Gifts & Decorative Accessories: Direct from Market: Toy Fair

Caroline Kennedy and Meredith Schwartz

The American Intl. Toy Fair, held last week at New York’s Javits Center, saw big, buzzing crowds as well as the usual complement of costumed characters and larger than life displays. Among 2011’s innovations was a new Teen/Tween Zone and Play Happens: The Game, which uses social media to turn Manhattan into a virtual game board.

Energy on the show floor was high, though several manufacturers who attend both the gift and toy fairs said they found the Toy Fair attendees to be less interested in placing orders at the event itself, preferring to kick the tires and collect information.

One of the biggest innovations came, not from a vendor, but from the Toy Industry Association itself. The Association, which runs the show, decided to allow retailers, sales reps, licensors and inventors to become full members, not just manufacturers and importers, meaning representatives from all segments of the toy industry will be eligible to serve on committees and the board.

When it comes to products, Playthings saw a lot of innovation around technology, of course, but also toys that express creativity or gets kids physically active.

Ride on!

YBike‘s Pewi is a design-forward offering for little ones aged 9-36 months, even before they can walk unassisted. It starts as a walking buddy and then can be used as a ride-on. Swivel castors mean it can be used inside and out.

Razor is offering a new scooter that holds sidewalk chalk at the back, so kids can make their mark all over town. A continuous chalking mode means they can even lay a trail to follow home.

The solowheel BC from Inventist Inc. was amazing, but it is less a toy than a compact answer to the Segway, with a gyroscopic electric drive system. Also innovative from Inventist is the Orbitwheel – tiny wheels that basically act as an individual skateboard for each foot.

Gyrowheel by Gyrobike is an alternative to training wheels: a battery operated disk inside the wheel corrects the bike’s balance even at slow speeds.

From Wishbone Design, the Wishbone Bike is a three in one that starts as a trike, converts to a balance bike and then converts again to grow with the child. (The Wollemi Wilderness Limited Edition celebrates the Intl. Year of Forests. (Balance bikes in general were hot at the show, offering a category in between trikes and traditional two-wheelers.) New from Wishbone is the Flip, which converts from rocker to ride-on.

For kids who already have a regular bike and want to make it sound like a motorbike, Turbospoke, which is distributed through Schylling, introduced the bicycle exhaust system – an advanced version of clipping a playing card to the wheel.

Know When to Fold ‘Em

Convertible, foldable, collapsible, hide-able were all key words at this Toy Fair, combining kid-sized appeal with easy, compact storage for parents, especially in these days of downsizing homes. Cardboard boxes, that classic of childhood pretend games, got makeovers from Out of a Box Creations (historic dollhouses and castles); Boxomania (corrugated plastic that can be written on with washable marker and used outdoors); Box Creations (cottage, castle, space shuttle, plus new carriage and pirate ship), Crafty Kids Playhouses (cardboard cottage, shuttle or castle) and Melissa & Doug‘s Color-In Playhouse. For a different take on the common cardboard box, Geared for Imagination presented Toy Toy’s eco-friendly cardboard chair that also has a storage compartment and comes with several creative puzzle pieces.

Crazy Forts by Everest Toys But it wasn’t all boxes: Guidecraft offered a patent-pending wooden Hideaway Playtime Kitchen that folds down to 6 inches in under a minute; Brinca Dada, maker of design-forward modern dollhouses, has created a collapsible modern dollhouse which could store under a bed. Folding cardboard furniture for it is planned for later this year. Crazy Forts, by Everest, stores even smaller – the construction set lets kids build giant buildings (albeit see-through ones) from a set the size of a board game. And cute enough to eat‘s Tessell playmat turns into a rocking toy or play table.

Tessell playmat More Great Green

While green gifts are fast becoming a staple rather than a trend, it’s still worth noting standout entries into the field. Green Toys has responded to consumer demand by introducing Green Eats, a dishwasher-safe, plastic collection of full-sized dishes, cups and flatware. Also notable was Clementine Art, an American-made line of naturally non-toxic art supplies packaged in recycled stock and printed using soy ink in a wind-powered facility. Modeling dough, paint, markers, glue, crayons and crayon rocks are all available. And the show itself is going green, with a smartphone app reducing the number of directories attendees needed and an online press room instead of paper press kits.

Stick Around

This Toy Fair saw a wide variety of innovations in the category of stickers and temporary tattoos. Make Your Own Stickers from lets kids use their PCs to create one-of-a-kind stickers – without cutting the retailer out of the loop. Stores sell the sticker paper in a variety of shapes; kids use the company’s online sticker maker’s tools and artwork, or upload their own. BrickStix offers reusable stickers for building bricks such as Legos, to take kids’ creations to the next level of realism. Themes include metro, transport and space. All That Glitters offers glitter tattoo stencil kits featuring the company’s non-toxic waterproof glue that lasts for days (we still had traces of glitter on day 4, though the design was no longer recognizable). Meanwhile, Bandai took the tattoo one step further with temporary tattoos that can be applied to a doll or to bags (or any other washable fabric).

AR DroneFlying Machines

Flying items beyond the usual airplanes and helicopters were hot at the show. Air Swimmers remote-controlled Flying Shark and Clownfish attracted non-stop crowds and clicking cameras as they “swam” above the William Mark booth; the large, steerable helium-filled creatures can stay aloft for more than 2 weeks.
Other notable offerings included a remote controlled hover vehicle, which can be used over land or water, for about $80 at Bandai; and AR Drone, a “flying video game” which can be controlled by a iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad, alone or with others via wifi.

