7 March 2008
Softly, Softly(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 03,2008)
|Nature-themed plush toys for infants from Hong Kong-based Pro Driven Co Ltd include a musical pull-string butterfly with cocoon and a tree trunk populated by insects|
Plush toys ranging from the simply cuddly to the function-enhanced are winning more hearts and minds
Playing with plush toys is like befriending intriguing characters that are often cute, cuddly and imaginary - be they from the cartoon world or the animal kingdom.
For example, Jiangmen TSZ Ching Technology Ltd offers a cast of cartoon characters led by Benko, a big-headed guy with thick eyebrows and pointy hair, who is touted as having "evolved" from an acorn hit by a "magical celestial drop".
"It's about fun," says International Trade Director Sabrina Lee. "Our products are cute, interesting and innovative. They suit homes, cars or offices."
These plush figures - Benko, his girlfriend Fengo, her sister Fenko, dog Pochy and pig Sanzi - come in many sizes. Some double as cushions, bags, phone cases, wallets, coin purses, key chains or even tape measures.
"Asian markets, notably Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, welcome these characters," says Ms Lee. "In Europe, Benko and his pals do best in Switzerland and Slovenia."
Another hot item on the market is Dibo the Gift Dragon - a purple, good-natured and generous character created by the animation studios at Ocon Inc. "He's a very friendly magical dragon," notes License Business Division Manager Paul Lee.
"When children - his friends - make a wish, he appears and gives a present," Mr Lee says of the cartoon character that carries gifts in a zippered chest pocket. "He has sold into more than 60 countries already."
Among the dragon's plush pals are nerdy-bird inventor Cro, princess-type rabbit Bunny, lamb Oliver, elephant Elo and red-haired girl Annie.
"We've created a special look with knitted fabric that gives a warm feeling for children," Mr Lee says.
Also capitalising on the soft-touch appeal is Heinrich Bauer GmbH & Co KG, which notes a recent surge in the popularity of plush toys - especially with European consumers. "They're returning to their roots, to toys they once loved," says Sales Manager Kurt Orgel.
The firm offers plush animals ranging from 8-100cm in height, with the 15-30cm band often the best sellers. "We have hundreds of plush items in many styles, including seasonal and promotional items," Mr Orgel advises.
Current favourites include realistic-looking bears in various poses and colours, such as one grizzly bear (BA27376A) measuring 65cm in height, and another (BA27389) that is 40cm.
Plush polar bears find customers too, as do dogs, tigers, lions, pigs, giraffes, camels, monkeys, moose, raccoons, crocodiles, hamsters, foxes and frogs.
"Our plush toys are mainly animals, but we work for advertising companies, too, and make special figures or products such as plush cars," Mr Orgel says.
"As the market changes, we do more special items for zoos and other clients. The possibilities are wide," he maintains. "We offer good quality at attractive prices and sell well, especially in Germany, Italy and the US."
Some buyers reach for Heinrich Bauer's plush hand puppets shaped as cute lions, foxes or curly-tailed pigs. When squeezed, the puppets may say a few words such as "Hello, I'm a pig", or make animal noises.
The company also offers animal finger puppets, of which a dexterous puppeteer can use up to 10 at one time. However, Heinrich Bauer's most surprising products may be the plush figures like ducks, crocodiles and football players that double as car air-fresheners.
Eye-catching plush toys are also the forte' of Pro Driven Co Ltd, with its new ideas for babies and toddlers. "There's lots of competition, so our products must be different," says Assistant Manager Ricky Leung.
"We focus on design, materials and quality. For our baby line, for instance, we use coral velvet, a special fabric that's very soft."
An example is the Butterfly in Cocoon Musical Pull String (BB-1065), measuring 14x22cm, which allows infants to pull the colourful butterfly out by a string from its leafy refuge. "Then a lullaby plays," Mr Leung explains. "The emerging butterfly represents the start of new life."
Another toy (BB-1073) comprises plush insects such as a bee (12.5cm), dragonfly (13cm), ant (14cm), spider (10cm) and grasshopper (13.5cm), all in a plush tree trunk (26x26x21cm). When squeezed, the insects squeak, rattle or make other noises.
"We create fun for mothers and babies," Mr Leung remarks. "A mother can draw a baby's attention by reaching into the tree trunk and moving the insects, while the baby can pull out the insects."
Offerings also include plush bibs, musical mobiles, teething rings, puppets, pillows and even tiny sleeping bags. Pro Driven sells mainly to Spain, France and Italy.
Meanwhile, the industry is placing increased emphasis on quality, according to Nanjing jetway Imp & Exp Corp Ltd.
"Our buyers look for new designs and pay a lot of attention to quality," says General Manager Xu Hong Jie. "The quality of plush toys from China keeps improving. With all the competition, everyone needs excellent quality at good prices."
Selling mainly to the US and Europe, Nanjing jetway offers numerous plush animals - everything from bears and colourful ducks to Dalmatian dogs, tiny tigers, pink cows and even plush animal slippers.
"Our new designs attract customers," Ms Xu claims. "Our designers spend a lot of time, energy and attention on each item. We try hard to make the products cute, special and attractive."
While animals often feature as plush toys, they are sometimes end-users as well, and companies such as Evergrow Ltd are riding on the growing passion for pets to develop plush toys for cats and dogs.
"Lots of people don't want children. They raise pets instead," says Senior Marketing and Project Manager Cambridge Chan.
For dogs, Evergrow makes soft flying discs and meaty, bone-like chew-toys. Cats favour roly-poly mice, ideal for swatting, and string toys that dangle plush fish.
Evergrow also offers toys for infants, who may like its plush bears, elephants, lions and other animals herded into collections with titles like Poodas and Curiosity Kingdom.
"Buyers appreciate our quality and designs," Mr Chan says. "We're confident about the future for plush toys so long as we follow the market trends."
New plush toys from these and other companies suggest that youngsters of the digital age still love playthings with a soft touch.
TEXT BY JOHN CAIRNS
127-135 Yeung Uk Rd
Tsuen Wan, New Territories
Year Established: -
|Year Established: 1984
Major Product Categories: plush toys
Brands & Certificates: Bauer; ISO 9001, ICTI
Minimum Order: 1,000 pieces
Monthly Production: -
Delivery Time: 60 days
Factory Size & Location: Guangzhou
Year Established: 2000
Nanjing jetway Imp & Exp Corp Ltd
Year Established: 2002
Year Established: 1996
Year Established: 2004