Interview with the Women of IAmElemental
Creative Corner: Dawn Nadeau and Julie Kerwin from IAmElemental Action Figures for Girls.
Greetings readers! Have you heard about IAmElemental? Walk the toy aisle at your local big box store and you will easily see the gender imbalance that currently exists for kids. People are creating their own ways to lessen gender stereotyping on impressionable young minds. So if you are weary of gendered toys that don’t feature kick-ass role models for girls, you will completely appreciate this inaugural line of action figures. Their kickstarter is fully funded but they are just getting started! I thought what better way to introduce them to our audience than with an interview with IAmElemental co-founders Dawn Nadeau and Julie Kerwin.
Hi Dawn! Hi Julie!
Let’s begin with an origin story. Tell us a little about yourselves and what you do for IAmElemental.
Dawn Nadeau: “Julie and I became friends about eight years ago when our kids (her youngest, my oldest) were in a music class together. We discovered that we not only lived on the same block, but we also went to the same small women’s college, Wellesley. From there we were off and running, sharing many interests and points of view, as well as a similar, snarky sense of humor.
In a start-up, everyone (read the two of us) does everything, but we have different things we obsess over. I handle more of the execution side of things and Julie is the creative guru.”
I am familiar with the awesomeness of IAmElemental but can you explain it to those who might not know?
Julie Kerwin: “We created IAmElemental to develop a new line of action figures for girls that re-imagines the female superhero. We have three goals:
First, we set out to design fierce, strong female figures with a healthier breast to hip ratio. As we like to say, “more Heroine, less Hooters.”
Second, we shifted the action figure storyline. In the IAmElemental Universe, the girl is the superhero, and the figures are the personification of her powers. Called The Elements of Power, they are the building blocks of character that reside inside every one of us.
And, finally, IAmElemental is all about imaginative, active play. We spent a lot of time ensuring that the toys represent a forward-thinking design and engineering sensibility that goes beyond what is typically found in products geared toward girls, and we are very proud of the result.”
I like the strength depicted in the action figures; are there plans to make different body types for any future figures?
Dawn Nadeau: “The muse for this series was Joan of Arc. Future series will have other muses and a different feel to the design and bodies. Stay tuned!”
Your kickstarter is doing really well. Congratulations on reaching your funding! Has its success been a surprise?
Julie Kerwin: “Our biggest surprise has been the wonderful response we have received from the collector community. IAmElemental action figures straddle two worlds. While our primary goal is to create a powerful new play experience for young girls (and boys, too), we teamed up with the amazing group at http://eleventyplex.com”EleventyPlex specifically to ensure that the figures were not only fun to play with, but forward-thinking from a design standpoint as well. In our weekly meetings, the hope that we could potentially appeal to the collector community was never far from our minds. We wanted to provide an exceptionally well-made, intelligently articulated toy, and we paid close attention to our design, execution and engineering – trying to push the envelope within the limits of the smaller 4” figure. It has been gratifying that people who also care about these things like what we have done.”
Dawn Nadeau: “Thank you! As with many creative endeavors, you spend a lot of time in your “hobbit hole” as Julie likes to say. When you finally share your work with the world, it is with equal parts elation, exhaustion and fear. To have the figures be well received by so many people is incredibly gratifying, and humbling. One of our goals in going to Kickstarter was to “test the hypothesis” to see if people would in fact buy action figures for girls. We feel more confident moving forward now that we have had such a positive response.”
I’m glad of the positive response because I find it encouraging that kids can have better toys available. Were either of you discouraged by people when you tried to explain your idea?
Dawn Nadeau: “You get a lot of different responses when you tell people you are designing action figures for girls. Some people immediately “get it,” but a few people would question the underlying premise that girls might want more choice in their play. As with any venture where you are “coloring outside the lines,” you have to accept that some people will think you are crazy. That’s okay. We do crazy pretty well.”
I’m glad that you both persevered with your idea. think that is amazing and I wish there were better action figures for girls when I was a kid.
I wished there were figures like these when I was a kid. My choices for action figures were Princess Leia and… that’s about it. I could make my Barbies into action figures but my male cousins weren’t interested in that and balked at my idea to “be” Boba Fett when we “played” Star Wars. What do your kids think of the action figures?
Dawn Nadeau: “My girls (ages 6 & 8) have been incredibly excited about this project since day one. They have shared their opinions, ideas and suggestions without stop. What has been really great as well is that they are seeing all the steps that are required to go from initial spark of an idea, to design, to product – and that has also been exciting for them. My 8 year old is obsessed with the Kickstarter dashboard and website. She will say, “Mom! You have a new backer!”
Julie Kerwin: “My boys (ages 8 and 16) have been amazingly supportive and inspirational. My sixteen year old challenged me to find unusually heroic women in history to use as muses (he’s a history buff). And my eight-year-old is a dedicated design consultant. He takes it all very seriously, and has already put in orders for glow-in-the-dark figures, figures that stretch, and “invisible”/clear figures. He constantly tells me how proud he is of me. And my teenager picked “Bravery” for my Superpower. When I asked him why, he said, “Because you aren’t afraid to do anything.” I don’t know that he would have said that about me before I started this project.”
That’s fantastic that your children have been so excited. It would be pretty cool to say that your mother created action figures for a living! What do you do when you’re not creating such fantastic action figures?
Dawn Nadeau: “I am a self-defense instructor and teach Krav Maga here in New York City. I am also a mom of two girls (way harder than krav maga) and an avid runner.”
Julie Kerwin: “When I am not working on all things Elemental, and I am not focused on parenting my two boys, I am either reading a book or trolling the Internet for information. I am an information junkie. I can’t get enough. And I never, ever run.”
What’s in store for the rest of 2014 and can you share a little of what can we look forward to in 2014 for IAmElemental?
Julie Kerwin: “Right now, most of our attention is focused on making sure that we deliver our first set of figures, The Courage Series, to our enthusiastic and generous Kickstarter Backers before the holidays. That is our number one priority.
But, we have also started development of our first larger, 8” figure, and we have plans to begin designing our second series, The Wisdom Series, before the end of the year. As for the future, Dawn and I easily have enough product in the pipeline to keep us busy for at least the next five years. We’re just getting started.”
We here at GeekGirlCon, love sharing our geekdoms. What have you been geeking over lately?
Dawn Nadeau: “I am obsessing over the BBC America show Orphan Black – something about the whole clone thing fascinates me. Maybe because I always want more hours in a day.”
Julie Kerwin: “Don’t tell my boys, because I was the biggest critic when they announced another movie and my children would mock me, but I have been trolling the Internet for leaked Star Wars VII photos! I know. Pathetic.”
Orphan Black is a show that is on my radar to watch and I have been a Star Wars fan since I saw the first one at the cinema as a kid! I found your project to be inspiring. What words of advice would you have for anyone who wanted to follow your lead?
Dawn Nadeau: “Sleep now. You never will again. And also, try to remain focused. We have stayed very true to our original vision and it becomes a touchstone at any point where we are uncertain or trying to make a decision.”
Julie Kerwin: “Have fun. If you decide to do your own thing, remember it is a choice you are making, and make it totally your own in all respects.”
Dawn and Julie want to hear your stories, inspirations, ideas, comments, and suggestions! They can be reached online at their website, Facebook, or @IAmElementalToy. If you prefer, you can also email them.
dawn (at) iamelemental (dot) com
julie (at) iamelemental (dot) com