One of the most open, passionate & up-front guys that we met at DesignerCon last November was Chris at Mindzai. Spent an age talking to The Toy Chronicle about his passion for Designer Toys. It was a pleasure to be in his company. So we spent some time asking him some great questions, to get in to his mind(zai). Below you’ll find the interview, take a seat and enjoy!
Who are Mindzai and what do you guys stand for?
Mindzai: Mindzai, as our name suggests, is all about imagination and creativity. We were originally a blog site that wrote about creative arts and streetwear but overtime shifted our focus to toys. We may have fell into the designer toy business by accident but we’re enjoying every minute of it.
What started as a blog, turned into an online store that morphed ever so seamlessly into a company that designs and produces designer toys as well as our retail shops. We’re doing a lot for a company our size.
I started the company by myself but I somehow convinced my lady to join the company with me and do this together. As a team, we strive to work on meaningful creative projects and showcase the best possible retail experience.
You’re obviously huge fans of Designer Toys, do you collect them yourselves? If so tell us about your own collections.
Mindzai: We do. It’s hard to tell you about our entire collection because we collect so many different things. Our main vice is Bearbricks though. We have a lot of them. Maybe over 150 100% size figures. We like to collect the small ones more than the larger ones. They just look so awesome when there’s so many of them together. But we have our fair share of 400% figures too including a monotone Kaws Mickey one.
I say “we” because I know that if I said the word “I” there would be a small argument in the home. When you’re a couple that lives together, it seems as if there’s no such thing as “mine” anymore unless she hates it. Haha.
We also have more City Lego sets than most people can imagine having. Which is silly because there’s no way that we can fit all these sets in our apartment.
If I have to pick one toy that I absolutely adore it would be the Deathshead Mickey by David Flores. The original colour way. It’s just so damn badass looking.
You guys are based up in Toronto, what is the Designer Toy scene like up there?
Mindzai: The designer toy scene up here is great! Toronto is such an amazing city to be in. It’s such a diverse culture here and with so many different cultures here comes an art scene that is off the hook.
In fact, almost all of the toy projects that I have been involved with so far have come from just being here in Toronto. The Lovebot…Toronto. Hideki…Toronto. Lethal Taco…Toronto. and Blank Boy Canvas…even though the original artist, Danny Yung is from Hong Kong…the people who made the toy happen is right here from Toronto.
I’m always trying to find ways for people to be proud of our city and heritage. We no longer live in a world where you need to be from a certain city or region to make it. Toronto is well known for it’s technology hotbed of app developers, game designers and artists. With all that artistic talent there’s bound to be a designer toy fan. It’s already happening…I was just in LA last week and I met up with the Jordan from Broke Piggy Toys in California. First thing he mentioned when I said I was from Toronto was “Do you know Fannie? She’s from Toronto and she designed our brand and logo!” Like I said…hotbed.
But there’s certainly room to grow. We don’t have a ToyConUK / DesignerCon equivalent yet.
How hard is it, in this day & age, to have not one but two brick & mortar stores?
Mindzai: I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a challenge. But it’s not too difficult. In my early twenties, I was a floor salesman and then a store manager for a computer store and Shan worked at a movie theatre so our retail and customer service skills has always been second nature.
But mostly, I think we’re able to succeed because we’ve always put a focus on technology and simplicity. We started our toy business online but with a brick and mortar mentality and I think that’s the reason we are able to handle more both stores. From front to back, we develop simple processes that allow us to control all our stores from a single laptop and a few iPads.
I’ve always made sure that people are able to get the same experience in person as they would get online and vice versa. That means I’ve put a tremendous amount of effort in making sure our processes and inventories are synched up in both our b&m stores and online. Simple processes cut down on a lot of time and effort in our daily tasks.
It has also meant that we have to watch our budgets very carefully. There is so much awesomeness in the designer toy world so we have to choose our inventory very carefully and not spread ourselves too thin. There’s been a few designer toy shops that have opened up only to shut down a few months later or to drastically reduce their inventory selection. It’s hard. As a business, you need to constantly be expanding but not for the wrong reasons. For example, expanding by carrying more product isn’t going to grow the business. In fact, it can totally destroy it.
Now that we have 2 stores under our belt, we’ve been focusing on our US business. In fact, one thing you might not have known is that we have two online stores. Mindzai.ca specifically for Canada and Mindzai.com for the US and the world. They are almost identical except that the US site is in U.S. Dollars and we ship from our US based warehouse in New York state. This is only the beginning. Establishing a dedicated online presence in the U.S. means we can learn at our own pace and eventually find a city that makes sense for us to open in. It’s going to happen one day. We’re still learning.
There are some interesting projects coming out of Mindzai, that we saw at DesignerCon, tell us about the HidekiProject, Lovebot, Lethal Taco & the Topperz Turntable Toy.
