Action Figures For Girls That Got The Figure Right
Julie Kerwin, Chief Elemental Officer of IAmElemental, is taking the concept of girl power to a whole new stratosphere. And those are heights that her action figures for girls can surely reach using their amazing powers.
Look at traditional female action figures and compare them to Julie’s design. What are the most striking differences you see?
I spoke with Julie to learn about the origin of her idea and the design process that produced action figures that are so wonderfully and powerfully different.
Bright Girls: Talk me through the process of how you came up with the idea for the IAmElemental action figures.
Julie Kerwin: It’s when you are thinking of something unrelated that the light bulb goes off. In the case of IAmElemental, a series of things all happened at the same time.
It essentially started as conversation about girl power, but then we focused on this question: ”Why does Spiderman (or Batman) appeal to a boy of four and man of forty? Why is there no equivalent in the girl’s action figure space?”
At the same time I was reading a book about grit. The author’s message is that when it comes to success as an adult, grit is more important than intelligence. That same week, JoAnn Deak, a brain expert, was speaking at my son’s all boy’s school. One of her key points is that boys and girls are as different from the neck up as they are from the neck down. Then I watched a BBC documentary series called Seven Up! It’s a longitudinal study of seven year olds from around Britain. The film revisited them every seven years; at the age of seven, fourteen, twenty-one, etc. I was watching 49 Up! I called my husband and said you have to watch this; all of these people are the same as they were at the age of seven. It resonated with me because I joke with my old friends, we all agree we are still who we were when we were six.
All of this was swirling in my head as I fell asleep. That next morning I woke up with the idea…it’s not super heroes it’s superpowers. I pulled out the periodic table of elements, wiped it clean, and started filling it in with character traits like creativity, bravery and wisdom. In the first week, I had outlined seven sets of superpowers – the first forty-nine Elements of Power.
Before this experience I was so jealous of JK Rowling. You know, Harry Potter came to her on a train ride. I always wondered how a spontaneous, creative idea comes to you like that. And then it happened to me, this explosion of an idea. Within 24 hours I had the domain name, and what we’ve ended up with is so close to that original idea.
BG: What are some of those original ideas that are in the IAmElmental product and brand?
JK: Among the concepts you find in the line today are:
- The figures personify power.
- The figures are brightly colored, to not ascribe ethnicity to any one power.
- The shields are able to be worn as a charm, it’s the concept of “wear your power”
- We use a muse as the inspiration and model for the lines. It’s the concept that real heroes walk among us. The muse for the first set of figures (the red, courage line) is Joan of Arc. We’re not literal, it’s a more modern forward thinking approach, so the figure is not a literal knight but she does wear armor.
Note from BG: If the idea “that real heroes walk among us” captured your attention and imagination the way it did ours, check out the new kid’s page on the IAmElemental site to learn more.
BG: How did you choose the team to work with you on product design?
JK: I’m fascinated by the notion of the Internet as a genie in a bottle. I could have never accomplished what I have done without the Internet. When I was doing research on action figure designers and 3D modelers, I came across a funny instructional video that the owner of EleventyPlex had done. I just liked him instantly. He had the personality to do what we wanted done. What started as an ongoing conversation to feel each other out grew into a wonderful creative collaborative experience.
I know these guys so well now. They are not only coworkers, but friends. They must have been laughing their butts off at me when we started. I would take Joan of Arc and sketch very literal depictions, like drawing her in leather on a bike. They were better able to take my ideas and realize them.
I would cut and paste images and create visions of various things along the way. That’s how I shared the packaging concept. The team says I must sleep with a pantone book—I would play with color on the computer. I was literally cutting and pasting, as if I was a kindergartner! If you don’t know how to do it, you figure out a way to get your ideas across so that someone else can do the heavy lifting for you.
BG: What are your 3 favorite things about the end products?
- On a conceptual level I love the colors. I’m only slightly joking when I say I sleep with a pantone book. I obsessed over the colors. More than not wanting to ascribe a power to any particular ethnicity, I wanted to have bright, fresh, and unexpected color combinations. Ones that you don’t see for girls or for action figures. I am thrilled with the color palette when I look at them individually or as a set.
- I’m thrilled that they exist. If you had told me five years ago, never mind when I was 20, that I’d be designing action figures I wouldn’t have believed it.
- Surprising, and not my initial focus, my interactions with customers are among my favorite things. I can’t tell you how meaningful it is when people share with me the conversations they are having about the powers. And how amazed they are to hear their kids talking about these concepts. There are specific examples like a high school teacher who shared the figures with her class. She had the students each pick a power and had them write a story for her niece. Therapists are incorporating our figures into play therapy sessions. I heard from one mother who shared that she used the figures to help her daughter, who had been sexually abused. She used them in play therapy to prepare her to meet her abuser in court. The unintended consequences have been amazing.
Julie’s energy and creativity is channeled on the second series, the blue wisdom line. I couldn’t get much detail pre-launch (it’s top secret). But I did learn that for this line there is a new muse, one that is completely different from Joan of Arc and that the inspiration for this next series did things that were incredibly unusual for her time. Who do you think the muse could be?
I’m excited to find out what comes next from Julie and IAmElemental. Stay tuned. And in the meantime think about girls, big and small, who will love the first line. I know I’m not alone when I say I really dig those wings.
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