Plush Plush

Exciting news! We now have plushies of Mio and Quill from Crush Crush! You can buy them here: store.sadpandastudios.com

(Please don’t hug your screen.)

To celebrate this awesome and cuddly news, I’ve decided to chat about the process of how these plushies came to be. I’m going to talk about taking an idea to concept to prototype to final shiny products!

Starting with the idea. It’s always been a dream of mine to have the things I draw get turned into physical/tangible items. Fortunately this dream was already fulfilled a few times when I worked at Club Penguin, and many of my designs/characters were made into toys and plushies. Then when I launched the Kickstarter for Hush Hush, we got the Mio figures made. Plushies are on a different level though because you can HUG them unlike the super fragile Mio figure XD

Quill Plush Design

After having worked with Symbiote to make the Mio figures, I reached out again to see if they would help manufacture some plushies. They’re a big company in China. First I tried reaching out to a bunch of companies in Canada and the US but I didn’t have much luck. Pretty much everyone outsources to China, and if not, then they expect you to order a minimum of some crazy high number (like 10,000 plushies umm where are they gonna be stored?). Hence, Symbiote was the place I went with. I’ve seen the quality of their plushies online – they make a bunch of Rick and Morty plushies, and indie game studios’ IP like Cat Quest.

After reaching out to Symbiote, I got the initial quotes back:

Around $11 per plush, and the minimum order they would do is 500 plushies of each design …YIKES. So that meant a lot of up-front cash hoping it would pay off eventually. There were lots of unknown price factors too, like customs fees for shipping all those from China, shipping each plush to the buyers when we inevitably started selling them to customers, and taxes on any money we made from selling them. Now that this is all in the past, I have the actual numbers and I can share those (rounding the numbers) :

500 Mio plush + 500 Quill plush = 1000 units

x $11 per unit (so $11,000) + $1,000 prototype fees + $5,000 shipping and customs fees to get them here… and that’s just to make them. It’s a whole other bag of big numbers for shipping the plushies to customers, giving Shopify its share (for hosting our store page), costs of mailing each plush to its customer, and then the government taking its tax share from any profits we earn. Some people might think we’re charging a bit much on our Shopify store for these plushies, but we almost break even on the costs at the end of the day.

OK so back to the fun part – designing the plush and watching the prototype go from start to finish!

Mio reference sheet

The above image is what I sent to Symbiote for them to base the prototype on. I drew a turn-around to show the plush at different important angles, and included as many references to similar plush/materials that I could think of. Things like the bell I knew I wanted to be a real metallic bell, like one you would find on a cat collar. Her pigtails look flat in 2D so I thought it would be helpful to share a 3D example of plush pigtails that are ‘filled out’ and not flat. Always good to make things crystal clear when working with an outsourced party, especially one who speaks a different language.

Quill reference sheet

This is how Quill’s looked. I included lots of little details that I wanted, even though she was simplified greatly from her Crush Crush design. I just had no idea what the plush manufacturer could do, so I asked for everything I wanted at the start, because you can always make changes and scale back the details if you need to. Some of the details I wanted also impacted the price by a couple dollars, so I sacrificed where I needed to but held onto things I felt were ‘core’ to her design, like the cat bell on her choker.

Mio progress

The plush on the far left is what they sent me photos of, as the first prototype. They never shipped me the prototype, which is too bad because it would have been cool to have. I gave initial feedback via email for things like “hey, her hair doesn’t match my design” and “where’s the bell on her neck?” and “her eyes are too dark”… So they spent a week or two working on those fixes. Then they came back with the second prototype, which is the middle one in the photo. The bell was there now, but her hair still didn’t quite match. I think they were just trying to save costs, so they avoided doing the two-tone hair like my design had. I drew overtop their photo and proposed a hair change that you can see on the far right in that image. This was my solution for getting it close to my mockup.

Quill progress

For Quill, their initial prototype was much closer than Mio’s so she didn’t need as many revisions. The only thing really off was her eye color and the missing bell. The really crazy thing that still bugs me to this day though – is that I kept asking for a photo of her bottom, to see how she looked underneath – and they never gave me one. I looked at the top right photo and thought “hmm that could be a white bum, like she has underwear on, but I better ask to be sure” and they never answered that ^^; so I just gave up and assumed “oh yeah, it must have some”. WRONG. I was so wrong, and when they arrived and I saw no underwear on all the Quills I just had a moment of “huh….look at that. Well, it fits in with her character I guess.” haha. So the morale of this lesson is never to assume anything; make sure people confirm things for you. Check their work. Look under their skirts, lol.

my Quill hang tag design

A fun bonus that came with these plushies is the ‘hang tag’ attached to them (easy to snip off) which just shows the branding, and character. As a kid, I would always snip these off my pokemon plushies and keep them. I just loved looking at the art, and hang tags are usually a shiny cardboard material, so they’re neat to look at. I made one for Quill and one for Mio, both double-sided so the Crush Crush logo and our studio name would be present.

their photo

Symbiote sent me this photo as a proof-check for the hang-tags. Not the greatest photo for checking colors, but meh… it looked good enough. The little hole at the center/top is where the plastic ring goes through and helps it attach to the plush.

sewn tag

Now this little black label is actually the sewn-tag you can find attached to the plush butts. Most plushies have these, and can be cut off with scissors if you really don’t want them there. It’s super important to have them though! I learned about these while going through this process, and made this one for our plushies. Many countries require sellers to state the country of origin and materials their products are made of. If you don’t have those things on your product, you risk getting it turned around at the border. So this little butt-tag is pretty special.

yes that’s a stego-cat pusheen hoodie

Many months later, and many emails back and forth with the customs/broker company in Canada, I finally got my palettes of plushies! Oh joy! Where to put them…. lol. Well, it was just exciting they showed up. Bonus, because they’re plushies the chances of them arriving damaged was slim to none 😀 I was pretty stoked.

Mio army – rise up!

Symbiote sent some photos of the plushies right before they shipped. The photo above shows Mio in one of her last stages (before getting her hoodie added on).

What was the timeline like from start to finish? I’ll break it down with bullet points:

  • early January – kicked off the conversation with the manufacturer and sent them my designs
  • late February – the first prototype photos came in
  • mid March – revisions to the prototypes were made
  • late May – final approvals / plushies were shipped from China
  • late June – plushies arrived

So the whole process took around 6 months from start to finish!

there they are!

Would I do it again? Heck yeah! As much work as it was making the designs, checking and approving all the steps, and everything else I still think it was really fun. We haven’t sold many yet, so it’s hard to say if we’ll get a profit or a loss on this one. Only time can reveal that… so that means I can’t start on any new plushies until these ones prove themselves. However it would make me ridiculously happy if I could see more Crush Crush characters get turned into plush, as well as our Blush Blush boys.

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