Mindzai: Ah yes! Our Toys!! We’re so damn proud of this. It all started with curiosity. I wasn’t content with selling toys..I wanted to make them. I was always the kind of kid who would break stuff just to see how it worked on the inside. All of our toys have stories to go with them.
Our first project was Lethal Taco. In fact it’s still going. Lethal Taco was our first Kickstarter project that was funded. It was our first foray into the world of Designer Toys and I was fortunate enough to meet Oscar Mar and David Dick. Oscar Mar has previously made a Dunny for Kidrobot on the Azteca 2 series while David is a super talented artist that has worked on many animation films. Oscar had asked David to create the original clay sculpture for Lethal Taco. It’s an amazing figure with an even more awesome backstory. A crime fighting duo in the form of a Taquero and a slab of meat. How awesome is that?! We’ve had many production challenges with this but it’s now almost complete. We’ve finally moved past the point of tooling and into paint. We’re going to be over budget on this….but we’re still proud of where we’ve come. The toy is set to be completed sometime early 2016 and goes for $90 USD.
The Lovebot designed by Matthew Del Degan has also been a long project. Also funded on Kickstarter. The Lovebot has been such an amazing project to work on as well. Matthew is such an amazing artist. And like all great products, the Lovebot comes with a really great story about creativity and kindness. I won’t get into it here (check it out on Kickstarter) but I can tell you that the Lovebot has captured many hearts and minds in the city of Toronto, Canada and in many other parts of the world. Matthew and his crew of volunteers made these 2ft Lovebot cement statues and placed them across the city of Toronto in spots where acts of kindness appeared. It’s not legal….but the city and the people totally embraced it. If you ever come to Toronto, you’ll spot these statues of Love robots all over the place. I don’t care who you are and where you’re from…that’s a pretty damn cool thing to see if you ever get to visit. The Lovebot Toy is PVC and is made for customizing. It goes for $40.
Our Tian Tian Blank Boy Canvas project is based on a character designed by Danny Yung based out of Hong Kong. It’s a very meaningful project. The term Tian Tian Xiang Shang literally means “Everyday looking up” It’s a well known Chinese saying that encourages children to work hard and achieve their dreams. It’s made of soft vinyl and it’s a single piece mold. There’s some really great history behind the figure that I encourage people to check out. The comics that Danny Yung created have a really rich history starting from the 1970’s. Read more about it at http://www.zuni.org.hk/ttxs/minisite/
We’re super proud to be the producers of this figure. We can’t wait to see what people make with the new figure.
Hideki is a project that was originally started by my friend Ken Hui. He started a vector illustration project on Instagram called @HidekiProject Each day, he creates a brand new illustration using the same Hideki shape. It’s been something like 400 days now and each day that goes by I get even more inspired. Around Day 30 something I found out about his project and got super interested in working with him to create a toy figure. The simple shape is super adorable and is extremely flexible to work with. Our first edition is a handcasted resin 4 inch DIY figure but we have big plans for Hideki. We’ve licensed the character from Ken and in 2016 Hideki will make his way into vinyl DIY as well as our first blind box series figure at about 2.5 inches.
And finally, DJ Trakkz. We designed this figure for our awesome friends at T.T. Topperz. It’s the first designer toy made specifically to function with turntables. A lot of people have picked up the toy since it was released in this year and it’s been really popular with a lot of dope DJ’s from around the world including Skratch Bastid, DJ yasuhero and more. But the awesome thing about this figure is that you don’t have to own a turntable to enjoy the figure. The base itself acts as a stand and it’s design is inspired from old school turntables from the 80’s.
It sounds like a busy 2016 is ahead for you guys, but if you could have the opportunity to collaborate with ANY artist, who would it be?
Mindzai: 2016 is busy. Our brand is going to develop more designer toys but we’ll be looking to streamline our production by focusing on our existing platforms. If there was one artist I could collaborate with it would be Emilio Garcia. I love his brain pattern design as I feel it really aligns with our name, Mindzai. Of course, it’s really hard to pick just one. Kevin Lyons is another artist that I really like. His style is dope. Another dope artist is Zero Productivity from New York City. His King Coo is iconic and simplistic in nature. I’d love to work with him as well. Damn…this question is hard. It’s really hard to just pick one. So much good stuff in this world.
Thanks for spending some time with us. We appreciate your open answers!
You can check out Mindzai on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. You can also visit their webstore HERE. Go spend some money on their awesome selection of Designer Toys! If you’re ever in Toronto, you should go check their stores at the following locations: Mindzai Toronto 11 Camden Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 1V2 and Mindzai Markham, 3623 Highway 7 East, Unit 112, Markham, Ontario, L3R 8X6