World Book Day | Words’ worth: Rubie’s on the importance of inspiring the nation’s young readers

It didn’t take a global pandemic to facilitate the manner of changes to have taken place at the dress-up and costumes specialist, Rubie’s, over the course of the last 12 months – but it certainly did help.

Having ended 2020 – the year of the great halt – considerably stronger than how it started it, there’s an electricity of excitement running through the Rubies business right now that is almost palpable, even if you are chatting through email.

It was only last month that Rubie’s witnessed the momentous point in its modern day history, as co-owner and managing partner (and also the founder of NECA – what a side project!) Joel Weinshanker take direct oversight of the company’s global business, and since then there’s been a bigger buzz about the costume company than ever before. Then again, this time of year always does seem to get the blood racing for many within the business, because with the dawn of March comes the favourite season of all for so many in the Rubie’s team.

We’re talking, of course, about World Book Day.

It’s by no accident that Rubie’s has become a name somewhat synonymous with the annual charity event developed to encourage reading among children across the UK. Over the years, the firm has carefully aligned itself with the core values that World Book Day promotes; the importance of literacy among children and the rallying of the industry – across its breadth – to do what it can to encourage an enjoyment of reading.

This year, Rubie’s has taken that alignment one step further, through an official partnership with the World Book Day Charity and its mission to change to the lives of the youngsters and families that it acts to serve.

ToyNews catches up with Fran Hales, head of content and marketing at Rubie’s to learn more about the partnership, talk the finer points of developing book character dress-up, and cover the facts of why encouraging children to be active readers is one of the best things the toy industry could for the next generation.

Fran Hales, head of content and marketing, Rubie’s

Hi Fran, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Just to get us started in a nice orderly fashion, can you tell us how things have been for you guys over the course of 2020? 

It’s a very exciting time for Rubies! We welcomed Joel Weinshanker, our co-owner and managing partner, who will have direct oversight over the entire worldwide Rubie’s business (Rubie’s One World).

Rubies ended 2020 in a much stronger position than it was in at the beginning of the year. We are very confident moving forward into 2021 that we will see our industry rise as a result of the hard work that has been put in by the team over the past months, as we continue to support our retailers who are the core focus of our business.

It’s important to note that the changes we have made this year were always scheduled to happen and were not a result of Covid-19. If anything, the pandemic has hastened the progress, ensuring that we bought a consolidated Rubies UK operation quicker than it was perhaps originally planned.

How resilient has dress-up been throughout the pandemic? How important has book character licensing been in the wake of big movie releases at cinema etc?

License ranges have certainly held their own throughout the pandemic, with our new ranges such as The Mandalorian proving to be massive success and sold out of stock within weeks. While licensed product remains desirable, the industry has seen a significant fall in general costume sales because of the hospitality and events industry being hit with severe restrictions throughout 2020 and continuing into 2021.

On the flip side of this, we found lockdowns inspired the nation by providing more focus on dress-up, with parents keen to keep the children entertained at home. We also made sure we were proactively prominent in the national media, which really helped keep the dress-up industry at the forefront during key seasons.

As we haven’t seen as many theatrical releases this year it has had a knock-on impact with product releases also being delayed. There are plenty of new ranges in the pipeline though, not just for movie theatres but from streaming site productions with Disney+ leading the way with epic original series such as WondaVision and Falcon and The Winter Soldier – the next big release on the hugely popular platform.

It’s March, which means we’re coming up to the big day in the Rubie’s calendar… Can we talk about your relationship with World Book Day? Why has the annual event become such an important one for you guys?

We are very excited about our new collaboration. It brings together Rubie’s global experience of delivering best in class costumes and accessories as a trusted manufacturer of licensed and generic dress-up products and the World Book Day Charity who is actively changing lives through a love of books and shared reading.

World Book Day is personally one of my favourite times of year. The event encourages children across the globe to get creative through reading, which can benefit lives an immeasurable amount through such a simple activity. Over the years the day has grown to be a remarkable success. It’s due to the hard work by the charity and the backing they’ve received from publishers and booksellers along with the help of schools to reach out and engage with pupils of all ages.

Our approach when it comes to costumes is for them to be utilised more so as a tool to encourage creativity and nurture the joy experienced from reading or reading to others. It is important that we also recognise the core principle of World Book Day which is to celebrate reading and to share books together this year.

Reading for pleasure is in decline with only 29 per cent of 0-13s reading for pleasure daily (down from 30 per cent in 2017). Fewer than 19 per cent of eight to ten-year-olds are read to daily.

What does the Rubie’s offering bring to the World Book Day event, how does it help heighten children’s engagement with the event and reading in general?

It’s easy to lose sight of what World Book Day is actually about. Here at Rubies, we fully believe that reading knows no bounds, if you can encourage engagement with reading a book through say the use of a costume, as it can only be beneficial to aide enjoying the experience.

