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Feature Spotlight: Who Created the Trendsetting “Top-tier” BE@RBRICK? ” By UrbToy 2023

Background Introduction

Stepping into any trendy store today, it’s common to be greeted by the sight of a few BE@RBRICK figures, standing as a testament to modern pop culture. Celebrating its 20th birthday this year, this trendy toy, known as “Bearbrick, BB, Brick Bear, or little Brick Bear” among Chinese consumers, has become synonymous with urban chic. Its scarcity and premium pricing are a clear indication of its pinnacle status within the trendy toy pyramid.

As BE@RBRICK enjoys its status, the global demand for high-end trendy toys is on a rapid ascent. For instance, China’s trendy toy giant Popmart introduced its high-end trendy toy line, the MEGA Collection SPACE MOLLY x SpongeBob SquarePants, in June 2021. Upon its release, the market’s reaction was explosive. The 1000% (70CM) edition, limited to 3000 pieces, adopted a lottery system for purchases, attracting participation from over a million enthusiasts. Likewise, the collaborative series between Chinese trendy brand SMFK and BE@RBRICK sold out online within 15 seconds, and offline on the same day, reflecting the high demand for such collaborative trendy items. The emergence of a plethora of uniquely designed high-end trendy toys from new and ambitious Chinese brands is akin to bamboo shoots sprouting after a spring rain.

The trendy culture market, both in China and overseas, is heating up, with trendy brands gaining an increasing influence. Whether it’s the curious adolescents or adults with a child-like spirit, the allure of personalized toy consumption has seamlessly blended into many individuals’ lifestyles.

In this setting, IPs that encapsulate both “trendy” and “toy” attributes are often irresistible. BE@RBRICK, meticulously crafted by Medicom Toy, stands as a quintessential example of this dual appeal.

Through this article, titled “UrbToy Special Feature,” we aim to delve deeper into the world of this globally renowned high-end trendy toy IP. We’ll unfold the narrative of Medicom Toy, the force behind BE@RBRICK, and explore BE@RBRICK’s developmental journey and its collaborations with global brands. This exposition aims to provide a clearer understanding of the intricacies within this niche domain by covering the following aspects:

  • The creators of BE@RBRICK: Ryohhei Katsui and Medicom Toy
  • The rise of BE@RBRICK alongside Japanese trendy brands
  • The four secrets behind BE@RBRICK’s status as a high-end trendy toy IP
  • The three distinctive features of BE@RBRICK’s “boundless” cross-industry collaborations

The narrative endeavors to provide a comprehensive insight into the fusion of contemporary trends and playful creativity that BE@RBRICK epitomizes.

BE@RBRICK 20th Anniversary
BE@RBRICK 20th Anniversary

The Creators: Ryohhei Katsui and Medicom Toy

In 2021, BE@RBRICK celebrated its 20th anniversary while its parent company Medicom Toy marked 25 years since its establishment. Without a doubt, BE@RBRICK stands as the most renowned and successful IP from this Japanese entity.

Although BE@RBRICK has carved a niche in hearts globally, not many are familiar with Medicom Toy and its founder Tatsuhiko Akashi. It’s Akashi’s unique vision and business acumen that transformed Medicom Toy from a traditional toy manufacturer into a creator of artistic trendy toys.

The journey commenced in 1996 when Akashi operated a small toy shop adjacent to a pork cutlet restaurant, occupying a modest space of 6 square meters. Initially, the venture delved into designing and producing character models inspired by a variety of media including movies, television, comics, and video games.

In contrast to its triumphs in IP creation and operations, Medicom Toy seemed to have a lukewarm start in retail. It took 11 years post-establishment for Medicom Toy to open its second true direct-operated store, project1/6, earmarked as a manufacturer direct sales store or “antenna shop.”

Come 2016, marking the 20th anniversary of Medicom Toy and the 15th of BE@RBRICK, the company launched a concept store named “MEDICOM TOY PLUS” at Omotesando Hills in Tokyo. This marked the opening of the company’s third store in Tokyo, following the one at Tokyo Skytree Town.

