In the 1960s, Taiwan was the world’s toy factory. Taiwan's Taishan was once called the hometown of Barbie (Mattel), as the first Barbie doll ever was made by a factory in Taishan. However, most toy factories have since moved to mainland China, leading to a gradual decline of the toy industry in Taiwan.
Stories of three innovative toy brands in Taiwan
How is the Taiwanese toy industry doing today, 60 years later? Thanks to the persistent work by toy manufacturers in Taiwan, there has been a change in the nature of the products from "made in Taiwan" to "designed in Taiwan". Let’s take a closer look at three brands. They are all designed in Taiwan and are heralding a new era for the country’s toy industry.
1. Arnos Design - Breathing new life into ancient inventions with toys
Arnos Design is one of the top brands known for making ancient Oriental handmade toys. Many of the technologies we take for granted today are actually derived from ancient inventions. The most common one being the armillary sphere, which can be found in many historical textbooks. But there are also many other old crafts that we only know of from blurry pictures and whose original appearance has not been handed down. In Taiwan, there is a group of people who have spent 20 years studying these crafts from ancient China, replicating their exact forms and developing them into cultural and creative toys for children to play with on their own, while at the same time passing on wisdom from ancient times.
The armillary sphere, which is used to observe the stars, was invented by Zhang Heng, known as the Da Vinci of the East, by using laser cutting technology during his creative work. With it, you can find the directions east, west, north, and south, as well as see the latitudes and longitudes of astronomy. It is very intricate. Nowadays, primary and secondary schools in many countries use toys during class as teaching tools to help students better understand the history of astronomy.
Apart from this, a crossbow from the Han Dynasty, like those that were used to defeat the Huns, has also been fully reproduced as a toy, similar to a Nerf gun. It has led to the revival of Oriental culture and ancient crafts all around the world! (Arnos Design)
2. Eagle’s Home – Awaken the scientific spirit in children
Covid-19 has changed the way children learn. Many interesting activities that were originally held in classrooms can also be carried out at home now. For example, children’s favourite science experiments can now be performed in home laboratories that parents are able to set up easily.
Juile, the founder of Taiwan Eagle’s Home, is the mother of three children. She spent a lot of time taking care of her children during the pandemic and realised that children are just as surprised at seeing magic tricks as when they witness a scientific experiment.
Seeing an experiment makes children very curious, and they will ask a lot of “whys”. After an experiment is over, children often want to do it again. In repeated experiments, they can even draw conclusions and try different ways of experimenting. As her children enjoy experimenting, Juile happily remarks, "Isn't this what we want for our children?". In the process of helping her children become familiar with science experiments by playing with toys, Juile felt a great sense of accomplishment. The brand philosophy is "not to mould children into top scientists, but to awaken their scientific spirit!"
Toys from Eagle’s Home are mainly developed in the framework of science experiments, including Make Own Bouncy Space Balls, a DIY kit that allows children to create bouncy balls that look like the eight planets, a science lab with 24 experiment kits in a box, and The Rock Clay which can be shaped in various ways. When the clay is hardened, it can be as hard as stone. (Eagle’s Home)
3. Carpenter - Cherish the natural wood texture
Children are drawn to playing with wooden blocks. In Taiwan, there is a manufacturer that insists on using wood to make toys. In the 1970s and 1980s, the wood processing industries mainly congregated in Taichung, a city located in central Taiwan. The predecessor of Carpenter was originally one of those factories and boasts a glorious history, specialising in orders for Japanese stained windows.
However, as the advantage of low labour cost in Taiwan disappeared, the industry gradually moved abroad. This led to a crisis for Carpenter. After much deliberation, Carpenter formally transformed the factory into an on-site parent-child experience carpentry room
In 2005, the company launched a series of wooden toys and built an exclusive place for children to experience the making of wooden toys together with their parents.
All the wood used by Carpenter is delivered directly to the factory from the source. The wooden toys are made in a meticulous and strict manufacturing process, so they do not hurt your hands. Finished products are never coloured, waxed, or lacquered in the hope that the children who receive the toys can still feel the natural texture and of the wood and smell its scent. When children play with these toys, they become connected with nature! Keeping the materials in their original state is completely consistent with the concept of Toys go Green of the Spielwarenmesse. (Carpenter)
As time went by, Taiwan developed the skills to design toys that aim at benefiting children's behavioural development. Many of them are presented on the Taiwanese platform Toybrains.com. Toybrains is a platform that showcases toys that stimulate children’s brain development. Other featured brands, such as QBI, PLAYME, and GIGO/Genius Toys Taiwan recently won international awards at the Spielwarenmesse.