Soft Touch

Among the many plush introductions at the Fair, Aurora’s new, higher-priced Signature collection offers realistic animals in natural colorations, full of fine detail. Meanwhile Wild Republic is moving in the other direction, adding fun tween girl-friendly colorations to its plush designs, even snakes!
For realism in proportion, if not coloration, check out the Jane Goodall collection with miYim: Goodall approves each design from overseas, after making suggestions such as lengthening the elephant’s tusks. But that’s far from miYim’s only license: Disney is about to join Dr. Seuss in the eco-friendly company’s stable.

On the quirkier side of plush, Gund‘s Squaredy Cats are the reverse of scared, and encourage tweens to be themselves – as well as stacking sweetly in displays. For those who prefer a darker palette, Vamplets baby vampire soft dolls are creepily adorable, complete with bat hair accessories and a disappearing bottle of blood – sure to be a hit with the Monster High crowd, along with Zombie Zoo -zombies safe for the younger set, whose backstory eliminates the scary parts. And for sci-fi fans – or the charitably inclined – there’s Kauzbots, stuffed robots who contribute 10 percent of their $24.99 retail price to charity. Each ‘bot helps a different cause. from autism to refugees.

On the Tech Front

The counterpoint to classic, simple wooden playthings, technology continues to make a big splash in new toys. Robots, interactive animatronics, online tie-ins and downloadable apps are becoming an integral part of the new generation’s playthings. For the youngest audience, Fisher-Price introduced the Baby iCan Play Case, designed to hold a parent’s iPhone or iPod Touch to allow them to play with and interact with special downloadable Laugh & Learn apps. Hasbro‘s latest Baby Alive also responds to both touch and verbal commands. Jay at Play‘s Totally KooKoo Bird ReTweets animatronic plush line record what they hear and then will “retweet” it as they move their beak and flat their wings, while YoHa Toys Tandars pets will interact with each other and their “owners” and have eyes with sensors that follow motion. In addition to its Toy of the Year award-winning Singamajigs, Mattel introduced Fijit Friends, interactive robotic toys designed for tween girls; the toys respond to more than 30 verbal commands, interact with each other and recognize different musical Mattel’s Fijit Friendsbeats. I Love Robots‘  remote-controlled robots have online gaming counterparts, while the company’s Penbo is an interactive friend with a baby.

Identity Games released a “Living Game Board,” a sleeve for an iPad which connects to sensors on the board. The iPad knows if players move illegally, assign points and cards, and play media at the right times. Playthings contributor Richard Gottlieb called it a (literal) “game changer.” Speaking of games, Mattel has moved Uno into the 21st century with the Uno Roboto Game, where Roboto (a robot) can be programmed with the “house rules” and interjects them at random times during play.

Terrific Toys

As always, some of our favorite finds elude categorization. These are one of a kind:

Ice Cream Mugz from Geospace makes a single serving of ice cream in jiff – no batteries required. Kids just load it up with ice, salt and ingredients and taste frozen treats fast.

Tie-Not is an ingenious gadget that fills and ties water balloons straight from the garden hose.

Root-Vue Farm by HSP Nature Toys lets kids see where the magic of plants happens, under the dirt, and avoids the waiting.

Mugo mp3 player and USB drive comes in a plain white cartoon kid form, so users can decorate their own, or in a variety of licensed designs – including Kung Fu Panda.

Beamz is an interactive music system that lets uses make music just by moving their hands through the beams – like a conductor with an invisible orchestra. It connects to a computer and features a song library of rock, pop, jazz, blues, classical, dance, hip hop and club.

Calico Critters CamperOhio Art and Learning Curve each introduced lines that will be available first only to specialty retailers. Ohio Art is distributing Clics, a line of construction blocks from Belgium, and Learning Curve introduced the Chuggington Wooden Railway, a wooden train set in the popular Chuggington license.

At International Playthings, the popular Calico Critters go camping in their new Caravan Family Camper and other camping accessories.

Brand New

There’s big news from several of the best-known brand names around Toy Fair, including those that specialize in the specialty market.

In addition to its new board game, My Pillow Pets is expanding its fuzzy functional concept into plush animal-themed hats, slippers and blankets.

Ravensburger presented the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle measuring 17’x6′ and made up of 32 Keith Haring images created in 32,256 pieces and weighing 42 lbs. It takes an estimated 400 hours to complete. Because of the weight of the unassembled puzzle, it comes complete with its own luggage cart for transportation. It retails for about $300.

Hexbug SpiderMGAE’s Bratz line features new outfits that show a lot less skin but are just as fashionable as ever. Hexbugs, 2010’s Toy of the Year winner in the specialty category, debuted a remote controlled spider as well as a glow-in-the-dark habitat set for the nano.

Briarpatch celebrated the 20th anniversary of its I Spy game with a scrumptious cake crafted by TLC’s Cake Boss Buddy Valastro. The cake looked almost too good to eat.

Melissa & Doug is in an acquisition mode, having recently acquired Princess Soft Toys and Box Girls.

And of course, the gossip you’ve all been waiting for – after being “on a break” for several years, Ken’s billboard and social media courtship was successful, and he and Mattel’s flagship product, Barbie, are an item once again.

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