Mary Couzin interviews Azhelle . . .
What exactly do you do in the industry?
I’m a toy industry educator and coach! As The Toy Coach®, I work to teach, connect, inspire, and support mission-driven toy creators as they develop their toy ideas.
What is your claim to fame in the industry?
Creating, launching, and building The Toy Coach® as a reputable and relatable source of toy industry information and inspiration.
What has been your biggest achievement?
The Toy Coach Podcast and Toy Creators Academy because both resources have helped over 100 aspiring toy creators on their toy journey. Whenever I read a podcast review or listen to a story of how my course helped my student connect with a toy industry executive, I can’t help but get emotional. I’m proud to have made a positive impact on this industry by doing what I love.
Do you have a mantra that you live by?
I live by a mantra that my mom taught me, “Never say you can’t.”
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I studied Toy Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology! That program was incredible and afforded me an opportunity to interview for a major craft company, Horizon Group USA. That role set me on the path to being an inventor, and I was named on 3 patents while there!
What has kept you motivated to stay in the toy industry?
My podcast listeners and students who tell me I’ve helped them in some way. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or not good enough, I look back on how much I’ve made a difference, and that keeps me moving forward.
If you look back at yourself 10 years ago is this where you thought you’d be? Where did you think you’d be? What changed? What went right?
Not at all! 10 years ago, I thought I’d be well on my way to becoming an EVP or a CMO of a toy company. I never thought I’d venture into entrepreneurship. The experience of COVID really changed a lot for me. I spent a lot of time reflecting and appreciating my home, my toy knowledge, and experiences.
What was your favorite project to date? This craft desk I designed and Developed for Totally Me, a Toys R Us girls activity brand will always stick out in my mind. The design was smart, the price was perfect, and the value was out of control. It was a massive Black Friday deal that maintained a surprisingly high margin. I was pretty proud of that craft desk.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you? Before pitching your toy or game, just ask if I accept submissions! In my opinion that is a golden rule for first time pitches no matter who you are pitching to.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today? Get a job in sales. If you can learn to sell, you can do anything.
What advice do you have for people starting in the industry? Listen to my podcast, The Toy Coach Podcast! Honestly, it’s an undeniably powerful resource for newbies to the toy industry. I do my best to provide up to date industry knowledge for aspiring toy inventors and entrepreneurs to run with.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Helping aspiring toy creators get their start in the toy industry. I love when someone DM’s me a question and I have the perfect podcast episode to point them to for the answer.
What and/or who inspires you?
My sister Amiya inspires me every day. She’s constantly pushing me to be a better, stronger version of myself.
How do you define innovation? In my opinion, true innovation is finding a simple solution to a complex problem.
How do you recharge or take a break? I love to dance. Salsa y bachata dancing is my all-time favorite thing to do to recharge. I’m a part of a dance team called Mi Esencia, we travel around the US performing at salsa y bachata socials and events. There’s a level of peace and clarity I get with dance that I can’t seem to find anywhere else.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child? I absolutely loved Polly Pockets. I had a massive collection that I stored in this giant blue bag that was almost as tall as me when it was filled.
Are you named after anyone?
I wasn’t named after anyone but I was named by someone. My sister Amiya came up with my name and the spelling of it when she was 8. She wanted it to sound French but found the only combination of English letters that could get the sound she was after were “z” and “h”. Having a ridiculous amount of foresight for a little kid, she also gave me a pretty normal middle name, in case “I ever needed to get a job”. Haha, she’s the best.
Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which one(s)?
I taught myself to play the piano one summer. I’m not particularly good at it but I can play a few classics.
What’s your favorite cereal?
I don’t eat cereal anymore, but when I did it was Captain Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch all day every day.
What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?
What is the last time you did something for the first time? I went to Portugal for the first time this year in August! It was incredible.
What are your favorite books? I love The Hot Zone. Read it…it is terrifying.
Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?
Scary movies can have happy endings…can’t they? I love scary movies! But I won’t watch them alone.
What’s your favorite TV show? At the moment it’s The Masked Singer.
What is your favorite night out? I love hanging out in NYC, going salsa dancing, grabbing dinner at a spot in Korea town and then ending the night at my favorite speak easy with my partner.
Favorite movie of all time? Practical Magic, hands-down.
What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home? China.
Do you have any special talents? I can salsa dance and sing pretty well.
What’s your beverage of choice? Lemonade
Summer of Winter? Summer all the way! I prefer being hot over cold.
The toy and game industry clearly has….so much opportunity for innovation in toys, systems, and sales.
I’m lucky that….I took a chance on myself and started my own business. Most people don’t ever give themselves the chance to succeed…I almost didn’t!
What’s next? I want to continue to build a business that helps grow the community of creators within the toy industry. I want to help my students sell their products, ideas, and continue my own personal growth as a teacher and toy person along the way.
Thank you for taking time to answer our questions thoughtfully and with a sense of play!
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