Spielwarenmesse: A child playing is a small artist

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  Movers & shakers

Movers & shakers

A child playing is a small artist

from Ulrich Texter

For a long time, it was architects who taught us the principles of good taste and gave us numerous product design classics – that was before the job profile of 'designer' became established in the middle of the last century. Wojtek Bajor, founder and CEO of Bajo, is also an architect, but still an exception. He is one of the few who devotes himself exclusively to the aesthetics of toys and wooden toys in particular.

Spielwarenmesse®: Mr Bajor, there is hardly any architect who does not wish to express his understanding of form in some everyday object at some point in his life. From time to time, this results in the creation of iconic products and classics such as chairs, lights, furniture, etc. However, most architects have little to do with toys. What do you, as an architect, find fascinating about toys?

Wojtek Bajor
Wojtek Bajor, architect and toy designer, founder of Bajo.

Wojtek Bajor: We architects often talk about areas that are hidden in the recipient's consciousness. We model space in a way to provide as many sensations of consciousness as possible, which wander through new undiscovered territories. When designing toys, we encounter two phenomena - an aspect of fun and the personality of the child. A child playing is a mysterious figure. When designing toys, we practically work for a small artist. Every child during the play is creating their own possible worlds and therefore is an artist. Isn’t it worthy to work out the play of the relations which build a form, for such the recipient? And doesn't this work looks like fun?

And what was the specific trigger that made you say, 25 years ago, "I shall now dare to jump into the toy business instead of erecting buildings or designing sets for Verdi or Mozart operas?"

W. B.: That factor was a social need. During the difficult period of system transformation that Poland went through in the small environment of the sub-Carpathian village, it was difficult to find a job. Someone asked me for a few toy projects. I had to implement it myself and as a result, whether I want it to or not, I began to build my company with a great deal of effort and completely from the scratch. I did not think about making business in this period, I just tried to be useful in my environment. Paradoxically, this attitude allowed to establish a sustainable economic foundation of the Bajo company.

Why has wood become your material of choice? Wood can compete with steel or aluminium, but it sets designers narrower limits than, for example, plastic, which can be injected into any shape!

Bajocycle has four wheels and is made of wood.
Bajocycle grey belongs to the series of vehicles including a baby walker and doll's pram, too.

W. B.: In the beginning, there was wood. And not just any wood. I started my activity in the period when the wood from fruit trees, such as wonderful apple, cherry, and pear, was in the price of fuel.  The colors, the grain, the touch of softness, everything was delightful. Wood is an exceptional material, one can say cosmic through its relationship with nature. In every piece of wood, there is written the history of time and place where the tree grew up. That's why every element of our toy has a part made of clean, natural wood.  In this way, we express the metaphorical potential of the material the toy is made of. The naturalness of the wood gives us, in my opinion, greater possibilities... not exactly in creating any shapes, but in giving these possible meanings.

Architects tend to want to be rather "educational" and to want to convey messages with their work so as to make them distinctive and easily recognisable. What messages do your products convey?

W. B.: My toys do not convey any strict message. Their form is to start the fun process and therefore initiate the potential of the imagination of the child. The child playing with my toy, not me.., is the author of the fun. After nearly thirty years of work, the ubiquitous enthusiasm for educating children has left me. Toy retailers treat the toys as medicines to ensure a child's wonderful development, an advantage over others and success in adult life. I believe in art more than in education. Only the art has the ability to express emotions of the childhood, in the way, they would constitute a creative potential for adult life. My toys are to be a medium that in the process of the child's discoveries bring into the undescribed worlds. Simply speaking, a happy child is always well prepared for adulthood.

The Roman architectural theorist Vitruvius believed that architecture must be useful, durable and beautiful. Bajo's corporate philosophy is likewise based on three pillars that almost have a hint of Rome about them. Is there more than just coincidence behind that?

W. B.: The need to be helpful in the environment of the unemployment and the need and willingness to produce beautiful and permanent things that are saleable is not so much a coincidence. It is more like the necessary conditions to meet the designated task. What you call the corporate philosophy, in our case there is only an old, proven principle that sounds like: if you are already doing something, do it the best you can.

Which countries – besides Poland – understand your messages specifically well? Does Asia play a role in the meantime? What is the situation in Europe, with which Poland currently has a rather ambivalent relationship?

Bajo Marble run Dewdrop
Marble run Dewdrop is two-in-one, a marble run and a puzzle.

W. B.: Actually, we do have the impression that Japanese people read our goals very well. Our cooperation is a constant source of inspiration and satisfies us. We are fascinated by Asian ability to concentrate on a product form. It is a priceless collaboration for a designer. Besides “Bajo” brand, “Poland” brand is also very important for us. In other words, Bajo toys are Polish toys, a Polish product. We are proud that in all European countries children play with our toys. We do not want Poland to arouse ambivalent feelings at European parents. We hope for children's acceptation of Bajo brand, it is a good kind of relationship between Poland and Europe. It is funny but also very important that Poles often ask if Bajo is a Polish company. It does not mean that we are strangers in our own. We think those questions indicates that we use universal values which characterize European community. Polish people do not have ambivalent relation to those values, those are also our values.

Let's return to the company's role. The toy trade currently finds itself in a period of extreme upheaval. Retailers and chains are shutting up shop or being sold off. What impact is that having on your work?

W. B.: From time to time the market situation might be worrying, but we try to do our job. The situation of the product from our niche is always less difficult. The next generation of children is now playing with the same toys. The toys proved not only durablility but thanks to their form they survived as interior design objects. The symbolic form and nicely aging material have a significant potential for decorativeness which extends the market opportunities. Our toys also find buyers among people who similarly understands ecologic behavior (less things and more durable) and who want to manifest it and have a serious attitude towards the role of toy requiring responsible choice.

In 2013, Bajo entered the licence business with "The Gruffalo". In Germany, the picture book is a bestseller, and according to a survey, it's one of the 100 most popular children's books of all time in the UK. However, licensed themes often turn out to be difficult with wooden toys, as "The Little Prince" has shown. What experiences have you had with "The Gruffalo"?

W. B.: 'Gruffalo" is completely different from 'The Litte Prince'. 'The Little Prince' is pure metaphorical poetry. 'Gruffalo' has expressive characters and the message comes from the play led by them. It is a great material to work with. The whole Gruffalo story inspired us very much. As a result, our sellers started to offer the customers children books illustrated by outstanding Polish Illustrators. We cooperate now with a few publishing houses. Children can find hidden stories in our toys and thanks to the play, illustration books become literature to them.

In 2013, you also launched a series onto the market under the name of "TOBE". Is this a springboard for young designers or what goals are you pursuing with this sub-brand?

W. B.: For years I was an academic teacher on the faculty of architecture. I was teaching how to give a form to the object but this is where the education in design school usually ends. Thanks to the fact I have got the potential of existing on the market company,  I can continue the education process with trainees send to us by Krakow Academy of Fine Art -  faculty of industrial forms. I can give them work experience, which school cannot provide. It is about market knowledge, the economy of production, marketing aspects and faith in their own product. Bajo is a team expanding with new names of young designers. It makes me happy that thanks to TOBE Bajo will have such a remarkable successors.

Is Bajo also benefiting from the sustained growth that has been going on for years and the private consumption flourishing in Poland?

W. B.: This is sure that we have to benefit from it. This is visible that the interest in this kind of toys is bigger now. New customers appeared. Probably they thought that Bajo is not a brand for them before. This is sure we owe this to the growth of consumption.

Thank you very much for this interview, Mr Bajor.

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Author of this article:

Ulrich Texter

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