Tuesday, October 10th, 2006
Ki Earth Doll: A Unique Take on Plush Playthings
Ki Earth Doll is a plush doll fashioned to be "Mother Nature’s child." It has dolphins for arms, trees for legs, the Earth as its torso and the sun as its head." The manufacturer, Aware Toys, bills the 19" tall doll as a "teaching toy that is nonviolent, non-gender and non-racial in design" that "encourages young minds to envision a global community."
Ki reportedly means â€œearth spiritâ€ in the language of the Taino people, the indigenous inhabitants of the Bahamas. It’s also the name of the toy inventor’s grandmother.
My gut reflex is to laugh at the oddity of this doll, but let’s take a sober look at the manufacturer-inventor’s intended audiences.
- "Families who care about nature and the Earthâ€™s well-being." That’s me, but I can’t imagine how I would use this doll to teach life lessons. Books? Yes. Field trips? Yes. Games? Maybe. A Frakenstein doll assembled from trees and dolphins? Let’s see, I could bury Ki in a box of Hotwheels cars, poor motor oil on top and then set the box on fire to illustrate global warming. Umm, no.
- "Nature preserves and childrenâ€™s museums." Ahh, maybe. Ki would be ideal for a gift shop. But this "mother nature" talk probably dashes any hope of Ki being sold in national park visitor centers. Swap out those dolphin arms with Jesus fish and you have a chance of courting the national park system’s evolving agenda of promoting anti-science.
- "Teachers and caregivers who want to offer wholesome, unique toys." Bingo. Unique is the magic word. Ki isn’t Dora the Explorer or Thomas the Train or Elmo or any other corporate-furnished children’s icon. Any one corporate character isn’t bad in itself (we own a Thomas engine), but as a whole corporations have homogenized our culture.
Detractors point to cable TV programming and movies as examples of the rich diversity of our cultural offerings. I point to the Internet and its millions of contributors for a glimpse at what true cultural diversity means.
This Ki doll is one example of an independent inventor’s work that may never find its way to a Target or Wal-Mart aisle, but thanks to the Internet (or thanks to the elimination of middlemen) we know it exists.
Of course, producing this doll in the U.S. and not selling it through a chain store ups its price a bit ($26 plus shipping), but won’t you feel good buying one children’s product that wasn’t created using overseas child labor? Come on, admit it. You like the idea of supporting a living wage. I know you do. Find at least one toy in your home that won’t be identical to what every other child in your neighborhood and nation is playing with (and e-mail me about it, I’d like to know!).
What excites me about this Ki doll is that it really is unique. That, and the doll is cute and friendly. It doesn’t need to be pitched on some environmentalist agenda. This doll could take a seat at one of my daughter’s tea parties or assume a treasured spot on her bed. Plus, each of Ki’s Frankenstein components is attached with Velcro. Maybe its head would get detached at bedtime to become a pillow. If all plush dolls were assembled like Ki, playtime would be a lot more interesting.
I would take the idea a bit further. Instead of two tree legs, make one a corn cob. Instead of two dolphin arms, make one an eagle with its wings folded. Heck, offer a multitude of options and sell completely customized Ki dolls.
Sell a Louis Armstrong edition with trees of green, red roses too, a sky of blue and clouds of white, and maybe the colors of the rainbow. No wait, obtaining the corporate licensing rights would be a nightmare. Stick with original ideas.