My passion for toys and design came at an early age in Memphis, Tennessee, where I was the youngest of six with a resourceful mother. I remember shopping with my mom and spying beautiful stuffed animals in "fancy stores," longing for those toys. But my mother would tell me we couldn't buy them, so I'd go home, saddle up next to her sewing machine and try to make original toys of my own.
I earned a BA in fine arts and English at William Woods University in Missouri while sewing, dyeing fabrics, patterning original outfits, weaving, printmaking, creating cards and advertisements, and designing original appliquéd bed linens and T-shirts in my free time. I became well-known on campus as the girl who was crazy enough to make just about anything.
Driven to make it in the art industry, I sold my VW Bug, packed my handmade clothes around a sewing machine that my grandmother gave me as a high school graduation gift and bought a one-way ticket to New York City. I landed in the toy industry after a recruiter asked me to interview with a toy company in search of a product manager. The company focused on mass-market and promotional toys, which gave me a solid foundation for the costing and manufacturing processes. In 1995, I declined an offer to move to Los Angeles with the company because I couldn't bear the thought of leaving the creative energy of New York, and I wanted to pursue my dream of opening my own toy company.
My experience led me to realize that there was a void in the toy market for high-quality designs with real style. I wanted to make toys that inspired children's imaginations. I knew this was a risky endeavor – my entire life's savings were on the line. But I was determined and had a mission.
So, I leased a former fabric factory in Manhattan's Garment District, tapped a friend, Peter Doodeheefver, a talented designer and Parsons graduate, and started YOTTOY (yàht-toy).
Peter and I worked around the clock to grow our unconventional toy company. The first products were a combination of originals, such as the company's classic YOTTOY Velveteens along with storybook characters, including The World of H.A. Rey (creator of Curious George) and Mr. Night. We marketed YOTTOY as a company that could do just about anything in the toy world, from any direction – just as our name, a palindrome, reflects.
Clients soon came calling. We created toy concepts, character maquettes, mechanized toys, and other custom promotional products. At the turn of the millennium, YOTTOY formally launched high-quality book and toy companions, bringing story time to life with a variety of designs inspired by the most beloved children's literature.
Fast forward 22 years, YOTTOY now has a specialty collection that ranges from high-profile and timeless classics like Paddington Bear, Madeline, Babar, Frog & Toad, The Velveteen Rabbit and Little Golden Books to contemporary favorites, including Mo Willems, Eloise, Greg Pizzoli, Poodlena and Little Blue Truck. In 2017, YOTTOY has further expanded into early developmental toys with our new Paddington for Baby collection.
We attribute our growth to our customers knowing, through experience, that YOTTOY delivers. We're proud to always meet deadlines, have the finest-quality products and to do so at competitive prices. Great care and attention go into every toy that YOTTOY creates.
Since our founding, we have defied many odds, both on the creative and financial sides. Smart design and clever construction to maximize production efficiencies have been crucial. We place a lot of emphasis on the adage, "The devil is in the details!" We learned to pay attention to the fine print to ensure costs – from manufacturing to shipping – and profit margins are aligned. We also keep an eye on consumer spending trends and factor in retail requirements and compliance.
As a mother, I realize how important and inspiring toys are to kids, helping them understand relationships and learn through positive play experiences. And with today's technology influences, seeing real tangible toys come to life as children and adults interact with them is uplifting.
Giving back is also important to YOTTOY, and it's something we're proud to do. We donate to schools, libraries and museums, and are proud to be a vendor agency for the Kohl's Cares program that supports children's initiatives nationwide.
Visitors to YOTTOY's sunny design studio in the heart of Manhattan say that real happiness beams from our toy shop – just as it is reflected in our YOTTOY smile logo.
About the author: Kate Karcher-Clark founded YOTTOY Productions, Inc. in 1995 to design and deliver the highest quality toys to inspire all ages. Headquartered in New York City, YOTTOY (yàht-toy) – "toy" spelled backwards and forwards - has brought to market thousands of original and licensed toy and gift product programs to retail and promotional clients domestically and internationally.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.