Elif Atmaca, co-founder of Toyi, discusses a nomadic childhood, free-play kits and why creating unique toys is vital to kids.
You’re the co-creator of Toyi – how would you describe your product?
It’s a limitless creative-play kit – without instructions – that lets children transform everyday objects into unique toys. It gives children more than a toy: it’s a tool to transform everything around them into a toy.
You say there are no instructions?! What’s the thinking behind that?
The toy industry is shaped by grown-ups whose creativity – compared to children – is limited… Play rules are set by grown-ups; they tell children which toys to make and how to play, step-by-step. Even with toys composed of construction blocks or creative kits, the end product is shown to children beforehand. But we think children need tools that support free play, not instructions.
So Toyi encourages free play because kids have to imagine what they can do, with the kits… Then start playing?
Yes, exactly. Toyi gives priority to children’s needs. The entire process is left to kids’ imaginations. With the open-ended play experience Toyi provides, children can make a limitless number of toys. With this approach, we want to remind parents, teachers, and all grown-ups that child-led play is a great way for children to develop lifelong skills.
I’m curious then… With which toys and games did you play growing up?
My childhood passed in Turkey’s rural areas by moving from one city to another. So I didn’t have a favourite single playground or permanent friends! It was a new house and garden that I had to constantly explore… I was always free at home and in the garden, and I was always productive: from painting the walls, cutting the curtains, sculpting from leaves, branches, and mud to doing experiments that would make every place colourful!
Wow. That’s the perfect background; sounds like you were very creative!
Yes; I always had strings, fabrics, balloons and dyes rather than dolls and toys.
Generally speaking, how do you stay creative as an adult?
Playing with kids! When I started to give volunteer play workshops for children at the university, their imagination inspired me, and it still does. Having play workshops with kids allows me to learn new things about the absurd, funny, fantastic, fun aspects of the play.
That’s said, children’s books, cartoons, and animations are always in my life. Dr. Seuss’s inventions, Miyazaki’s characters and many more make me dream constantly. For example, every time I explore another detail in the adventures of Dr. Slumb and Arale, it makes it very exciting.
And which toys influenced your thinking when you developed Toyi?
Well, my main motivation in Toyi was to design a tool that triggers a creative play process for children… So understandably, my inspiration during the productisation of Toyi was Mr. Potato Head… By which I mean the original Mr. Potato Head Funny Face Kit from 1952. I thought that if we transformed a potato into a toy, then why we can’t we transform everything into a toy?!
But for me, the toys that children discover and produce always seem more interesting. The results of the playful instinct we have are endless. And it creates an absurdity and this absurdity increases the output options.
You seem to be a values-driven company. Can you tell me about some of your founding principles?
We believe children are the sole play experts, not adults. They know how to play. Children don’t need step-by-step instructions to play. Therefore, one of our main founding principles is supporting children’s creativity by free and unstructured play.
You can see this approach in everything from our packaging to marketing. There are no step-by-step Youtube videos to introduce Toyi kits. We want children to create unique toys and become unique designers… Because we think this is the way they’ll gain skills to survive in the 21st century.
You mentioned that you volunteered to do play workshops. Is community important to you?
Very! In fact, growing with a community is another founding principle. We want to build a community around Toyi; one that includes parents, teachers, toy designers, and everyone interested in play… So from the beginning of the company, we started a community program called ‘Play Advocates’. Now with over 1,000 Play Advocates, we organise events with the partnership of civil-society organisations, publish articles, and advocacy papers to support children’s right to play.
Are there any plans to expand the range?
The Toyi creative play kits, which are suitable for children aged 6+, have been anticipated by our retailer and educational customers. Due to its allowance for indoor, outdoor, or STEM-related activities in learning environments, playing as a group or individual, the Toyi kits range offers consumers maximum performance.
On the other hand, we know that there’s a demand from parents for sustainable toys. Since Toyi is reusable – in the sense the kitcan create a limitless number of toys, washable, easy to transport and clean, a long life play kit. We think that Toyi brings a new perspective to the sustainable toys category by enabling children to experience up-cycling through play. We plan to expand our range according to some new themes and price ranges. We also plan to create a new eco line. The launch will be in quarter one, 2021.
What’s next for you and the Toyi brand?
Toyi kits are unique and fresh because they transform everything into a toy to play. They add a new element in the play process and we think this provides a new and fresh element for the toy industry. We want to expand our legacy for being a pioneer in this new creative play category with our new product range.
We’re also launching our new eco line in 2021. We conceptualise a purpose-driven marketing campaign system including purpose-driven affiliate marketing, influencer marketing and donation system. We will support our product line by this purpose-driven PR and marketing campaigns, including social media content and influencer partnerships across all channels.
What’s the most interesting object in your office or on your desk?
In the office, the first trial product we received from the Toyi mould still stands as it came out of the mould. It’s very different from the finished product and doesn’t mean anything to anyone other than us. But at home, I have some imperfect plush characters that I made with the sewing machine… They came out with the wrong stitches! I keep them because they are much more original than the character I intended to make.
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