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Dec 28, 2015

Dream Big Friends Interview

2015-10-21 08.20.04

[Dreamt up by Ugly Doll creators David Horvath, Sun Min Kim, and like-minded toy wizard Klim Kozinevich of Bigshot Toyworks, Dream Big Friends is an alternative and perhaps an antidote to the pink-as-usual doll offerings.  To learn more about the bold project  starring Yuna—perhaps the first to feature an Asian American lead character—and the Kickstarter campaign underway to make their difference-making vision a reality,  Vinyl Pulse recently  picked the brains of David and Klim about rethinking what dolls can and should be.]

Q:  Hi.  Dream Big Friends is a status quo-challenging project, one that is not necessarily an obvious follow-up to your previous work, most notably the Ugly Doll plush line.   From your comments on social media, it seems the project was motivated partly by a desire to provide your daughter with alternatives to the wave of pink that dominates the doll world.  Can you tell us a bit more about the genesis of the project, the inspiration, and the goals?

DH:  Our daughter, from a very early age, often asked where the Asian American (in those words!  dolls are… and why when there was one, in a group of five, she was often (always) pictured off on the far left or right, never front and center? This coupled with our absolute love of certain doll lines, such as MGA’s incredible LaLaLoopsy and the old doll prototypes my mother made for Cherry Merry Muffin ( which look nothing like the final product, but their story inspired me at a young age to try something different someday… ) drove us towards the doll space.

KK: While David and Sun Min have a closer connection to the doll aisle (I have a son) I have worked on numerous doll and “girl-centric” brands over the past 20 years. Over that time I noticed a lot of things that really bothered me about some of the styling, the messaging and the overall way the big toy companies were marketing their products to young girls and children in general. I have spent a considerable amount of time developing some ideas and exploring form factors and design elements that I felt would be appealing and fun for children and have a positive message to their parents. I’ve been waiting patiently for the right time to set them free… and Dream Big Friends is a chance to do that.

Hi Yuna

Q: It’s tempting to characterize Dream Big Friends as a disruptive idea, one meant to upend the girls’ doll market and perhaps the way toys are made.  Was this your intention or do you see the project as being more about offering an alternative?

DH: We don’t really see it as a disruption… the larger toy companies seem to be disrupting their own doll business without much help from outside sources… no, we simply wanted to offer another choice…. one that you can even play with existing lines… one that plays well with others.

KK: We have been talking about working together for nearly a decade. Doing something in the doll space seemed like a perfect place to start since David, Sun Min and myself were all thinking of a very similar concept independently. It made perfect sense for us to fuse our ideas and thoughts together to create something brand new that we all believe in.


Q: How has your experience as a parent changed your perception of the role toys play and should play in children’s lives?  Have you involved your daughter in the process of developing Dream Big Friends? Do you see toys as potential role models?

DH: Parents are the role models, but our interaction with everything, including toys, has a lasting effect on children, yes. “They are just toys!” is 100% true, but toys are vehicles for imaginative play, so the content… the totem… really matters. It’s like saying “it’s just a movie”… yes but is it the Godfather or Weekend at Bernies 2? Aha! Gotcha.

KK: I agree with David 100% - I think that it is not the job of a piece of plastic or a fictional plaything to be a role model. To me it is a vessel or an avatar for the imagination of a child to run free, and also an opportunity to have the parent join in the story and world building. Through play they can help guide the child’s development, or just have a few belly laughs on a fun rainy afternoon.

 first set of Yuna designs


Q: Between the time you had the idea of an alternative doll line to now, I would imagine you’ve had to make countless design choices, which given the nature of the project go beyond aesthetics and instead lie at its core. Can you share with us some of that thought process?  How difficult was it to develop the ‘right’ design for Yuna, the first Dream Big Friend, from her identity to her sense of style? 

DH: Yuna was a very collaborative effort with Klim from Bigshot Toyworks, and he’s been involved in working within the biggest of the big projects for major toy brands for years and years. His experience and back and forth collaborative input helped make that all a breeze. Our original sketches were based on drawings I made of Sun-Min when I met her in 1997 (a version of that is on our Kickstarter page) and we went from there.

