They’re not superheroes or anything, but don’t doubt the power of Yasmin, Jade, Cloe, Sasha and Raya to rescue Toys “R” Us.
Bratz dolls creator and toy titan Isaac Larian wants to help save the iconic American toy shop from shuttering 325 stores and putting tens of thousands out of work as part of Geoffrey the Giraffe’s boss’ bankruptcy bid.
Tragically, Toys “R” Us founder Charles Lazarus died Thursday at age 94.
Larian has thrown down and gone all out with millions in his own money to save Toys “R” Us stores as the chain goes under and asked people to help the cause.
Here’s what you need to know about Isaac Larian, Bratz, Barbie and Toys “R” Us:
1. The Bratz Billionaire Battled Barbie
Larian’s legacy will almost certainly be his Bratz dolls.
Bratz versus Barbie: The former fashionable, multi-ethnic or ethnically ambiguous, sexy (maybe a little too for some) and modern, trendsetting even with their barely-there noses, huge lash cloaked sparkly almond-shaped eyes, thick, glossy lips, hourglass bodies and fashion forward clothes, Bratz became a near billion-dollar phenom. Barbie, on the other hand, the now iconic albeit middle-aged doll line was nearly dethroned.
Born in 2001, but breaking through by gift-giving season of 2002, Bratz dolls Yasmin, Jade, Cloe and Sasha blew Barbie’s socks off. Wildly popular since, the Bratz line led to no shortage of spin-off dolls like Lil’ Bratz, Bratz Kidz, and Bratz Boyz, but also films, animation and live action, web and straight-to-DVD only movies, a web series, albums, video and onlines games. Bratz were big, so big it’s estimated that some $800 to $900 million worth have been sold.
Barbie maker Mattel alleged in 2008 that Larian’s company and in specific a former Mattel employee then working for Larian had stolen the idea for Bratz dolls from Barbie. A judge agreed and ordered Larian to shutter most of the by then insanely popular doll line.
The following year, an appeals court stayed that order and in 2011, a jury found that not only did Larian not steal Bratz from Mattel, Mattel had itself ripped off toy trade secrets from not just Larian’s company but other toymakers. And litigation is ongoing. The Forbes headline from 2013 said it all: ‘The Toy Mogul Who Became A Billionaire Through His Fight To The Death With Barbie’
2. Now Larian Wants to Save Toys “R” Us
Maybe because the store is part of Americana. Maybe because it’s the last of the major brick-and-mortar toy stores where most if not all of his toys are sold. And maybe it’s both.
Larian and others have to date pledged $200 million and with a GoFundMe are trying to reach $1 billion to rescue hundreds of Toys “R” Us locations from shuttering, anticipated as part of the store’s bankruptcy case.
An AP report said a save of the stores by Larian wouldn’t hurt the toy titan: “Nearly 1 in every 5 sales made by Bratz doll-maker MGA Entertainment, where Larian is CEO, is rung up at a Toys R Us store.”
Larian posts almost daily now about saving Toys “R” Us.
Larian said helping Toy “R” Us more than benefits him and other toy makers, if the plan succeeds, jobs will be saved and open stores is a good thing for consumers, and sure, it’ll be good for the industry, but he’s nostalgic, too.
“We can’t just sit back and just let it disappear,” Larian told the AP.
Larian is one of a group of #SaveToysRUs investors; a social media campaign recently was born and the GoFundMe campaign, whose $1 billion goal must be met by May 28. Larian said the funds, which are not a charitable donation unlike some GoFundMe efforts, “would be used in the formulation of a bid to acquire some Toys “R” Us assets through the bankruptcy process.”
Toys “R” Us asked a bankruptcy court for the okay to close its last US stores, which would put 30,000 out of work. Meanwhile, out-of-business sales are ongoing.
3.Iranian-Born Larian Came to America Alone at 17 With $750 & Dreams
Born in Iran, Larian worked for his father’s small textile business when he was young. In 1971, when he was just 17, Larian immigrated to the U.S. Alone and with little money, he worked as a dishwasher, and earned a degree in engineering from California State University.
After, he and his brother started an import and export business that morphed into consumer electronics into a licensing venture when they were lucky enough, or astute enough, or both to become Nintendo distributors in 1987.
By 1993 they had a Power Rangers license and soon Hello Kitty. In the early 1990’s when these brands first came on the scene and by all accounts still popular and big money-makers. By ‘97, the brothers manufactured their own toy, Singing Bouncing Baby. The next year, the business was named Micro-Games America Entertainment (MGA) and Larian’s brother sold his cut of the business, 45 percent to Larian for more than $9 million.
4. Larian’s MGA Entertainment Is the World’s Largest Privately Held Toy Company
So Larian arrived in California with $750 in 1971 and today is a billionaire toy magnate. Building a business from electronic parts to licensing brands that would grow beyond even the most optimistic projections and then using his smarts, savvy, and likely no pulled-punches business acumen, created MGA, a consumer entertainment products company: ridiculously popular if inexplicable toys, games, digital gaming, movies, web series, it’s a living transformer ruling the toy world. MGA also has a Netflix Original Series Project Mc2. Plus, there’s Little Tikes a giant in the little kids toy box is a part of MGA.
Little Tikes is a major and well-known brand and is part of MGA.
MGA currently manufactures and produces toys and games, dolls, and some consumer electronics with a product line of household names, households with kids since shortly before the turn of the century that is, with Little Tikes, Bratz, Rescue Pets, Miuchiz, West Coast Choppers, Yummi-Land, Storytime Collection, Market Racers, L.O.L. Surprise line which is huge: shop, trade, watch, play, like, collect, and shop again.
And its Rock Club group including Punk Boi and his brother, Lil Punk Boi! color-changing dolls, of-the-moment Lalaloopsy and ProjectMc2 where “smart is the new cool.”
MGA is the largest privately held toy company on the planet.
5. Toys “R” Us Began As Children’s Furniture Bargain Store in 1948
Born during the postwar baby boom, Toys “R” Us founder Charles Lazarus was just 25 in 1948 when he followed his uncle’s footsteps and opened a Children’s Bargain Town in Washington DC, anticipating what was to come: lots of babies. By the 1950s, Lazarus’’ kids furniture shop had started selling toys and shoppers had carts to roam the store in search of that just-right toy for the tot at home.
In the late spring of 1957, Lazarus birthed Toys “R” Us with the “R” positioned backwards to appear as if a kid had written it. From 1965 to 1970, the stores were called Children’s Discount Supermarts, with letters intermittently positioned backwards and an early incarnation of mascot Geoffrey the Giraffe with a comic book style word bubble announcing Toys “R” Us.
Over the course of six decades, the chain store grew and grew like a child grows. In 1973, Geoffrey began appearing in its commercials and the jingle, “I don’t want to grow up I’m a Toys “R” Us kid …” was stuck in the head of anyone born after 1957.