Two creatives imagine what toys would be like with better South East Asian representation

With Toys Aren’t Us, Andrea Li and Michelle Lim ask: “What if we had grown up with toys that celebrated East Asian values and culture instead?”

Date
18 January 2022

Andrea Li and Michelle Lim, creatives at Wieden+Kennedy and the duo behind experiential design practice Liim studio, have launched a new project: Toys Aren’t Us. Featuring a selection of illustrations and constructed toys, the project re-imagines Andrea and Michelle’s childhood toys to better reflect their Asian values and culture, while speaking to other minority groups that were “rarely represented in children’s toys and games.”

While there’s been a surge in conversation around representation in products and content marketed for children in the creative world recently, historically, toys for children have lacked diversity. For Andrea and Michelle, this meant only having access to dolls and toy houses that looked nothing like themselves or the homes they lived in, despite growing up in South East Asia.

“We played with play houses that looked nothing like our own,” the creatives explain. “Dolls and figurines that looked nothing like us. Toy kitchens with ovens that our real kitchens never had. Kids build a sense of who they are from their toys. This meant we spent a lot of time idolising life in the West.”

Photographed by collaborator Mischelle Moy and illustrated by Virginia Ma, Toys Aren’t Us consists of re-imagined toys that are – amazingly – made from a combination of wood, plastic, clay and fabric. Among the toys is My Play Kitchen, which “captures small details from the East Asian kitchen from condiments to plateware,” a release explains. “The play kitchen includes woks, cleavers, porcelain plates and classic home-cooked dishes like steamed ginger fish. Strictly no ovens in this kitchen.”

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Andrea Li and Michelle Lim aka Liim Studio: Toys Aren’t Us. Photography by Mischelle Moy. (Copyright © Andrea Li and Michelle Lim, 2021)

Elsewhere: “My PóPó (my grandma) combines [our] love and gratitude to our grandparents. In East Asian culture, the elderly are respected and cared for in multigenerational households,” the release continues. Andrea and Michelle have created a “pópó doll” that comes with an illustrated box, and accessories including a “purse with red packets to give to grandkids on a whim”, “shopping trolley for enough groceries to feed ten” and “butter cookie tin that only has sewing supplies.”

The project also includes a colouring book and crayons re-named after memories from Andrea and Michelle’s childhoods, such as “Rabbit Candy”, “Lemon Tea” and “Goji Berry”. The colouring pages touch upon intangible moments like the “Asian love language of fruit-cutting”.

Accompanying the release is a site that allows users to hover over the toys and learn about each accessory. Visitors can also click an “I Wish This Was Real” button to sign up to receive notifications, if Andrea and Michelle “ever figure out how to mass produce these toys”.

GalleryAndrea Li and Michelle Lim aka Liim Studio: Toys Aren’t Us. Photography by Mischelle Moy. Illustrations by Virginia Ma. (Copyright © Andrea Li and Michelle Lim, 2021)

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Andrea Li and Michelle Lim aka Liim Studio: Toys Aren’t Us. Photography by Mischelle Moy. Illustrations by Virginia Ma. (Copyright © Andrea Li and Michelle Lim, 2021)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, she worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.

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