In a collaborative stride in November 2019, Medicom Toy teamed up with well-known Japanese buyer and fashion blogger Motofumi “POGGY” Kogi, alongside contemporary art gallery NANZUKA, to establish “2G” studio at Shibuya PARCO. This endeavor was followed by the opening of a second 2G store in Osaka.

As of now, Medicom Toy operates five direct-sales stores, all located in Japan, namely: project1/6, MEDICOM TOY PLUS, 2G TOKYO, 2G OSAKA, and MEDICOM TOY in Tokyo Skytree Town Solamachi.

Financially, Medicom Toy crossed a sales milestone of 3 billion yen in 2011, escalating to 4.2 billion yen in 2016, and as of March 2020, the annual sales stood at 6.4 billion yen (equivalent to 420 million RMB at the time). While these figures don’t portray Medicom Toy as a high-speed growing large enterprise, the global appeal and resonance of the trendy toy IPs it has crafted are undeniably profound.

The gradual yet substantial growth of Medicom Toy, and its flagship BE@RBRICK, exemplifies a solid fusion of artistic creativity and business strategy, carving a distinctive niche in the trendy toy sector globally. The unfolding journey of Medicom Toy, embedded with both humble beginnings and strategic collaborations, paints a promising picture of the trendy toy industry’s potential.

BE@RBRICK and the Rise of Japanese Trendy Brands

The evolution of BE@RBRICK narrates a chapter in the history of Japanese street culture. Its early collaborations featured Harajuku brands like NEIGHBORHOOD (Shinsuke Takizawa), A BATHING APE (Nigo), UNDERCOVER (Jun Takahashi), and GOODENOUGH (Hiroshi Fujiwara), with whom the relationship continues to flourish.

The interpersonal network established in Harajuku enabled Tatsuhiko Akashi to connect with the global street/trendy brand circles, for instance, meeting Jeff Staple, the founder of street brand Staple Pigeon, through Hiroshi Fujiwara.

Recalling his initial encounter with street fashion, Akashi reminisces about collaborating with Inoue Santa, the author of the manga “TOKYO TRIBE.” He was intrigued by the first printed edition of “TOKYO TRIBE 1” by Takarajimasha, finding the manga appealing. A conversation with Inoue led to a collaborative endeavor aimed at bringing the manga characters to life. The idea evolved to having the protagonist dressed in APE attire, marking the beginning of their collaborative journey.

Rob Cristofaro, a co-founder of New York trendy brand Alife, attributes the sustained allure of BE@RBRICK to its early myriad collaborations with street brands. Fast forward to the present, and this practice has become a norm for newer generation brands, like partnering with BE@RBRICK or G-Shock. The collaboration between Rob and Medicom Toy commenced in 2000.

BE@RBRICK family portrait product display
BE@RBRICK family portrait product display

Jeff Staple, the founder of street brand Staple Pigeon, opines that while the core consumer base of (American sportswear brand) Kith might not be familiar with BE@RBRICK, designer Ronnie Fieg’s release introduced BE@RBRICK to his audience. He admires BE@RBRICK’s quiet development in the background, considering it a part of their success narrative.

Engaging in collaborations isn’t a hasty decision; it’s about the longevity and relevance of the partnership. As Jesse Leyva, the Senior Creative Director of Nike SB (skateboarding) points out, every collaboration is evaluated for its potential to stand the test of time and resonate with a particular generation or sub-cultural group. Medicom, being a part of Harajuku culture, encompasses street apparel which in turn, embraces art, music, sneakers, and toys, manifesting a confluence of cultural expressions.

The journey of BE@RBRICK, intertwined with street fashion brands and cultural icons, not only underscores its pivotal role in trendy toy culture but also reflects a broader narrative of evolving street culture and its confluence with various forms of artistic and commercial expressions. Through strategic collaborations and a subtle approach to market penetration, BE@RBRICK has created a unique space where trendy toys meet contemporary street culture, thereby engraining itself in the fabric of modern urban aesthetics.

