After almost 8 years of working at BARK, one of my favorite things about this company (besides the dogs, DUH) is the volume and variety of toys we make each year. We have things like the Squeakaway Camp collection, or Diggin' Spring, or Night at the Squeakeasy, or Australian Outbark, or Snowbound Hounds, or Chewrassic Bark... And then we'll make spinach burritos *cough* *cough*, accidentally scandalous pig butts, or an F-Bomb toy.
Our world of toys is limitless when it comes to stories we want to tell around our dogs, and we don't hold back on things we think would be fun, funny, or celebratory to create a moment with your dog.
One of those celebratory moments is Pride and we've got our newest collection of toys that launched in our Add-to-Box program this week. (These toys are ONLY available to BarkBox subscribers, but if you subscribe today you'll be able to add the toys to your June box! Your June box would be your second BarkBox!)
I sat down with the designer, Derek, behind this collection to explore a bit of the process of how these things get made and why they're so much danged fun. Derek is the Director of Toys for BarkBox (Toy Zaddy?) and he oversees all of the plush development for BarkBox Subscribers and BARK toys in retail!
He's also the "proud papa to a team of talented designers who are, on a daily basis, churning out more cute and hilarious designs than we could ever possibly keep up with." :)
When did you start working on this ATB collection and how did it come to be? Did you propose it to the team?
I had proposed sketches for this line back in the fall, but there were definitely folks in other departments who were already excited for Pride. The immediate take… showing support for the LGBTQ community is a wonderful thing, though slapping a rainbow on a brand like it’s a sports team can, honestly, feel a bit pandering. We knew immediately this wasn’t our vibe.
We wanted to celebrate the humor and irreverence and playfulness that makes our community so brilliant. Our way of connecting was “We see you. We are you. We made this for us.” And hopefully that comes across. :)
Which toy is your favorite?
Sophie’s Choice — it’s a hard tie between Death Drop Squirrelfriend and the Indigo Squirrels. Death Drop is such a bizarre and dynamic plush, but the deep cut parody behind Indigo Squirrels really hits home. They also look like they’re really feeling this performance, you know?
You've gotta explain the hangtag of the Death Drop Squirrelfriend-- what inspired you to design the toy this way?
Well, originally, Squirrelfriend was supposed to have a tiny plush wig sewn into its hand, but we ultimately had to remove it for safety reasons (safety first!) A total bummer, because that detail was so important to the storytelling of this toy. Fortunately, the graphics team at that time was just starting on packaging so we decided to make it the hangtag instead and tack it to the hand. I actually think it turned out better this way - much more clever!
Did you ever think you'd be designing toys for dogs? Anything weirder or more fun about it vs previous roles?
I’ve worn a few hats during my time in the toy biz, but I can probably say I never anticipated this chapter. What fascinates me on the day to day is how we design all of our toys for two audiences — the play features and materials are for the pups, but our humor and aesthetics are geared towards their cool parents. We’ve got to really engage both parties and it’s always a fun challenge. In a larger sense, Bark’s culture of pushing the envelope for design and humor and fresh ideas…it’s a creative’s dream come true. I can’t think of many other places where we would be able to do some of the things we do. And the Pride line is one I can say I’m genuinely proud of. Also, I’ve also been in SO many meetings that have been derailed due to dog farts.
To get the Pride toys in your next BarkBox, add them to your account here! And to see more of Derek's work, check out his Instagram, @TheCuteBrute! <3