Irreverent figurines like “dissected” rabbits with their bones and guts showing, and a skeleton in the lotus pose flashing a rude hand gesture are proudly displayed in the Mighty Jaxx office. Clearly, this is not your average toy company. As 28-year-old founder Jackson Aw puts it, it is the “niche of the niche”.
And yet, since the company’s beginnings in 2012 with just a $20,000 loan, the toy design and manufacturing company has grown into an award-winning design studio that works with international brands including DC Comics and Cartoon Network. To date, it has created over 300 products for collectors in over 50 countries – all from its toy-filled office in Geylang. Last year, Mighty Jaxx hit $3.1 million in revenue and is projected to achieve $5 million this year.
Not one to follow trends, Aw’s toys are guided by his personal aesthetics. “I prefer pieces that have visual comedy, like the Miss Mao figurines of Mao Zedong with boobs,” says the straight-talking Aw. “I’m also influenced by pop punk, so when I create, it leans towards grungy.” His workspace hints at his love for subculture, from the Supreme skateboard hanging on a wall, to a framed quote from The Middle, a song by alt-rock band Jimmy Eat World, on his desk.
Aw, most recently a recipient of Singapore’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2017 award in the New Entrepreneur category, says he started the business with the desire to create things he liked. “I’ve been collecting toys since 2008 and realised I was spending too much money,” says the Nanyang Polytechnic graduate who studied how to design interactive apps and content.
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A visit to a toy manufacturing factory in Shenzhen revealed the intricacies of collectible toymaking. Such designer toys are limited edition pieces – featuring more intricate details or rare colours – designed by artists. He says: “I was amazed to see hundreds of technically skilled workers creating the toys and realised that creating tangible products like this would be a worthwhile venture.”
Some of the company’s earliest collaborations were with local creatives including “Sticker Lady” Samantha Lo for her Cultured milk bottle figurines and design collective Phunk Studio for its collectible Love Bomb. In an early project with French artist Goin, the design studio turned the artist’s Bad Apple street art painting of Snow White with the hand grenade into a 3-D sculpture. Today, this piece which originally sold for US$90 (S$118) is listed on eBay for over US$1,000 (S$1,319).
Most recently, Mighty Jaxx has signed licensing deals to represent artists including American Jason Freeny, who creates anatomical art sculptures, and the London artist known as Whatshisname, famed for Popek, a balloon dog that poops balloons. There are also plans to launch an in-house range of toys.
From the early days of solo experiments with toy materials like liquid plastic and silicone, Aw today leads a team of 25 employees, of which about half are designers. This unexpected success has brought about challenges too.
“I did not plan to lead that many people so I’ve made some errors,” he says. “I thought I could do everything but I’ve realised that I need to delegate responsibility.”
These days, he reads biographies by luminaries such as Walt Disney to glean insights into running a business more efficiently. Once he better defines the roles within his team, he’ll have more time to oversee upcoming projects which include artistic space takeovers through urban graffiti and murals, and a deal to develop exclusive lifestyle items for a pop culture entertainment chain store in the United States.
His motto, says the avid reader, is the title of Paul Arden’s book, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be. Aw, who took the path less travelled, has found success on his own terms. “At the award ceremony, I realised many award-winning companies were in conventional business. Everyone was surprised that it was a design studio, much less one that makes toys, that won.”
“I play strategy games like Cities: Skylines because I enjoy building things. In the game, I do everything from building a canal to putting together a government. Others may think I’m crazy but the game relaxes me.”
“I don’t buy toys that are easy to make. I pick those that make me go, ‘OMG how did the artist do it?’ My latest acquisition is the Plants of Gods terrarium by Hong Kong artist Prodip Leung.”
“I’m a child of the ‘90s and grew up listening to punk rock bands like Blink 182 and Green Day. I’m currently listening to songs by The Cranberries and Linkin Park.”