What Fashion Brands Can Learn From Mattel and Toys

Mattel president and chief operating officer Richard Dickson on connecting product and content to pop culture, and how fashion brands can incorporate toys into their overall business.

Mattel has had a very good year — and the fashion industry can learn from it, according to the brand’s president and chief operating officer Richard Dickson.

The El Segundo, Calif.-based toy giant’s third-quarter results shattered expectations, with revenues jumping 10 percent to $1.63 billion from $1.48 billion a year ago. Sales of Barbie and Hot Wheels to parents needing to occupy (and bribe!) their kids during lockdown have been a huge factor. But so has Mattel’s work connecting its products to pop culture.

Mattel began collaborating with fashion designers on limited-edition Barbies in the Eighties. But Dickson, a veteran of Bloomingdale’s, The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. and the former Jones Group, has been working on expanding the collaboration-meets-collectible formula, not only with Barbie (an Elton John Barbie doll hit stores in October) but other Mattel brands.

This year he launched Mattel Creations, a new division to develop limited edition co-branded product and capsule collections with fashion designers, entertainment properties and artists aimed at a young adult audience. Releases have included Uno x The Hundreds (cards featuring the L.A. streetwear brand’s renowned Adam Bomb character, hats and T-shirts), Monster High Skullector x “The Shining” (the Grady twins in two-pack doll form) and Herschel x Hot Wheels Land Rover Defender 90 (with mini jeep, backpack and tool kit included).

“It was fanatical,” Jamie Cormack, director of Herschel Supply, said of the reaction to the Hot Wheels product, which was inspired by the adventure-loving brand’s 10 years of road tripping in Land Rover cars, and which sold out within a few minutes. “This was one of those eye-openers for us, to see there are a lot of possibilities for a brand like ours to play in different categories and segmentations.”

Mattel was supposed to be celebrating 75 years in 2020 with a bevy of pop-ups and events, all canceled because of the pandemic. But Dickson has plans for Mattel Creations to come to life in 2021, once COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.

He also has thoughts about how the fashion industry should be embracing toys, not just as a fleeting, seasonal handbag accessory or runway prop, but as an ongoing business opportunity.

One only has to look at the success of Bearbrick, the OG streetwear toy from Japan’s Medicom, whose collaborative figurines with Chanel, Hermès and Fendi have sold on the resale market for hundreds of thousands of dollars, to see the potential. And indeed, Gucci chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri has revealed his brand’s intent to build on its lifestyle appeal in 2021 by selling in selected stores “fun collections” of gaming cards, bottles and gifts.

WWD Zoomed in to Dickson’s home office in L.A. to chat about Mattel’s 2020 success, particularly with the Barbie and Hot Wheels brands, future plans for Mattel Creations and working with the fashion industry.

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