Toys by Design: Circus Posterus
Friday, November 4th, 2011
by Jeremy Brautman
With sold out shows from Los Angeles to Tokyo, Brandt Peters and Kathie Olivas are two of today’s most distinctive independent toy designers. Their original characters mix sweetness with sideshow, achieving a nostalgic aesthetic that stands out in an industry dominated by trends. But designing toys isn’t always fun and games.
The husband-and-wife team got started in the toy industry by licensing its work to other companies. While this opened doors, the gigs included horrible communication, dubious contracts, lack of control, and limited room for growth. “Artists want new markets, honesty, and equality,” said Peters. “No company even cared about these things.”
Instead of fighting the lopsided system, Peters and Olivas focused on growing their fan base. They invested in equipment and developed their own lines. By 2009, steady growth allowed them to operate their own brand full time and also reach out to fellow toy designers. “When you see someone new and filled with potential, you want to grab them and share everything you’ve learned the hard way,” Olivas says.
Their collective, Circus Posterus, is now headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a place they call “inspiring.” Peters and Olivas act as collaborators, mentors, and producers to more than 15 members who share equipment, experience, and a fan base. They’ve traded overseas manufacturing for local rapid prototyping services, resulting in increased productivity. With last summer’s opening of the Stranger Factory retail and gallery space, Circus Posterus no longer needs a middleman to sell and exhibit its work.
If their success has you flirting with the idea of entrepreneurship, Olivas offers this advice: “Do what you say you’ll do. Word spreads fast, and your reputation is everything.” “Try it all, even in the face of struggle,” Peters says. “If something doesn’t work, the right person or company may be right around the corner.”
Jeremy Brautman writes about the intersection of art and pop culture