A few months ago I discovered the Little MissMatched line of dolls by Tonner Toys. I immediately fell in love with their sunny little faces and unique sense of style. I purchased Uptown Girl, named her Emma and let her hang out above my desk. I was so impressed that the doll’s lead designer, Jason Reilley, took time to come here to our site, read your comments and add his insight that I thought it would be fun to find out a little more about what goes into designing dolls, how you can get into the industry and the inspiration behind the LMM line.
The following is an interview with Jason Reilley and Robert Tonner of the Tonner Doll company:
Doll Diaries: How long have you been designing dolls and how did you get started in the industry?
Jason: I have been designing toys for about 15 years. Dolls specifically for about two (I have played with dolls since early childhood and never stopped loving them). I lucked into the industry basically. My longtime friend and now Tonner Toys Partner, Carlos Lopez was one of the first people to get me into the toy industry. I was working at a small toy company in 1995 called Just Toys, designing packaging which I loved. It was my first job in the Toy Industry and my boss at the time (Bill Goodwin) took a chance on me and hired me because of my passion for toys. Carlos who worked at Marvel Entertainment, got a job at Toy Biz a while before and let me know of an opening there. Toy Biz was a dream job. At the time they were making all of the X-Men, Spider-Man and other Marvel character action figures which I collected obsessively. I went in for the interview and got it. It was heaven. Since then, I have worked with Licensed Characters for most of my career and luckily with Carlos in many, many incarnations at different companies.
Doll Diaries: The LittleMissMatched Girls have such sunny little faces. What was the inspiration for their sculpt?
Jason: I love their faces. They’re sweet and a little mischievous. The inspiration was the LittleMissMatched Logo. When Robert and I were designing the dolls and when Robert was sculpting them, we kept that cute logo in mind.
Robert: I love the logo as Jason said and I wanted to portray a little girl with a bright, happy personality—with maybe a touch of mischief in her—after all, she makes her own fashion rules!
Doll Diaries: How is designing a doll for play different than designing one that is meant more for display?
Jason: Designing a doll for play is a bit more complicated. The most important thing is safety. There are a lot of safety standards to pass and keep up on. Then we move to FUN. Playdolls need to be a lot more durable and child friendly than Collector Dolls. Their clothes, while still being pretty and stylish, have to be easy for children to get on and off with a minimum of parental help.
Robert: And, as for the sculpt, at the price point it can be more stylized than a realistic collector piece. It was fun to do.
Doll Diaries: How long did it take to develop the LMM line from initial sketches to production?
Jason: From initial sketches to production it took about a year. We are lucky enough to be teamed up with LittleMissMatched for our first line of playdolls. They are incredibly supportive, talented and enthusiastic. They challenge us and are some of the most creative people I have ever had the pleasure of working with.
Doll Diaries: In addition to the LMM line, what other dolls have you designed or are you working on now?
Jason: While I can’t tell you the name yet, I can say that a major retailer has picked up a new line. They are a cross over doll. We believe not only children but collectors will love the new line.
Doll Diaries: What do you like best about being part of the Tonner Team?
Jason: There are so many things to love. First, I get to work with Robert, Jack and Carlos. I can’t say enough about them so I’ll try to keep the love fest short. Robert is one of my heroes and I am lucky to count him as one of my best friends. He is AMAZINGLY talented, creative and a true inspiration. When he asked me if I wanted to start a toy company with him, I almost couldn’t believe my ears. It was humbling, that a person as talented and successful as Robert would offer such an amazing opportunity.
Jack is an unsung hero. He is the backbone and an even tempered voice of reason in a sometimes crazy, artistic world. He has unparalleled integrity and professionalism.
Carlos, I can’t say enough about. Not only have I known him since I was 19 but he is responsible for my career in toys. He has taught me and challenged me to be a better designer. He has such an easy manner and inspired fierce loyalty.
Some people might find it tricky to work with friends but for us, it’s very easy and natural. We each respect what the other does and most importantly, our egos don’t get in our way. It’s so rare to be able to say that. Wow that went on longer than I expected.
Another thing is getting to do what I love. This isn’t work. I get to do what I love all day, every day. Then to top it off, I get to see children and collectors enjoying what I make. I can’t remember not loving toys or a time when they weren’t a passion. I remember trying to explain it to my parents when they asked when I was going to stop playing with and buying toys. I was 13 at the time. I told them never. They’re what I love.
Robert: It’s funny how things seem to present themselves at the right time. I was looking for additional challenge at work when I met Jason and he introduced me to Carlos—and with Jack all the pieces seemed to fit and we started the company. I think it was fate! All three of those guys are the best out there. I’m proud to be part of this team.
I’d really like to thank Jason and Robert for taking time out of their day to answer my questions and share their insight with us! I’d also like to thank Kevin and Joanne at Tonner for doing such a great job of interacting with doll fans daily through the Tonner blog, Facebook page and Twitter!
Here is another interview of Jason with Joanne Canapini about the inspiration and process of creating the Little MissMatched line – complete with views of the prototype doll.
You can get more information on all the Tonner Dolls and news from their team at the Tonner Doll blog and if you are on Twitter, join the Tonner team and lots of doll collectors in #dollchat on Tuesday evenings from 9-10 pm Eastern. And if you are looking for the LittleMissMatched Girls dolls, check your local Toys R Us store or the Little MissMatched website.