When Jackson Aw set out to create designer toys, he had little knowledge of the production industry, yet his ignorance did not deter him. Driven by curiosity, he visited factories and learnt about production processes and techniques such as hand-sculpting and moulding from scratch. Diving into the industry, he learnt about quality and refinement through a hands-on approach.
Today, the company has produced over 100 original toy sculptures and delivered their products to over 50 countries worldwide. Jackson enjoys realising good art in physical sculptures and tells us that it is important for him to maintain control over the work he produces. As a result, majority of Mighty Jaxx’s projects are self-initiated. Brand collaborations occur on a like-minded basis.
Mighty Jaxx is also a platform for Jackson – a collector of designer toys since he was young – to support emerging and established local and international artists he follows. Jackson explains that his curatorial direction is simply based on what he likes. It turns out he has a good eye, and Mighty Jaxx’s steady growth over just three years of operation is testament to that.
Tell us your story and what you did prior to starting Mighty Jaxx.
When I was in secondary school, I hated art. I was not the ‘science guy’ either. There was nothing else I could do so I had to be good at art. I literally had tuition for art, which is crazy right? Along the way, through good guidance from inspiring teachers, I found appreciation for it [art]. After that, I studied Digital Media in Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) and learnt about photography. There is a really good teacher who I am still in touch with at NYP. His name is James. We shot at events and I realised that I loved the mechanics of cameras more than photography itself. I thought about how cameras worked and what kind of cameras were out there. I started to import cameras from Russia. I refurbished and sold them here in Singapore. I eventually sold the brand. At the same time, I had been collecting toys for a very long time, and I was curious about how toys were made.
How did you figure your way around, when starting Mighty Jaxx?
I started emailing people, finding factories and visiting them. I don't design my own toys because I think I suck at it. I approached CLOGTWO and he is damn talented right? He designed our first figurine, Hell Lotus.
I didn’t know how to sculpt so I got the factory to do it. The first piece was a hand-sculpted model. It was before I knew about 3D printing or 3D softwares. It was quite bootleg. Although it was bad, it was also fascinating as it was my first time witnessing the process. After the hand-sculpted piece, they would create the mould. There was an assembly of people working on it. I visited the factory in Shenzhen, which was terrible, but it opened my eyes to the world of manufacturing.
From there on, we developed. It is a constant learning process with 3D and digital printing, as well as the materials we use.
Do you follow your instincts a lot?
Yes, but that is actually a double-edged sword. When you depend a lot on your intuition, you gamble. There isn't really a fixed structure to how things have developed here [at Mighty Jaxx]. We are now struggling to look more like a 'proper' company. The time has come for us to be a bit more organised. This part is a challenge.
How will you overcome that? Hire someone who is not you?
You are right. Like a 'mama bird’ who can take care of things and make sure we don't overspend. Of course, as a startup, it is important to control our finances, yet more experienced people also mean more budget. We tend to favour passion over experience here.
Tell us what happens in your office.
We handle everything from design to retail, so the talents we require are quite diverse. Everyone has their own role to play and they don't overstep others. For me, I work on visual development.
First, you have the designing stage – usually the artists whom we collaborate with will provide [the design]. Our sculptor will create the 3D artwork to send it for printing in China. Our factory is quite established. After printing, they would send [the prototype] to us. Our production guys will bring it to [another] factory to develop the mould. Samples are produced and we will do some painting. Once we get it right, they would go into mass production and then we will talk about the packaging.
When they finish the goods, they would send it to our warehouse in China. Our logistic manager here will coordinate the shipments. We have a salesperson here who would sell wholesale to the retailers we work with. We also have our after sales and customer service to handle enquiries.
Why is it important to control everything?
The thing about outsourcing is that the person is probably doing other stuff as well, so there will not be enough dedication to our work. At least not as much as I want it to be. Here, everything happens almost instantly.
How do you decide which artist to work with? What do you look out for?
Most of the time, they are artists we follow. We reach out actively. 30% is based on submissions. I look out mainly for aesthetics, as we create collectibles that you place on your work desk and et cetera. There are concepts and meaning behind what we make, but ultimately they must look good. There is a certain style we are inclined to as well, such as skeletons and skulls. Boys will be boys. These are what attract me the most.
What does your family think about what you do?
At the beginning, they didn’t get it. They would ask 'what are you doing man?' It is rather difficult for parents of that generation to comprehend what we want. However, their mindsets are gradually changing. One year into it, they were pretty convinced that it was working. There is nothing you can do or say, except to show progress. You just have to focus on your own work.
Eventually they even got CLOGTWO, who became a very good friend of mine, to paint a mural at home!
That is quite amazing.
Yes. My parents are super Chinese so it is a fortune cat, but this shows progress. After that, they started collecting toys. It is crazy! They would come to my office and take things off my desk. They would say, 'I don't think you need this. It will look better at home.' Their mindsets have changed. It is quite interesting.
What is the industry for designer toys like in Singapore?
We are all friends. It is a small group of maybe 20. We do this because we want to create forms that we know no other toy companies would make. We all have different taste and we pursue what we like. There is a very good harmony.
How important are toy conventions?
It is crucial. Conventions are the only physical way for us to connect with our customers or collectors. It is nice to find out what they want, and sometimes, you just need the extra boost you get when you sell-out. You feel like you are doing something right. Also, it is always fun to be at conventions. It is like meeting your pen-pals. All the other brands and companies are generally very open. It is nice to talk to them and we share our experiences. Now and then, when we travel to their countries, we would meet up and have dinner. It is a worldwide community, like an exclusive club I suppose.
What has been your most memorable moment to date?
There are countless. In terms of collaborating with partners, I would say it's the experience of working with Phunk Studio. When I was in school, I collected their stuff. I am a big fan boy. Eventually we got to collaborate on a piece called Love Bomb. We went through a lot to get that done. It was exceptionally tricky. We fucked up a few times but we kept trying and eventually finished it. They were quite chill and eventually happy with it. To me, that is an affirmation in some sense. I got to work with my heroes and the little boy in me died.
Otherwise, when I was in the States, we had a show at Designer Con and it was huge. A lot of people came and were queuing up at our booth, just to get our artist to draw something for them. I was carrying boxes around and this guy came over and he was like, 'yo, you are Mighty Jaxx right?' I was like, ‘yeah, what’s up?’ Then he said, 'I received a bad product, but thank you for setting it right and giving me a replacement. I really appreciate it.' The westerners are more straightforward in terms of this kind of communication. To me, it was very fresh. It validated our work. We did screw up by sending a damaged product, or perhaps it damaged along the way, but it shows there are people who appreciate what we do and I think that is all we need.
Photos by @colinchen.jpg