BE@RBRICK Becoming a High-end Trendy Toy IP: The Four Keys

In the past quarter-century, the global entertainment barriers have been completely shattered, with the explosive growth of the internet synchronizing a vast amount of information. This era sees everything from high culture to young culture—including comics/animation, art, music, fashion, and more—become relativized and deconstructed. Medicom Toy, in retrospect, utilized toys as a medium to meld and recreate various cultures, sometimes aggressively, sometimes intuitively. With a fresh form of entertainment culture and an unchanging mantra of ‘creating what we want,’ we stride into the next era,” stated Medicom Toy in the official press release of its 25th-anniversary exhibition.

Upon navigating to Medicom Toy’s official website, one finds the product list segmented into Categories, Series, and Items. Under the category of BE@RBRICK, there are 33 series including Regular Series BE@RBRICK Series, Limited Edition BE@RBRICK Limited Edition, Disney, Star Wars, Artist, Anime·Comic, and so on.

Looking back, there are four key elements that perhaps laid the foundation for BE@RBRICK’s success:

  • Mass Appeal Prototype + Abstract Design:
    Billing itself as a “Block Type Figure,” BE@RBRICK aimed to create a “digital image version of a teddy bear.” Born in 2001 with a bear prototype, BE@RBRICK initially served as complimentary gifts to customers. The idea of designing the toy as a bear was inspired by the century-long existence of teddy bears, as revealed by Tatsuhiko Akashi. Now, the company has also launched cat and rabbit appearances with NY@BRICK and R@BRICK. The prime attribute of BE@RBRICK lies in its abstract design over a popular teddy bear shape, described by Akashi as a “blank canvas.” Although initially designed for rapid mass production, this feature turned out to be one of the major advantages in BE@RBRICK’s rise.
  • Artisanal Craftsmanship and Material Selection:
    Every series of BE@RBRICK has its design direction, with different materials selected based on the expressive content and form. While generally plastic, BE@RBRICK also comes in diverse materials like alloy, wood, ceramics, carbon fiber, crystal, denim, silk, velvet, gypsum, and gold, catering to specific collaborations. For instance, BE@RBRICK has collaborated with the French crystal brand Baccarat, unveiling crystal textured BE@RBRICKs.
  • Trendy Release Formats and Limited Editions:
    Mimicking the biannual fashion releases, BE@RBRICK launches new regular series every June and December, with 42 iterations released so far. The series feature fixed styles like BASIC, JELLYBEAN, PATTERN, FLAG, HORROR, etc., designed according to respective themes. BE@RBRICK adopted the blind box packaging from the outset, keeping the specific style a surprise until unboxed. Collaborations with artists or renowned brands are sold separately, often as limited editions in specific regions or channels, adding a level of scarcity that elevates BE@RBRICK as a highly sought-after high-end trendy toy.
  • Focus on Discovering New Artists and Brands:
    Medicom Toy maintains an open stance towards collaboration, extending opportunities to both popular and emerging artists. Offline exhibitions are one of the channels through which Tatsuhiko Akashi discovers budding artists, with the Design Festa being a notable event he attends annually. “Each visit to Design Festa leads to the discovery of one or two talented creators among nearly 5000 booths. Some young artists we collaborated with, who were unknown a year ago, now have merchandise sales exceeding 100,000 units,” Akashi shared. The company also organizes the “BE@RBRICK Design Contest” for young designers, creatives, and students aged 18-29 to showcase their creativity, with winning designs featured in upcoming BE@RBRICK Series and a prize money of 50,000 Yen.

These factors collectively contribute to the unique identity and global appeal of BE@RBRICK, demonstrating a successful business model that merges creativity, craftsmanship, and strategic collaborations, fostering a thriving community of enthusiasts and collectors worldwide.

BE@RBRICK Artisan display of different materials
BE@RBRICK Artisan display of different materials

BE@RBRICK’s “Boundless” Cross-Industry Collaborations: Three Distinctive Features

Certainly! Here is your content translated and reorganized into English:

The “Boundless” Collaborative Features of BE@RBRICK:
BE@RBRICK has engaged in a myriad of cross-industry collaborations with global artists, renowned IPs, fashion and luxury brands, and manufacturers, showcasing its “platform” attribute. According to incomplete statistics, from early 2018 to now, including tripartite collaborations, BE@RBRICK has collaborated with over 150 brands.