KK: David had some sketches and a very strong general idea for the look and attitude of the character. We explored and played with shapes and design a lot and had done a number of revisions to find that perfect sweet spot for Yuna. Because of the collaborative nature of this project, we were able to create something really unique in look, style and message. Yuna Figure Dev2Q:  Following up on Yuna’s style, how did you approach her clothing choices?  Was there a conscious effort to convey style, fashion, and smarts without falling into gender stereotypes?   For me, her Giant Robot tee is a striking, inspired choice, one that I assume grew out of your longstanding friendship with founder Eric Nakamura.  Can you tell us a bit more about the tee and why you chose to include it?

DH: Giant Robot is family, and Eric Nakamura is responsible for much of where Asian Pop Culture and Pop Art is today, especially in the US, but certainly beyond. It seemed like a natural fit that Yuna would shop at Giant Robot. As for our inspiration and clothing, I spend 80% of my time in Seoul and 20% in Tokyo, so some of that rubs off, for sure.

KK: David and Sun Min brought a tremendous amount of insight into the clothing concepts. The outfits and accessories go through a pretty intense development cycle as we try to bring them to life.

1 good0218

Q: How do you balance the socially responsible design goals of this project with the fun factor?  Is there a tension between the two?

DH: If it’s no fun, it’s a no-go. The social responsibility is always on the parent, straight up. I love happy meals. I go to Mc Ds once a year and go for the toy, the 2x cheeseburgers, the whole run. It’s understood to be a treat. My daily routine is seaweed soup, a little bit of rice, a little bit of lean meat, dark greens, and tea. If I throw in a donut, that’s on me, no matter how I was marketed to… I paid for it. BUT! Big but… what if there was no other choice? What if burgers was all there was?
So this is what Yuna is… another choice.

KK: Our focus is to create something beautiful that a child can bring into his or her life and spend time and grow with. You can’t trick a kid into that. Besides making something amazing, all we can do is make sure that this doll is made as well as she can be in the best possible production settings using properly vetted vendors and materials.


Q: Ugly Doll has been wildly successful and seemingly left you in the position to freely pursue additional projects.  Rather than rely on traditional funding approaches, you’ve chosen to crowd-fund Dream Big Friends via a Kickstarter campaign which ends on the morning of January 3rd.  How did you decide on the crowd-funding approach?

DH: For this one, we really wanted this to be a Kickstarter for a variety of reasons… not only did it seem like a great way to attract the very first passionate early birds who caught on before that which is sure to follow, it was our curiosity…is there really a demand for such a thing? If we just made her and placed her in funky museum stores and hip spots, she would sell like hotcakes, sure... but we would have no way of knowing why or how or to who? We were looking for a way to really connect with the first couple hundred people to the party. That initial spark is everything.

KK: going through Kickstarter gives us a great opportunity to connect with the very passionate early adopters and fans. They are our champions and brand ambassadors. Many people have asked about the high goal on this project and were worried that we would not be able to reach it. We spent many days going over all of the numbers that cover the development costs, prototyping, tooling, production, shipping etc and that is the actual amount that we need in order to meet the MOQ requirements at the factory, and produce a run of high-quality toys that are safe and durable. 64K of that money goes to shipping individual items to the backers, 17K goes to Kickstarter for their fees the rest covers the actual development and production costs.


Q: Yuna is our first introduction to the Dream Big Friends world.  Can you tell us a bit more about that world?  Is there a background story that brings the various friends together?  Who are some of Yuna’s other friends and will we see male characters?

DH:  No, and YES, and WOW just you wait!

KK: What he said. =) The biggest thing we need to stress is the fact that we only have till Jan 2nd to get Yuna funded. Many projects get that funding in the first week and we hope that now that the people have had a chance to find out about Yuna, we can get that funding in the very end. That’s the first step, and after we hit that milestone, we can begin revealing the rest of the Dream Big Friends dolls to the world. Expect more engaging and relatable characters with diverse backstories!


Posted by Jack @ 07:07 AM in Interviews | Permalink  | Comments (1) |


I'm in love with this little person and the photos on Dream Bigs instagram.

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