Frances Cain is a successful toy designer and business owner. She’s also 51. She hasn’t always been a toy designer. Her first career was in upmarket event management and then she took a decade out to be a full time mother to her two children. But in 2012, inspired by her desire for her daughter to have more intelligent ‘female’ toys, she launched A Girl for All Time and hasn’t looked back since.​​ Frances tells The Age of No Retirement her story.​


A Girl For All Time was inspired by my desire – and the desire of other parents – to ​give our daughters a range of toys that celebrated being a girl and playing as a girl in​ ​an intelligent, thought-provoking and engaged way. It’s a range of play dolls and books that teach children about family narrative through play. In just four years, my toy range has won some of the industry’s top awards for design, concept and quality. In 2014 and 2015, I was nominated as one of the top 100 Women In UK Toys and for the last three years I have been the UK chapter chair for Women In Toys, Licensing and Entertainment, which is an international organisation that promotes, mentors and supports women in the industry.

In that time, I have become a design-led manufacturer, publisher and retailer, overseeing all concept, design, manufacturing, publishing and sales for my brand. Thankfully, these days it’s not just me – I now lead a top-notch creative team from the world of television and film, giving A Girl for All Time its unique positioning in the market. All of this has been achieved despite previously having no experience in, or connections with, the toy industry. I’m mentioning it, not to boast, although I am very, very proud of how far I have come and how quickly, but as proof of what can be achieved by anyone who wants to break into a new career at a later age.

There are many barriers to having a successful career, but I firmly believe that age – like gender – should not be one of them. Don’t get me wrong, getting to where I am now with my business has been tough. But not because I am over 50. It was tough because I was brand new to the toy industry and was essentially starting from ground zero. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, which was probably a good thing as I am not sure I would have jumped in with both feet otherwise!

Toys is a wonderful industry to work in, but it’s tricky to break into and littered with complexities when it comes to product development and legislation. Health and safety when creating products for young people is paramount, but not necessarily something you automatically think about. You also need to consider issues such as counterfeiting so it’s critical to make sure your designs are protected. But what’s really exciting about toys is how much the industry has changed, even in the few years I’ve been involved, and opportunities for toy and game designers to get their foot in the door have never been greater.

"I am very, very proud of how far I have come and how quickly, but as proof of what can be achieved by anyone who wants to break into a new career at a later age..."

Lydia.

Over the past five years the industry has changed a lot and lines are much more blurred than they used to be, which is great for someone wanting to come in with a new toy and game design. Today, designers need to think about creating products with social, developmental and creative value if they want to appeal to today’s market. Millennial mums, dads, grandmas and granddads are demanding products that suit their parenting styles and beliefs and are looking for new products to fill those needs. This represents a great opportunity for those who want to rise to the challenge!

The industry has become more accessible for designers to break into with funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo a total game changer. It’s very difficult to get started as a small designer and crowdfunding has helped thousands of small and micro companies - including myself - raise funds and pre-sell products. We have just completed our first successful Kickstarter campaign for the newest A Girl for All Time collection. Events like the Inventors Workshop, run by the trade magazine ToyNews, is another brilliant way for designers to break into the toy industry. It’s a great platform for new and existing designers and inventors to meet and get together, but also a great place to get inspiration or advice from those who are a little further ahead in their design. That is the best way to keep the industry buzzing with new ideas, inspiration and shared experiences, which in turn inspire new ideas.

"My advice from one designer to another – not from one older person to another! - would be know your market, know who will buy your product, never settle for second best, ask questions if you don’t know the answer, and don’t let the nay-sayers get you down!'"

Clementine

My advice from one designer to another – not from one older person to another! - would be know your market, know who will buy your product, never settle for second best, ask questions if you don’t know the answer, and don’t let the nay-sayers get you down! If you really think you have a great idea, then figure out how to make it happen and go for it. And my advice from one business owner to anyone else out there who’s planning to set up a business is always ask for help - even if the person you are asking does not have the answer, it’s very likely they will know someone who does. There have been a couple of key people who gave me advice and encouragement when I first started out and without them – and me being brave enough to ask for help – I don’t think I’d be in business today.

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