In a flash event orchestrated by Medicom Toy in Tokyo in 2020, one could truly grasp the company’s “collaborative prowess.” Curated by Akashi Ryuhiko, the event named AKASHIC RECORDS showcased products from collaborations with over 70 artists, brands, and content creation entities, encompassing toys, fashion items, groceries, life-sized installations, and more.

The vast array of cross-industry collaborations demonstrates BE@RBRICK’s acute sensitivity towards fashion and cultural trends, which has been a key factor in maintaining its industry position and continuously expanding its global recognition. These collaborations exhibit three major characteristics:

  1. Diverse Fields of Collaborators:
    While a majority of collaborations are with streetwear brands and artists, it’s evident that BE@RBRICK is expanding its scope, engaging with the fashion industry beyond streetwear.

    Some of the notable collaborators include luxury car brand Porsche, high-end down jacket brand Canada Goose, French crystal brand Baccarat, Japanese department store operator Parco, designer brand Anna Sui, camera brand Leica, Japanese home decor company Ballon, Japanese sneaker retailer atmos, beverage giant Coca-Cola, Japanese coffee brand Sarutahiko Coffee, footwear brand UGG, and Japanese airline ANA.

    On August 2, 2021, Leica Camera China teamed up with Medicom Toy to launch a new item in the BE@RBRICK series – LEICA x Medicom Toy BE@RBRICK “M,” modeled after the Leica M system camera. This marked Leica’s debut in the trendy toy market, exclusively available in Greater China.

    Recently, BE@RBRICK released authorized merchandise to commemorate the Tokyo Olympics.

  1. Grand Scale of Multi-Party Collaborations:
    In 2016, Medicom Toy, Isetan Men’s, and SPECIAL PRODUCT DESIGN collaborated with ten luxury/designer brands to launch a BE@RBRICK set. Participating brands include Carven, Dries Van Noten, Kenzo, Lanvin, Marc Jacobs, Marni, Raf Simons, Thom Browne, UNDERCOVER, and White Mountaineering. Additionally, in the same year, Medicom Toy collaborated with 37 international fashion brands to create 1.4-meter tall 2000% BE@RBRICK figurines, featuring brands like Salvatore Ferragamo, Thom Browne, MAX MAR, A, J Crew, Tory Burch, among others. These were sold at a price of HKD 68,000 each through a registration and drawing system, with all proceeds, after covering costs, being donated to the Hong Kong Leukemia Foundation.
  1. Expanding Product Categories through Collaborations:
    BE@RBRICK has also established sub-brands like BE@RTEE, which primarily features T-shirts and hoodies adorned with BE@RBRICK graphics, alongside other lifestyle products like backpacks, wallets, shopping bags, mugs, etc. For instance, a recent collaboration of BE@RBRICK x atmos x WIND AND SEA included BE@RTEE T-shirts and fishing hats.

In 2017, Japanese high-end outdoor lifestyle brand Snow Peak collaborated with BE@RBRICK, resulting in products beyond toys: portable fireplaces, T-shirts, portable tote bags, tents, mugs, wooden trays, canvas cushions, snow globes, and more, available in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea.

Through multiple collaborations with Japanese accessory brand dix, BE@RBRICK has expanded into fashion items like pearl earrings, crystal earrings, crystal keychains, crystal rings, etc.

Japanese home decor brand Ballon collaborated with BE@RBRICK through its fragrance stone brand Bibliothèque Blanche, launching a regular series BE@RBRICK AROMA ORNAMENT. Each launch includes a “bear ceramic fragrance diffuser + essential oil” set, with different color schemes for the bear’s ears and head paired with different scented oils.

BE@RBRICK cross-border collaboration
BE@RBRICK cross-border collaboration

These collaborations allow BE@RBRICK to not only extend its product categories but also to reach a broader audience by marrying its unique design aesthetics with the expertise and audience base of its collaborators. Through these strategic partnerships, BE@RBRICK continuously cements its status as a versatile platform that can bridge various industries and cultural realms, contributing to its sustained global acclaim and commercial success.

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