According to Unicef, there are at least 93 million children with disabilities in the world. Yet, how many of them feel they’re being represented in the toys they play with? Seeing that mainstream toy companies strive for “perfection” in their products, a group of Renaissance College students told Young Post that they are determined to challenge the norm and create a more inclusive line of toys to celebrate diversity.
At the beginning of the year, through a programme run by educational organisation Junior Achievement Hong Kong (JAHK), they developed their own company which started as a school project. In April this year, their company, Lovables, was awarded first place as the programme’s Company of the Year.
“No matter who you are, or what you look like, you’re still lovable,” says Lovables co-founder Winkie Law, 16, explaining their company’s motto.
The company sells four different plush toys that embrace “imperfections”, based on their belief that everyone is beautiful no matter how they look. Each of them encompass different characteristics of disabilities that are rarely seen in toys.
Oreo has an eye patch covering one of her eyes, and half of her fur is white while the other half is grey. Though she has partial blindness and uneven skin pigmentations, she’s just as cute as any other stuffed animal you’d see on store shelves. Fluffy is missing part of its ear, Boots is missing an arm, and Bubblegum has a skin condition called vitiligo, in which pale white patches develop on the skin.
“We think that’s very beautiful, and should be celebrated, too,” says 16-year-old Nicole Lee, another co-founder.
Their company’s values are also in line with two of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – one of them being quality education. Winkie explains the company is eager to raise awareness and bring their toys into school curriculums. They have already sold a couple of sets to their school and used the toys in class.
The second goal they’re supporting is to reduce inequality within and among countries. And they are doing so by celebrating differences, and spreading the message that everyone deserves to be loved.
Lovables has donated their toys to four organisations and also organised workshops about inclusiveness and breaking stereotypes for kids there.
“The kids we worked with might be disadvantaged in societal standards, but as we asked them to draw themselves and design their own Lovable souvenirs, [we hope] they realised they’re good enough,” says Winkie.
Building a company with little to no prior experience created a lot of problems for the 16-member group. One of the biggest challenges was to sell the minium order quantity – for each design, they must order 100 pieces, so four designs add up to 400 pieces in total. And, of course, they didn’t want to disappoint the shareholders who invested money in their company.
“That was a very difficult decision. But eventually, we decided to take the risk and go for the 400 pieces. We even managed to negotiate with our manufacturer, that if we weren’t able to sell them all, they would buy back 100 pieces,” says Nicole.
Their leap of faith was proven to be correct when, in the end, they sold out and even had to order more.
Good presentation skills were crucial when it came to winning the JAHK company programme. “Our presentation was extremely direct. We launched right into the issue and talked about the need for children to feel represented in toys,” says Nicole.
They add that some groups were singing and dancing but the best way to present your ideas is always to be very clear about what you are going to do.
Winkie says she’s always wanted to start a company since she was a kid, and this is her biggest takeaway: “The experience has shown that we can take a small idea and actually go somewhere from there. It’s very satisfying.”
Nicole says that she never envisioned developing a company from scratch. “I feel like by taking that leap, I discovered something that I really enjoy: entrepreneurship.”