Thursday, September 15, 2016

Kickstart This! Velara Warriors

"We want to change the misconception that boys don't want to play with female action figures or that girls only want dolls."
A couple of weeks ago, a friend shared a story with me about a pair of sisters who decided to make a line of female warrior action figures. Their goal, they said, was to create a set of figures that exploded the myth long held by manufacturers that boys and girls want different types of toys. After extensive interviews with kids about what they want, and parents who were fed up with the limited selection of toys, they decided to create their own line: Velara Warriors
"The Velara warriors are strong and heroic but they are also feminine. We want to show children that women can be heroes,"
Of course, I was immediately intrigued and sent off a note to these amazing young women to learn more about their project and its inspiration. Roobini and Trisshala Sittampalam were kind enough to answer a few of my questions, and chat with me about the importance of representation in the toy aisle.

SRPS: First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves? What are your backgrounds? What inspires you?

R&TS: I (Trisshala) graduated last Summer in London, where I spent 3 years doing a Philosophy and Economics degree. And I (Roobini) graduated last Summer as well after completing my law degree program and my post-grad in Finance.

Neither of us planned to start a business of creating toys but our passion sort of got in the way. We've always been huge fans of movies, comic books, and toys, so doing this has been an absolute pleasure for us. Our kind of entertainment would be analyzing the timelines in Back To The Future or the ending of Stranger Things. We both find inspiration in different ways, but women are always inspiring to us. Whether it's a woman who fights for the rights of her sisters, or a female superhero who makes me feel like I can take on the world, or our mother, who is just an all-round inspiring woman.

SRPS: What are the Velara Warriors and where did the inspiration for them come from?

R&TS: The Velara Warriors are a trio of elemental Warriors, each hailing from the Land Kingdom, Sea Kingdom, and Sky Kingdom. Laiera, the Land Warrior is the adventurous guardian of her kingdom. Sahana, the Sea Warrior is kind and compassionate, and has been chosen by her kingdom to save them. Nehili, the Sky Warrior, is brilliant and curious, and yearns to learn more outside of her kingdom.

We loved the idea of elements, especially because it spans across many cultures and places, so we always wanted to incorporate that into our Warriors. And we also wanted something that thematically ties the Warriors together.

SRPS: In your Kickstarter message, you mention having trouble finding a Rey action figure. Why is it important to you to be able to find her in the toy aisle?

R&TS: The short answer, because we love her and she's our favourite! The long answer is that from a child's point of view, there should be no reason why she isn't there in the toy aisle. A child shouldn't wonder why Rey is less represented than her male counterparts. These questions will inevitably come up when they have difficulty finding her. If she's the lead, and as we've seen the favourite among many, why is she not in the toy aisles?

SRPS: We are seeing a big push in literature and films to have a wider range of representation. Why is it important to have better representation in the toys as well?

R&TS: Representation matters in any medium. The characters we see on our screens, books, or toys will have an impact on our lives. But, toys will specifically affect children from a young age. It's important for them to be able to identify their heroes in anything they love, including toys. If a little girl can't see her fellow women as heroes, she'd have a tough time seeing herself as a hero. And if a little boy can't see women as heroes either, he shouldn't grow up believing that to be true. As toys are a big part of a child's life, this could affect their mindset in growing up.

SRPS: The illustrations for the Velara Warriors are absolutely beautiful! What all went into the creative process? How did you decide on what kind of story you wanted to tell?

R&TS: Thank you for saying that! It first began with the both of us sitting down and brainstorming ideas together on the conceptualization of the characters and entire Velara Universe. After narrowing down our ideas, we then carried out market research with focus groups to pick the best idea. Using some initial sketches drawn by our 3D modeler and designer, Kaecee Fitzgerald, in the market research, we settled on the "Warrior" concept. The characters were then professionally designed and drawn by Louis D. Wiyono, our illustrator. Louis made sense of our ramblings on email and took the initial sketches and made them the beautiful Warriors they are today.

SRPS: All three of the current Velara Warriors -- Laiera, Sahana and Nehili -- are distinctly feminine in appearance. They have long hair and, for lack of a better term, "boob armor." But, while they are coded as female, they are also obviously kickass warriors. Was this a conscious decision on your part?

R&TS: Yes definitely. Going into this, we were essentially guided by a quote from the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston. He said "Not even girls want to be girls - so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman." So with that, we decided that while we wanted our heroines to be "kickass" and brave, they should not have to be men to be that way. We don't want people to have the idea that women have to give up their feminine traits to be brave. Femininity and "kickass" can go hand in hand.

SRPS: Action figures are a kind of hands-on physical representation of the stories we already know, but they also open up a world of imaginative play, allowing the child to create stories that are meaningful to them. How do you expect the Velara Warriors to enable this kind of creative storytelling?

R&TS: The figures are accompanied by illustrated storybooks. With toy companies, it's usually one before the other. But we thought by releasing them together, it would give children a more cohesive experience of diving into the Velara universe. They can play with the characters and simultaneously learn about their journey. We hope it allows them to act out their stories, while reading them, giving them the opportunity to exercise their imagination in two different ways, at the same time.

We also tried to create an exciting playing experience for children with our constructible feature. We know from extensive research that children love building and constructing things like the LEGO toys. So, we tried to recreate that experience but with a focus on the figures and not the sets. With that, we had the idea to have children construct the entire figure themselves as well as the clothing and armour. And by making the body shape and size of each figure the same, children can switch around the parts to personalize their own figure to their liking. We're hoping to instill creative and spatial skills in children with this feature.

A build-your-own warrior! I like it! Right now they're at about 60% of their initial funding goal, with about a week left to go. I sincerely hope they make it. These action figures look amazing and I love that they're mix and match-able. They remind me of PlayMobile toys in that way. Except in this case they're kickass women warriors!

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1 comment :

  1. Love this! Your Kickstarter video was amazing! I especially like that young women are thinking without limitations. Let's Go!!!!!