“Retailers are the biggest drivers for social and industry change,” says Lottie Dolls’ Ian Harkin

Retailers are the biggest driver for social change across the toy industry, but they have to first realise their own power to do so, is the message being issued to the UK and European toy shops by the inclusive and representative doll brand, Lottie.

Talking to ToyNews about the step changes that the industry needs to make to bring more diversity to the toy box as well as tackle issues around environmental sustainability, Arklu’s managing director, Ian Harkin – the brains behind the Lottie Dolls range – has said that retailers must be the ones to enforce it.

Citing the genderisation of toys, an ‘industry standard’ that Harkin and his team – alongside pressure groups such as Let Toys Be Toys – are working to break down through the development of inclusive doll ranges, the MD has praised the retail scene for the gradual dismissal of girls and boys aisles in store, but says there is “still a lot of work to be done.”

“When we started in 2012 with research on retailers, we saw that many of them had the blue and pink aisles and the genderisation of toys,” Harking explained. “I think this was mostly driven by the retailers themselves, not so much by manufacturers.

“Retailers at that point had specific buyers for the girls’ aisle and the boys’ aisle. When you narrow it down that much from a buying perspective, product development follows that.”

As little as eight years ago, genderisation was a cornerstone of the buying process, suggest Harkin, who stated that even products that may have worked for either a boy or a girl, suddenly got painted pink or blue.’

“Luckily, over the last eight years, retailers have changed. They might have a doll aisle now, and they might have a building blocks aisle, and we’re seeing a lot less of the genderisation that at one point became really, really bad.”

A knock-on effect of the breaking down of gendered toy aisles is that the market has given way to an advance of more inclusive toys and dolls, as well as more inclusive or gender neutral toy and doll marketing methods.

When developing the Lottie and Finn doll line as a gender neutral range of dolls designed to enable children – boys and girls – develop better empathy towards diversity, Harkin called on the advice of the Let Toys be Toys group to assist with marketing language and images used on its packaging and promotional material.

Harkin has now suggested that when it comes to the current issue of sustainability, the retailer once again has a role to play in enforcing change on its shelves and using the power that it has. 

“Retailers are the biggest driver, with the most amount of power,” said Harkin. “Look at the US, where covermounts on magazines are now banned. You can’t stick those cheap toys on magazines over there, it’s all banned. I think we need the same in the UK and Europe. And retailers should be the ones to enforce that.”

For the Irish doll manufacturer, tackling the sustainability issue itself is the next on its list of goals. Over the course of what has been a ‘quiet year’ for the company, driven primarily by online sales via its own website owing to the impact of the coronavirus, the firm has had the chance to ‘focus in on the environmental issue.’

“Our plans now are to start building content and looking at the bigger issue of sustainability,” said Harkin.

“Last year we took out the plastic that we were using in the windows and blisters on our packaging and we changed to a recyclable plastic. This year, we will remove all plastic and just have them in a cardboard box. Hopefully we will be able to do the same for our doll plastics. It’s something that has been bugging me for a while, so we’re working out a way to do it.

“We have designed giftable packaging for our dolls and have reduced, significantly, the amount of packaging used. It means we’ve come away leaving a smaller carbon footprint.”

Keep your eyes peeled for a bigger interview feature with Arklu’s Ian Harkin in the upcoming Dolls sector special coverage on ToyNews.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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