A startling look at the toy industry; how Asia sees it

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I am back from Hong Kong but wanted to share an editorial from that city's leading newspaper that that may startle many of you.  I know that it did me. 

The article, entitled “Don't shed a tear for toymakers in their winter of discontent,“ appeared in the The South China Morning Post.  Written by editorialist  Jake van der Kamp, it is a stinging rebuke of Hong Kong toy manufacturers who the author describes as lazy as well as slaves and purveyors of plastic trash.  What he has to say is so startling, at least to me, that I have opted to give you extended quotes:

Here is what van der Kamp has to say:

…[I]n the early 1980s…a number of toymakers were seeking listings on the stock market. The big one was Playmates, much heralded as the maker of the latest doll sensation in the United States; Cabbage Patch Kids…Playmates had no equity in Cabbage Patch Kids. The ownership rights were firmly held in the United States. Playmates was only a subcontract manufacturer and it wasn't even the primary one…Playmates got a bit closer to ownership with its biggest hit, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but even there the idea came from an American brains trust. And that was the closest anyone in Hong Kong ever came to owning as well as making a big toy hit. Santa doesn't live in his workshop. Only his elves live there.

Van der Kamp goes on to state:

There is nothing necessarily wrong with this. It is how all new industries start out. You work as the slave of the foreigner with the technology and gradually you build up the know-how, you come to devise the latest technology yourself and now you're the one with the ideas. It's the natural progression. …But somehow this never happened in Hong Kong's toy industry…I think what happened here is that, starting in the late 1970s these Hong Kong toymakers were offered a virtually unlimited pool of very cheap but good labor across the border plus all the land they needed, good port connections and full freedom to avail themselves of foreign capital. They took it all and got lazy.

Americans are so used to seeing themselves as giving their industrial birthright away that we forget that we still own the intellectual properties and markets.   From a Hong Kong writer’s standpoint, the US toy industry in firmly in the power seat.

The US toy industry, despite its woes, is an economic powerhouse.  Let’s not forget that because nobody else has.  What we do with that economic power is the question; do we sit on it or use it?  That is up to Mattel, Hasbro and the rest of us.   

One thought

  1. Your on point question is: “Do we sit on it or use it? That is up to Mattel, Hasbro and the rest of us.”
    I’ve worked on so many of the products mentioned…Cabbage Patch Kids, and CPK licensed products, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a host of others. Turtles, by the way, were not popular creatures…until TMNT appeared on the market. The studio was a dream to work with.
    Let’s also look at Gund, North American Bear, Madame Alexander Dolls, Colorforms, and so many others. We need to hit the ground with our feet running and drive that powerhouse engine at warp speed.

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