Warning: This is a long blog post. If you actually read it, you will learn something. You have been warned.
One of the things I have noticed on this site is a drastic misunderstanding about how Monster High dolls (and toys, in general) are made. Toy production is a multi-step process that can take up to one year or longer. It is a process that involves dozens of people every step of the way, from the creators to the sculptors to the people in the factory who actually assemble the toys.
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: Toys do not magically appear on the shelves thanks to some sort of Toy Aisle Elf. If you find yourself tempted to post complaining about how 'Mattel is trying to screw us over' or how your issue with a particular doll isn't instantly solved, stop posting. You're making yourself look ignorant. The sheer amount of time, work and effort that go into every doll you see on the shelves isn't evident to the average consumer or toy collector.
Luckily for you, with my experience in the toy industry, I'm going to give you a guide on how toy production DOES work. Please bear in mind - I do not work for Mattel or on Monster High. This blogpost is a general overview of how the toy industry works, using Monster High examples. My hope is to give the average collector (you) an idea of what exactly goes into the production of Monster High.
The first step in any toy's production is the design stage. For Monster High, this is the creators (Garret Sander and crew) sitting down and deciding what the next line should be. Concepts are discussed. New character ideas thrown around. Discussion about what's trending with Monster High's target age group takes place. The designers will start throwing together sketches of the ideas. Talk goes back and forth with the Monster High team and Mattel's executives.
Research into what's sold well in the past and what hasn't is discussed. They will even look at available data from other manufacturers to see what lines have done well and what ones haven't. All of this information will go into the planning of different lines. Some concepts will be abandoned for good; others may be filed away and looked at during a later time. Some ideas will be heavily modified to be more marketable; others may be changed completely because they may be too expensive for production. Designing and planning future Monster High lines is a process that can take weeks or even months.
The next step is to pass off the design information to the sculptors and prototype builders. Once Garret and his crew have settled on a new idea, have gathered all of the data they needed and put together detailed drawings of what they want the final toy to look like, this information is given to the sculptors. They will begin creating the parts needed for these new toys. They may sculpt new heads, body parts, shoes or accessories. The process of sculpting toy prototypes involves many steps. Parts may be sculpted in clay or wax, and then a rubber mold made of the parts so they can be cast in hard resin. Then, even more cleanup, sculpting, carving and detailing will take place.
After the sculpting has finished, some of the resin prototypes will be sent to the factories in China and Indonesia, where they will be used to create what is called Tooling. Tooling (or just tools) is the term for the metal molds that are used to create the plastic parts for the final toy product. Each different part for a doll requires its own tool, from the head to a single hand, to every single joint piece used in the final doll. Each tool can cost tens of thousands of dollars each to make.
Some of the other resin prototypes will be sent off to be painted. These will be mocked up and dressed to look as much like the intended final product as possible, and photographed for packaging and promotional material (like ads and commercials).
Meanwhile, while the sculpting is taking place, other designers will make the designs that will be printed on the fabrics. They will determine what the right type of fabric should be for each individual outfit part and design the patterns needed to make the outfit. Will the outfit need velcro or snaps? Will it need to be reinforced inside so it will pass safety regulations? What accessories will be attached to the outfit? All of this information is taken into account in this stage.
The sculpting/prototype building stage can take a month or more of people working, 8 hours a day, to put together a line of dolls.
Once the prototypes are done and tooling has been made, actual production can take place. Mattel has two factories where they produce dolls; one in Indonesia and one in China. Information is sent from Mattel in America to these factories that tells them what raw materials to use, from plastic types and colors, to fabric types and even what type of cardboard or paper to use for cards, packages or instruction booklets. Different parts of different dolls may be produced in different factories and then consolidated in one place for assembly.
Production techniques are very advanced these days, but no machine exists that will completely create, assemble and paint a doll. Most of the steps used to make a doll are done by actual, living factory workers. Workers use a special sewing machine to root hair. They print the designs on the fabric and then cut out and sew the outfits together. Workers take the parts as they're being produced and assemble them into a full doll. Pieces like a torso may look simple, but may have a dozen parts inside that have to be assembled by hand before the two halves are sonically welded together to make a finished torso.
Workers use special masks and airbrushes to paint broad details, and may physically paint on smaller ones with paintbrushes. Something as small as Rochelle's eye may take as many as 8 separate paint applications to finish.
While the dolls are being made, the packaging will also be printed, cut out and assembled by hand. A machine can cut out a box and lay down fold lines, but it can't physically fold the box itself. Each doll will be hand-packaged into its box, a procedure that will involve twist ties, rubber bands, plastic staples and tape.
To produce the hundred thousand dolls (or more) needed for a full production run can take over a month at a factory.
Once the dolls are packaged, they are packed into cases. These cases are packed onto pallets. The pallets are loaded into a large container (about 8 feet by 8 feet), and loaded on an Ocean Freighter to their destination country. Shipping via ocean freight is a long process, and can take up to two months to travel from China or Indonesia to California. Once the pallets have hit America, they are inspected by the port authority and Customs. Customs taxes Mattel for the dolls depending on many factors, including what they are importing, what country it came from, how much it weighs, what it cost to produce and what it is made from.
Once the goods have cleared customs, Mattel will load the pallets onto trucks and take them to their warehouses. Here, the cases are separated and repacked to be sent to different distribution centers across America. At those distribution centers, the cases will be separated and repacked again to send to the distribution centers of different retailers, like Target, Wal-Mart or Toys R Us. Once the retailers have received the items to their warehouses, they will break down the cases again to ship them out to the individual stores. This trip, from Mattel to individual stores can take several weeks.
This is why coastal stores like in California receive dolls first; because they have less distance to travel before reaching their final destination.
Meanwhile, as distribution is taking place, the creators will receive samples of the final product. They may receive samples of the final product during production, but often they will not see what is shipping to stores until all of the first wave of a toy line have already been made and packaged. If there is an error (like a joint being assembled backwards, a wrong paint color used or an application missing), it may be too late in the production process to stop and change it. They may have to make what is called a running change, and the second wave of a doll will have the differences fixed. If it is minor or perhaps too expensive to fix, the change may not take place at all.
Finally, the final product will be put out on retailer shelves for you to buy. It may be nearly a year since the original design was planned until the toy is in your hand or longer. The Monster High design team are working right now on toys for release in 2014.
An amazing amount of work goes into each and every step involved in getting a toy into your hands. Because so many people have their hands in production, sometimes it will hit snags. Some information may be lost in translation overseas. The research data may be flawed and a line will be more or less popular than they'd hoped. Because of how much time passes between each step finishing, making changes can be difficult and take months before a customer sees the effect.
I hope that this blog post was interesting and informative. If you have any questions about the process, please feel free to message me.