It's safe to say that Kidrobot is a one-of-a-kind apparel business -- and not just because it makes one-of-a-kind clothes. The company was founded by Paul Budnitz, a multi-talented artist whose previous work had ranged from video games to photography, sculpture and film, and who had already started companies producing wearable art and customized sound-recording equipment.

In 2002, Budnitz became intrigued with, and inspired by, vinyl toys being made in China and Japan. In collaboration with another artist, he created two paintable vinyl characters, "Munny" and "Dunny," that he could sell on a web site, These toys, as painted by various artists, now form part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. 

Munny and Dunny were only the beginning. Budnitz soon enlisted dozens of other artists to work on vinyl toy projects, and Kidrobot now produces about 60 new toy designs per year. An eclectic assortment of product lines emerged over the next several years, including posters and prints; skateboard decorations; "lifestyle" objects such as mouse pads, beach towels and stationery; and ringtones and wallpaper for cell phones.

Wearable art
In 2006 the company launched an apparel line, much of it co-designed by Budnitz, for which it is now producing four seasonal collections. Many of the colorful and casual clothes for men, women and children feature large graphics of Munny, Dunny and other beloved Kidrobot toys.

This year saw the launch of a handbags and accessory line in collaboration with Schifter + Partners and a jewelry line in collaboration with Tarina Tarantino. And within the next 12 to 18 months, Kidrobot plans to begin releasing film and animated entertainment; it is already working on some of these projects with WILDBRAIN, one of the company's major investors.

All of the company's products share the same quirky aesthetic, straddling the line between art and commerce. When the apparel line was introduced, customers welcomed it as just another way to display the art they loved. For these fans, art no longer has to hang on a wall or sit on a shelf -- it can go anywhere with them.

Most of Kidrobot's products are made in limited editions -- there is a single production run, and once it sells out the product is gone forever. New products are released every week. "Avid fans know that on Thursday there will be something new and exciting on the web, and in the stores, and with the wholesale and retail partners," says CEO Cynthia Roe.

Because of their unique artistic vision and limited quantities, Kidrobot's products can command premium prices. Along with many moderately priced items there have been apparel items costing $3,000 and toys costing $20,000. Some have even become collectors' items and appreciated in value over time.

In addition to its web site, Kidrobot has opened four stores of its own and sells toys and apparel in many specialty and high-end retail stores. Items are sold through different channels in unpredictable ways. Some may be designated as web-only, others as wholesale-only. Still others may appear at only a single retail location. "There's no specific formula," Roe says. "It's just to keep it fun."

While many customers are in the 18-to-34 age group, Kidrobot doesn't specifically consider itself a youth brand. Roe says: "It's more about an aesthetic of people who are appreciative of interesting art objects, whether that's a collector's item or a toy that a child could play with or a hoodie or a bag -- it's not limited to one type of customer. ...As long as we stay true to who we are, everybody seems to be happy."

But there has been one demographic change over the last two years: With the addition of women's clothes, handbags and jewelry, what was once a "guy-oriented" brand has now evolved to appeal to both sexes. 

Creative to the core

Today, the company's top priority is to foster creativity, both by continually recruiting new artists in order to keep the perspective fresh and by offering support to all of the artists, old and new, that are associated with Kidrobot projects.

Many of the artists work in their own studios in cities around the world, but Kidrobot's internal creative team collaborates closely with them to realize their visions for toys and apparel. Roe says: "There's a tremendous amount of support for the artists. They feel there's a sense of community and respect for their talents. It makes it energetic and creative and fun."

Even Kidrobot's charitable activities are art-centered. The company is a sponsor every year for kidsfilmfest, an initiative of the Brooklyn Film Festival that draws attention to talented young filmmakers who are creating films for children. It also sponsored a "custom Dunny show" where artists painted giant Dunny toys and auctioned them off for Save the Children. And in October, as part of the "Create for a Cure" campaign, Kidrobot made a donation to the Westchester, NY, branch of the American Cancer Society for each pink mini Munny purchased at Kidrobot stores and at

To support the rapid expansion of the product line, the company has more than doubled in headcount since Roe arrived on the scene a year and a half ago and is still adding staff in key areas. While Roe says it's still a "small, focused team," the company is now focusing on improving its infrastructure to enable further growth.

Overall, Roe sees technology as essential to growing the business, which increasingly requires visibility at all levels, and to continuing to promote innovation. Kidrobot has made good use of technology, such as Celerant's integrated e-commerce and point-of-sale system. At present, the major technical initiative is the implementation of a new ERP system, SysPro, which Roe says will streamline and automate wholesale processes and allow better customer service.

"We've been really busy," Roe says.

Masha Zager is a New York City-based free-lance writer who specializes in business and technology.


Swapping for Collectibles
Kidrobot fans gather at stores for "trading parties" where they swap items in hopes of acquiring an entire series of limited-edition t-shirts or toys.

Get Your Party On
The newest retail outlet, in Toronto, is located inside Circa, an entertainment venue with bars, performance spaces and dance floors.

TV Appearances
One of Kidrobot's toys appears as an animated character on the popular children's show "Yo Gabba Gabba."

A Man of Many Talents
Kidrobot's founder and creative director, Paul Budnitz, has also co-designed all of the company's retail stores. 

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