Spider-Man. Superman. When it comes to superhero action figures that appeal to both boys and adult men, many abound.
But who is the female counterpart of Superman, an admirable action figure that appeals to young girls and women?
This was the question that plagued Julie Kerwin back in 2012, and she vividly remembers having a conversation with her friend Dawn Nadeau about it.
“We have superheroes like Spider-Man or Superman who appeals to [both] a four-year-old boy and a 40-year-old man,” Kerwin said. “There really wasn’t a figure for girls that span that gap all the way through.”
But that October, Kerwin had an epiphany. She had the idea of creating a line of female action figures that appeal to girls, but they would be different from the Marvel-esque characters. The figures Kerwin envisioned would embody honorable character traits designed to empower the individuals who play with them.
“I woke up one morning and said, ‘It’s not superheroes, it’s superpowers,’” Kerwin remembered. “[It’s about] character traits — bravery, honesty, courage, wisdom. From that moment on, it was like we were off to the races.”
And what a journey it’s been. Kerwin immediately started brainstorming possible company names.
“The IAmElemental concept came from this notion that all the superpowers that we could ever want or need are already inside of us and they form the core of who we are,” Kerwin said.
Thus, the company was born, with Kerwin and Nadeau as co-founders. Instead of creating action figures that were “movie tie-in toys,” Kerwin said they wanted to do something very different with their brand.
“One of the ideas behind the concept was that there’s no story attached,” she explained. “We wanted to make the girl or boy the center of a story where they were the ones saving the day. We want this to be a creative outlet for them in storytelling.”
While the two mothers started brainstorming the development of their first line of action figures from that point, IAmElemental’s cause became public last May when they launched their Kickstarter campaign. The whole process was both exciting and challenging to Kerwin, as the company’s future depended on the public’s response.
“Using the crowdfunding concept — and the technology involved — was a wonderful way to see if the market was interested in what we were doing,” Kerwin said. “We were fully funded in two days. We were asking for $35,000, and we closed after 30 days with just under $163,000.”
Fast-forward to present day. Action figures for the company’s first series, “Courage,” were delivered to retail stores in December. IAmElemental currently has about 15 retailers who carry the figures, but interested customers could order the action figures via the IAmElemental.com website as well.
The “Courage” series comprises seven 4-inch figures that sell for $9.99 each. Every individual “Mystery Pack” includes a figure, an accessory, a shield and two trading cards, and the entire set can be bought for $65.
IAmElemental will reveal the six-inch “Courage” figure at the 2015 Toy Fair in New York City this weekend. Kerwin explained that every series will start with seven, 4-inch figures and will be complemented by a 6-inch figure that’s the “Core Power.” The company is already underway with the design of the second series, “Wisdom,” which Kerwin is especially excited about.
“We’re hoping to reveal that series by the end of the year,” she said. “Hopefully, it [releasing new series] will be an annual thing.”
Whether or not new series will launch every year, though, the response to IAmElemental’s efforts has been tremendous. Kerwin says that girls have not only embraced the figures, but boys, mothers, fathers and even grandparents have welcomed the concept as well. Last November, the company’s action figures were recognized by Time Magazine as one of “The 25 Best Inventions of 2014.”
“We never could have predicted that, and it brought a lot more attention to us,” Kerwin said. “We now have this larger customer base in grandparents. I love the fact that these grandfathers — who grew up in a very different age — are seeking to put the powers in the hands of their granddaughters.”
When it came to the action figures’ designs, Kerwin said that a lot of thought went into the creation process. It was especially crucial to Kerwin that these figures were “fierce and fun enough” to appeal to both, girls and boys.
“How else are you going to create an environment where children have this notion of gender equality if you’re only addressing one-half of the population?” Kerwin said. “It’s equally important to put a strong, powerful female figure in the hands of a boy as it is in the hands of a girl. Because I have two boys [ages 16 and 9], that was always a priority for me.”
In our current media-centric age, Kerwin notes that the hypersexuality of the female form seems to be at its apex. She says that IAmElemental is striving to help counteract the image of the hypersexualized woman by focusing on positive character traits.
“Children are receiving messages every day about men and women,” she said. “[With IAmElemental] we’re saying, ‘This is who girls are, too.’ There are real heroes who walk among us — strong, powerful women who exhibit these character traits. These traits are inside of you and you can use them to make the world around you better.”
Though 2015 just started, the IAmElemental team has already hit the ground running. Besides attending Toy Fair and preparing to launch the “Wisdom” series, Kerwin says that other goals for the year include making the company’s website more interactive for kids and continuing to spread the IAmElemental message.
“We’re selling more than an action figure — we’re selling a message about empowerment and character, and it’s resonated with people,” Kerwin said. “Stay tuned … we’re just getting started.”
Top photo courtesy of IAmElemental