The Friday Five: Vlad Dragusin

Candylab Toys applies a mid-century modern aesthetic to vintage-inspired, wooden toy cars. Through crowdfunding, Candylab Toys has experienced a success that may not otherwise have been possible in today’s world of cheap, cookie-cutter manufacturing. Co-founder Vlad Dragusin talks with Toy Tales about his inspiration, crowdfunding experience, and lets us in on what’s in store for the future.

How did the idea for Candylab Toys originate?

I’m a gear head; I love cars, especially from the 1960s, which was the height of automotive design as far as I’m concerned. I’m an architect by trade and have experience with both product and furniture design. I wanted to do something that combined all of my interests. One night at dinner, my daughter, who was four at the time, asked me to make her a toy car using the box that our noodles came in. The box was a neat design, it was tapered and a bit unusual. I made her a car and she played with it the entire evening. That inspired the toy cars we create at Candylab Toys. I still have that little noodle-box car in my office.

The Friday Five

You’ve crowdfunded six projects at Candylab Toys. Tell me about your experience with that process and how your approach has changed over the campaigns.

Each of those six projects brought a new set of challenges and lessons learned. Crowdfunding campaigns are intense and a lot of work. It’s a continuous cycle: launch, public relations for the campaign, production, manufacturing, shipping. Once you jump into a crowdfunding campaign, you are on a treadmill that you don’t step off of until that last box ships. Crowdfunding is a great tool for validation; it’s instant feedback. If it gets funded then you know you are on to something. That first campaign pretty much determined where we are today and the reason why we exist. Crowdfunding has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for us.

The Friday Five

How are the vehicles created?

Everything is designed in-house and we work with a manufacturer to produce the vehicles. It was an intense process to find the right partner. We have a high-quality, low-volume product; there aren’t many manufacturers that will produce a niche product like ours. We spoke with dozens of candidates before finding the right partner. We also have a small workshop in Pennsylvania. Our Drifter 978 model is assembled there. It has a canvas top that is affixed by hand. We’re adding new suppliers as we grow and add different elements to our vehicles but we are very conscious of keeping our prices accessible. High-quality expensive toys are easy to find. We want to make high-quality toys that most people can afford.

The Friday Five

Why do you think people are drawn to nostalgic and nostalgia-influenced objects like those offered by Candylab Toys?

That’s an interesting question. In general, there’s a certain craftsmanship that’s been lost in the making of objects, not just toys but also telephones, furniture, and vehicles. Today there’s a priority placed on efficiency and keeping production costs very low. This allows more people to have access to goods, but there are certainly downsides. Overall, I think people are looking for simplicity. Life today is intense, we’re feeling rushed and our brains are over-stimulated. People instinctively gravitate to memories of a simpler time, or what they think was a simpler time, at least. 

The Friday Five

What vehicles are next up for production at Candylab Toys?

We’re working on two things. We’re introducing a new line of collector-oriented vehicles. We’re launching six new designs this year. One of those cars is the ’64 Lincoln Continental – a true classic.  The woodworking on the new line is more complex and will be sold with special packaging. Second, we are creating a line of smaller wooden vehicles – about the size of Matchbox cars – that are even more affordable, at under $10. They will have a different look from the toy vehicles we produce now, but will still look like a Candylab product. We’re staying focused on what we do best: exceptional vintage-inspired wooden toy vehicles.

The Friday Five

Visit candylabtoys.com to see the full line of vintage-inspired wooden toy vehicles. Be prepared to clear your shelves to make room for your new purchases.

Five questions, one fascinating person (or team!) – look into the minds of movers and shakers in the nostalgia, game, play, or toy industry.