Inventing a Toy: The Story behind Pony Royale

PonyRoyale-Vintage_FloraIn the spring of 2009 I started work on inventing a toy that would one day become a line of beautiful pony dolls called Pony Royale. I would love to say that every step of the way was as delightful and charming as the illustrations I did for the project, but the truth is it entailed a lot of hard work, rejection, and reinvention. Here is the story of a team of creative professionals who worked together to bring an idea from drawings to reality. 

The Project Begins

Like so many of my creative projects, Pony Royale started with a phone call. Nancy Zwiers and I met at Mattel, she worked in marketing and I in Barbie design. After leaving Mattel Nancy started her own marketing firm called Funosophy while I headed out on my own to work as an independent designer. We continued to work together off and on, and I always enjoyed her projects, so when she asked me to work on a new toy invention I didn’t think twice. I was excited to jump into creating a new line of dolls with her.

Illustrating the Ponies

The first month or so was nothing but fun. I researched horses and drew foals and ponies, met with Nancy and Kim Ferguson, another marketing professional collaborating on the project, and developed the aesthetic direction for the line. I created some simple features like easy pop in and out fashion accessories for the doll. Old-fashioned carousel horses as well as historical paintings of royal horses inspired my designs, and sometime in the summer of 2009 I painted these six ponies. They showed the overall look and feel of the line. We felt we had a real winner.

PonyRoyale-Vintage_Gypsy

PonyRoyale-Vintage_LittleLady

PonyRoyale-Vintage_Luna

PonyRoyale-Vintage_Queenie

Pony Royale Vintage Illustration of Damsel

The Pony Steps Out of the Paintings

As pretty as the drawings were, something was missing, and without it we weren’t ready to show the invention to potential buyers. We needed an actual little pony doll. For this Nancy brought board on the talented sculptor Margi Wray, who took my drawings, improved upon them, and made the prettiest little pony we had ever seen.

Then, Mitzi McCarthy, a specialist in the world of play sets, joined the team to help flesh out the pony’s fantasy world. She created the wonderfully whimsical Dressing Carousel. She also designed, drew and built miniature stables and palaces for the ponies. With the help of Margi and Mitzi’s dedication and vision my pony drawings came to life.

I should mention at this point that although Funosophy reimbursed us for our expenses, none of the team members were paid for their time. This includes me. Regardless we were dedicated to our collaboration. We felt we had a really special concept. It was unique, fresh, and fun. We just needed to convince a toy company to believe in our vision. So far, however, even though we met with many companies who liked the dolls and thought they were beautiful, and that the market was ripe for a combination of pony, princess and fashion, none of them jumped at the chance to buy the concept.

A World of Creative Play

Months went by. Nancy, Kim, Margi, Mitzi and I came up with idea after idea, built sets and display boards, painted and dressed ponies, and filmed videos showing off all the different things the dolls could do. Inventing a toy is fun, but it is also a lot of work. We challenged ourselves and each other to come up with and build the best concepts possible. Our marketing gurus wrote the story of the princess ponies and compiled data into huge decks of product information. Margi Wray got out her sewing machine and sewed hair into pieces of plastic to create interchangeable manes and tails.

At this point Pony Royale was much more than just a group of dress-up pony dolls. They were now an open-ended play system, promoting creativity and delivering on girls’ favorite play patterns – fashion play, hair play and nurturing. The story invited girls into a delightful imaginary realm where they were princesses taking care of their royal ponies. The interchangeable manes and tails became Change-It-Up Hair!™ and my early experiments with pop in and out accessories became the easy to dress Mix-It-Up Fashions!™ Nancy placed the dolls in a study and found that girls had a lot of fun playing with the dolls. Pony Royale was a fresh new empowering way to play out princess fantasies.

Even though I was very proud of the delightful line of dolls I helped create, after almost two years of work I was seriously running out of steam. Towards the end of my time on the project Judy Mullins and her team at BK Creative started work on the ponies, injecting some much-needed, fresh, energy into our little collective. They designed packaging and a new logo. I’m happy to say that their work did not stop there. The talented team at BK Creative developed the final line of dolls.

A Happy Ending

This wouldn’t be a modern princess story without a happy ending! After all the effort and love poured into these toys it would have been a sad indeed if they had never  become a reality, but Razor purchased the concept from our team of inventors and in 2012 Pony Royale hit the shelves.  You can buy the dolls online at Toys R US, Target and Amazon and learn more about our princesses at Pony Royale World. Best yet the dolls have received rave reviews from girls and their mothers. It makes me so happy to know that something I helped create has brought hours of fun and creativity to girls everywhere.

Comments (2)

  1. Chad Takenaka
    May 31, 2013 - 11:36 AM

    Hello Heather, I enjoyed reading about the “Pony Royale” story. I also had a hand in bringing them to retail. I worked on the packaging for the ponies (clear blister packs). As far as I know, we worked on 3 different iterations of the design. The design was fun and challenging to work on. Its nice to hear that they made it onto the store shelves (I admit, I don’t get out to the stores much). Another success story.

    • May 31, 2013 - 1:04 PM

      Hi Chad. Thanks so much for reading my article and leaving a comment too. I really appreciate it! I remember the early work you did on the packaging. At that point I was super burned out but it was exciting seeing the packaging none the less. The dolls do look great. If ever you get to a Target check them out! They look great.