The TL;DR version, anon: increasing mainstream awareness creates increasing interest in and spending on fidget toys. If there is a perceived market for a toy due to its popularity, the companies will make imitations of it. They’ve done this for any popular toy - think action figures and Barbies. It’s just that that stim toys, right now, have become that new popular toy.
I think it’s worth discussing, however, the unique circumstances of this latest reiteration of popularity and imitation - namely that created by the Fidget Cube.
(This is me talking again; feel free to scroll past.)
Antsy Labs’ Kickstarter got the attention of the global media, and even though therapy/OT stores have sold stim toys for a long time (not to mention stores like Stimtastic and Fidget Club) it was, for a lot of people, the first realisation that fidget toys exist. That people need to fidget and there are toys designed for fidgeters!To be honest, my opinion is that the Kickstarter took off the way it did not because the Fidget Cube is a fabulous fidget toy but because people didn’t know alternatives have been long available. People new and enthralled backed it enough that Antsy Labs raised nearly six and a half million dollars in pre-orders. That it got so much attention became its own story, something else that got even more attention from people who had no idea that stim toys are a thing, and voila. It was the right toy at the right time in the right spot that got the right attention.
Because nearly 155 000 backers backed this item, it’s not surprising that companies looked at ways to benefit from this want, and with the issue of Antsy Labs taking so long to send pre-ordered toys out (six months and more at one point) a whole bunch of companies started making imitations. Folks got their hands on the cubes and started looking at ways to make their own, or better versions, or variations that suit their own needs, because all this popularity proved that people want fidget toys and will buy multiple versions of them.
The interesting thing here is that wait. Forcing folks to wait six months or more between order and arrival practically forced folks to turn to knock-offs. Most of us aren’t going to patiently wait so long. It was a gap ready-made for knock-off vendors, and they stepped in. The curious result of this wait is people, talking to each other about this cool new toy and concept, impatient to handle it, explored alternatives and shared those alternatives with others.
That delay in accessibility taught us to investigate knock-off vendors.
Even better, it taught us that there’s knock-off vendors with low prices and free shipping that sell toys that mostly do what they’re supposed to do. Disabled people like this because we’re often broke and stim toys are not a once-purchased-and-use-forever item, especially not the way we stim and carry our toys about with us. Parents like this because they’re not spending $20 USD and shipping on a plastic cube. Curious folk like this because they can find out what’s going on for not much outlay. Yes, the product isn’t as good, but that concern is quite low down the list of needs! Most of us will settle for something slightly dodgy if it’s only a third of the price and easily accessible.
Into this sudden awareness came the discovery of the spinner. Unlike a fidget cube, there’s the appeal of competitions and tricks, making it more like a modern-day yo-yo. Even more so than the cube, it crosses the line between stim toy and toy. Etsy was flooded with 3D printed custom spinners, and eBay with commercial ones, because all the folks who are selling fake fidget cubes are after something else fidgety they can sell and we already know where to look for it. It just got worse when the media and offline stores caught on, and the whole thing blew up much like the fidget cube.
The Tangle hasn’t caught on in the media in quite the same way, but we went from having only a few (usually expensive) branded listings on eBay to having any number of knock-offs. It was only a few months ago we were talking about how hard it was to find replacement links other than to buy a new branded Tangle Jr, and now there’s any number of knock-off listings all over the internet. Those knock-off companies have been researching us, I suspect, and realised there’s another toy we use, one that’s also easy to imitate and manufacture. One we will come over and buy if the cheap options are available to us, and since we already look here for cubes and spinners, why wouldn’t we look for Tangles?
We’re at a point where someone makes a variation on a popular toy, and, if it’s relatively simple to produce, there’s imitations available shortly afterwards. ABS plastic toys aren’t that expensive to make and most of these factories already have the materials with which to do so and the means of selling them directly to us. It’s little difficulty for them to go from the fidget cube to the spinner to the Tangle to several fidget shape variations to whatever comes next.
We’re also at a point where designers are developing new fidget toys, because they now know there is a market for them! That just means more new toys to copy.
This is usually the over-saturation stage of a new fashion or trend - the older toys are starting to sell less (we own one or several already) so they’re looking for that new shape of the old theme. This can keep going for as long as there’s new ways to repackage it - it’s why we’re now getting so many different fidget shapes, actually. We’ve got a fidget cube already, so why not a holy crystal? What other affordable-to-produce popular toys can companies imitate? What else has gotten a following among stimmers and has the potential to cross to the mainstream?
The fad/fashion aspect will drop back as mainstream society moves on to a new fascination, and the breadth of listings and store availability will decrease. (In my local offline stores, with spinners, it’s already doing this. Everyone now stocks them and everyone’s selling less of them. There’s more variety but fewer total sales.) How long this takes depends on how long people can keep mainstream society’s attention. The fakes won’t vanish, though, not now people know that fidget toys exist and where to find cheap ones, not now people have been exposed to stimming. I just think they’ll scale back some.
It fascinates me how much the stimming landscape, in terms of toy accessibility, has changed since I started this blog. It’s a direct product of people knowing about fidget toys, and like that accessibility, there’s good and bad aspects to the breadth of knock-offs available. All of which, in my wordy opinion, worth talking about.
This picture brought me to tears…. No words can describe how Above & Beyond make me feel… And this is true for others as well. Through countless of songs and albums, I’ve enjoyed each and every song. Each having a meaning which we could all relate to and each being so near and dear to our hearts…
Photo courtesy of Little Green Eyes Media.