It’s proven that wearing costumes motivates children when learning to read, which is the reason schools encourage dressing up as part of the event. We fully endorse any resource to support the education of a child and open their eyes to the joys and endless possibilities of creativity through reading.

There are many children that are compromised by reading and some have parents who may not feel confident reading themselves or have the time to do so. A costume can open those doors by bringing the story to life, help to visualise the characters, and inspire the imagination. Some children need the visual stimulation to get started and once they start, what could be more fun than recreating some scenes dressed as their favourite character to show parents, grandparents, or even friends across video calls helping with much-needed social interaction.

Kids love dressing up, especially in clothes that make them feel grown-up or looking like one of their favourite characters. Adults like dressing up because it reminds them of that feeling of being a child again and getting excited about dressing like a grownup. In a time when we may need to have a break from reality, a costume offers escapism from the world, along with newfound confidence or just making someone else smile and who could argue with putting a smile on someone’s face in these testing times?

Why is children’s literacy such an important issue for you guys, particularly this year and following the events of 2020?

Every hero starts with a story! That’s our saying and the power of literature spreads far and wide through storytelling, it’s fundamental to shaping and forming a child’s imagination. The core reasoning behind WBD is that reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success – more than their family circumstances, their parents’ educational background, or their income.

Every child should have the opportunity to own their own book and we feel very strongly about this core message from World Book Day, it’s one reason why we fully support the day in our own way by bringing the stories to life through dress-up.

“We as an industry can work together to help utilise the power of dress-up to help the cause when it comes to inspiring children to develop key skills from reading.”

What is the process like in bringing children’s book characters to life through dress-up? How closely do you guys work with source material and publishers throughout the process?

We work closely with our licensors to ensure we capture the true spirit of the character and their story, from concept to final costume approval.

To start a project, the Design Team hold creative brainstorm meetings discussing all elements of the characters personalities, colour pallets, fabrications and environments. They use this information to design a range of costumes capturing the characters essence.

It gives the team such pleasure to be able to lift a character from the page and bring it to life in a 3D form, enabling children to become their most treasured characters from literature.

What sort of growth have you guys seen in engagement with World Book Day over the last few years? How important is the event to Rubies’ UK business?

World Book Day plays a significant part on any costume calendar, it’s up there with Halloween as the second largest dress-up season of the calendar year. It’s a celebration of the characters and narratives that we’ve all grown up with and can share with younger generations.

The event has been seen to shift in recent years, in the way it has adapted to reflect the way children now engage and interact with stories, whether on the page or screen. The potential that World Book Day offers has grown exponentially over the years, by providing vast opportunities for collaborations between retailers, publishers and licensees.

Last year the charity encouraged at least 25,000,000 minutes of shared reading and made an impact with 64 per cent of early years settings and 66 per cent primary schools confirming World Book Day changed reading habits. However, there is still work to be done, as reading for pleasure is in decline with only 29 per cent of 0-13s reading for pleasure daily (down from 30 per cent in 2017). Fewer than 19 per cent of eight to ten-year-olds are read to daily or nearly every day and 383,755 children and young people in the UK don’t have a book of their own.

We as an industry can work together to help utilise the power of dress-up to help the cause when it comes to inspiring children to develop key skills from reading, encourage autonomy, enthusiasm, achievement and a sense of enjoyment.

What kind of growth have you seen in the children’s book IP licensing space? Are more and more publishers engaging with it?

Yes indeed, more and more publishers have absolutely seen the benefit of working in the licensing space and engaging with our category. Bringing stories to life is a mutual objective. At a time when encouraging children to read has never been more important it is great to work together with this aim.

Why should retailers be keen to work with Rubies for the coming year?

Well, not only do we have Joel’s arrival, but we have also been working very hard behind the scenes to provide our customers with an improved 365 wholesale experience from Rubie’s.

It’s a giant step forward in the industry with our innovative systems now in place to support our expansive range of the best licensed and generic dress-up product in the world.

Over the past year, we have moved to address the diverse challenges of a changing global market, to provide retailers with the opportunity to grow on today’s marketplaces and ecommerce platforms.

The services we offer have also had to adapt to the changing digital landscape, one example of this would be our live virtual shows from our dedicated showroom in Nuremberg – in addition to our new Rubie’s showroom, complete with a media studio, in our Bristol site.

It all signifies part of our continuing promise to offer innovative and sophisticated solutions to elevate customer’s experience throughout the seasons.

What’s the next step for you guys in terms of the World Book Day partnership? How will you guys look to continue to build in this relationship?

Of course, we have the long term in mind for this partnership as we work closely together to understand each other’s requirements, objective and to ultimately benefit one another for the foreseeable future. The partnership provides reassurance for World Book Day by ensuring they are represented in the correct manner within our industry.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of ToyNews and its sister title, Licensing.biz. He has worked his way from Staff Writer to Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both 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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