Contributing Editor Daniel Rolnik speaks to Ayleen Gaspar of DesignerCon, an event for toy makers taking place this weekend at the Pasadena Convention Center.


DesignerCon 2013.
DesignerCon 2013


Daniel Rolnik: How did DesignerCon start? I heard it used to be called the Vinyl Toy Network.  Why did the name change?

Ayleen Gaspar: As the show has grown over the years from one small room to over 50.000 square feet, we realized that the art behind the vinyl toy movement and some of the elements that helped put together VTN are out of the “vinyl toy” scope.  Frankly, the name was too restrictive and we wanted people to know that the show includes not only vinyl toy companies, but companies from all aspects of design and art including clothing, printing, plush, etc.

Has there been a major shift in the things displayed each year? Have you seen vendors displaying more items in a certain category and style that are “trending” more and more?

While there has not been a major shift, resin products are certainly more prevalent in the market than they were several years ago.  Designer Con still has a wonderful mix of vendors with designer toys, vinyl, plush, customs, original art, prints, apparel, etc.

KidRobot is a vendor for the first time at this year’s event, which is interesting because in the past a lot of vendors have carried KidRobot items.  How does this change the game for everyone?

Actually Kidrobot was a vendor at Vinyl Toy Network years ago and we are pleased to have them back this year! Their products are carried by several other vendors, just like at other conventions Kidrobot attends, so chances are their presence will only enhance people’s interest in their products and we look forward to any displays and/or debuts they might be able to bring to the show.

When someone buys a designer toy are they supposed to take it out of the box? Why or why not? 

That is completely up to the person buying the toy! Some people enjoy the aesthetic of keeping their figures in their original boxes while others of us prefer to rip them open and play with them.  Then there are the collectors who just buy two of everything, one to keep in the box and one to open, so they don’t have to decide!

What is the Suckathon happening at Designer Con 2013 and who is the Sucklord? Why is he an important figure in the realm of contemporary toy design?

The Suckathon is an event hosted by the Super Sucklord (and brought to you by DKE Toys and Toy Break) which, in the past, consisted mainly of interviews with popular artists and creators.  For the third annual Suckathon this year, I believe Sucklord is changing things up and collaborating with several artists to produce a more game show oriented theme for the show.  It is an interesting, casual way to get to know some of the artists involved in the contemporary toy scene along with some fun, often adult oriented, entertainment.

As for the Super Sucklord, he is quite a character.  He is constantly experimenting in many artistic arenas including toys, filmmaking, music, reality television, etc.  He brings a larger than life personality and unique creative perspective to the independent toy scene.  He often inspires people to either love or hate him, but isn’t that what art (and life) is all about?

Do a lot of the toy makers sculpt the figures themselves or use other people to do it for them? Who are some of the sculptors operating behind the scenes? If the artist doesn’t sculpt the figure is that seen as a negative thing in the toy community?

There are lots of artists that do sculpt their own figures, which is awesome, but there is no negative perception in the art toy world to having a figure sculpted by someone other than the artist.  Professionally, sculptors are artists just like designers and although the independent toy scene recognizes this, large toy companies often do not.  Like so much art, toy making is a collaborative process which requires many different skill sets to bring a creation from design to production.  As for sculptors operating behind the scenes, there are way too many to list! George Gaspar from October Toys, Adam Smith from True Cast Studio, the team at Mana Studios, Julie B. from Pretty In Plastic…the list goes on and on.

What’s the difference between Kaiju, Sofubi, and designer vinyl toys?

While we are not experts in any of those areas, the terms could be briefly defined as follows… Kaiju means “strange creature” or, more loosely, “monster.” Of course the most popular example of kaiju can be seen in the Godzilla movies.  In regards to toys, there are thousands of crazy creatures that make up the genre and lots of devoted fans who could better explain the nuances of the term.  Sofubi refers to the soft vinyl material some figures are made out of and some collectors use it specifically refer to soft vinyl made from in Japan.  Designer toys are a little trickier to define.  This term is used to describe a wide variety of objects – generally higher end figures, made in very limited quantities, designed by popular artists.

A lot of the materials used to make vinyl toys are toxic, but I saw that some companies try to use materials that are as safe as possible.  What are materials/processes to be weary of in toy designs and others to celebrate?

Most vinyl toys are just as safe as any other mass market toy or figure you could buy at a big box store.  While consumers should always be as informed as possible about the materials used in the products they buy, collectors might want to be careful with smaller run figures made by private individuals rather than experienced toy companies.  Most of those figures are perfectly safe, too, but some materials used by amateur creators is simply not meant to be used in consumer products.  For example, some types of rubbery casting materials that are meant to be used exclusively for prototypes can contain mercury which is a strictly regulated substance in consumer goods.  It is up to producers to provide accurate information on the types of materials they are using and up to consumers to decide what to do with that information.

There are artists showing at Designer Con who have thousands  if not tens of thousands of on ETSY, but have never exhibited in a gallery before.  Why do you think this is? Will these artists ever have a surge in popularity that brings them more attention outside the realm of the Internet?

This is a tough question because the value of art is always in the eye of the beholder.  Purchasing art directly from the creator cuts out the expense of splitting the profit with a gallery, so for a lot of independent artists, it may be more profitable to offer more affordable pieces of art directly to their fans.  On the other hand, some artists benefit greatly from gallery exposure.  There is currently room for both and as with every other product or idea in the world, the internet has opened up a wonderful, worldwide venue for creators of all types to reach potential fans which is great.

Are there unwritten rules to designer toy manufacturing? For example, are alternate color ways supposed to be announced before they’re released? Are there common sizes for toys to be released in?

While there are no unwritten rules, every company or artist develops their own production and marketing preferences which in turn helps determine the type of artists they generally work with.

Are people coming in from all over the world to attend the event? If so, where are some exciting places they’re coming from? Also, are there any artists coming in from abroad and if so, which ones?

Yes! Designer Con has vendors and attendees traveling from all over the world including Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, and more! Watch our site as more artists are added!

Do plush toy makers and vinyl toy makers ever get into extreme arguments, like street artists and graffiti writers do? Is there a big split between the fans of both movements? Is one more popular than the other?

Not really.  Of course the toy industry, like every other, has its share of drama from time to time, but one of the most amazing things about the designer toy scene is how wonderfully accepting and generous everyone is.  It’s that unique combination of fun and passion that our vendors bring to DesignerCon every year that make the show such a pleasure to produce!