toy, and is priced accordingly, but it is the kind of toy that could become a family keepsake, the way those Steiff bears that always crop up on the Antiques Roadshow are.
What did we make of our first Toy Fair?
While long, we had a great day out. This was the day after my daughter’s 4th Birthday party, and she did incredibly well to last the 7 hour visit without any kind of meltdown.
It was ironic that in a hall with so many toys, there were so few children – so my daughter got smiles (and toys) throughout the day. Her female superhero skirt was especially popular!
While she got to see and play with lots of toys, I also had many chats and meetings (including bloggers – it was great to finally meet Tom from Diary of a Dad). This was a repeated activity that many 4-year-olds would find too boring to stand for long.
One thing that struck me in these meetings was how often – arriving at a toy stand with my daughter – I was asked if I was just interested in seeing the ‘girls’ toys. Gender categories are clearly still very entrenched within the toy industry. My answer was a (hopefully) polite “No we’d like to see everything please.”
My moment of the day? My Playmobil PR meeting concluding rather abruptly with my daughter exclaiming “Daddy, I need a poo.” Stay classy little one 🙂