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Marketplace Morning Report

Huawei sans the USA

Sep 19, 2019

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How to be a...

How to be a toymaker

Eliza Mills Mar 15, 2018
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Melissa Bernstein started her career at Morgan Stanley ... but once she ditched investment banking and started making toys, she found her dream job.  
Courtesy Melissa & Doug

Everyone has a dream job growing up: doctor, vet, ice cream taste tester. But how do you actually get the gig? Marketplace Weekend is looking into how, with the occasional series, How to be a …


Melissa Bernstein of Melissa & Doug always used art and creativity as an outlet, but started her career as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. Here’s how she makes toys with her husband, Doug:

I’m Melissa Bernstein and I am founder and chief creative officer of Melissa & Doug. We specialize in open-ended toys, which are toys that don’t really do anything crazy until they combine with a child and their unique experience and imagination and become something magical.

The process starts literally from a conception, an idea, which still almost always come from me. And then we just take it from there. We have this brainstorm and it’s always one of those light bulb moments, that, you know, you’re watching how kids play and you’re looking at age-old play patterns and you’re suddenly saying, “wait, this should be different,” or, “this should perform better,” or, “why do kids love stickers so much, but they’re not in a format they really can have a fun activity through them.” So it’s one of those brainstorms, and then we do everything in-house. We have all our own artists, we have prototypers, we have copywriters and we take it from that little spark to an actual product, testing and honing so many times along the way so at the end it becomes something that we can all kind of high five each other and look at and say, “Yup we did it.”

When I hire new creatives, I asked them one really simple question: “What did you do as a child?” We are about as out of the box in our thinking and the way we view things as any company I’ve seen, and my favorite quote is, “Discovery is seeing what others have seen but thinking what no one has thought.” So, we are looking at the ordinary and really seeing the extraordinary in it every single day. We absolutely look for hands-on designers who have a lot of tangible experience, so many of our designers went to RISD, some went to Pratt. Others were makers always through their childhood and we want folks who have always been making things themselves with their own hands.

My favorite toy is any toy that has the ability to truly impact a child’s experience. We get letters every day of kids who lost a pet, and our pet that looks somewhat realistic has been the one thing to comfort him or her. Or stories of an animal we created that has been discontinued and a child that lost it and a parent who’s frantic and I mean truly frantic to find another one of these because this is their child’s best friend.

I’ve created nearly 10,000 toys and every one of them is my favorite. Any spark is just as bright. It is one of the most magical feelings in the world to start from literally nothing — a blank canvas — and have a little spark of an idea and turn that into something that can literally be put in a child’s hands and has the ability to bring them joy and potentially even teach them something they never knew.

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