Meet Tou Yia Xiong, Toy Designer

Interview by Xeng Moua

My name is Tou Yia Xiong, and I was born in Thailand. I grew up in Appleton, WI and currently reside in St. Paul, MN. I have always been interested in art and grew up watching cartoons and anime like Digimon and Spirit Awakes just to name a few. In high school I became more interested in computers and went to the University of Wisconsin-Stout for Multi Media Design.

After I graduated, I moved out to Seattle and did app designs such as Mr. Dreamer for iPhone games. The company I worked for folded, and I decided to come back to the Midwest. I found a job opening at Manhattan Toy Company and applied. I sent them my portfolio and they liked it, so they called me in for an interview. They gave me a test to design two toys for them.

I designed a microscope for kids to be scientists and explore things with. The second toy was a soft, plush squid toy. They liked both of them and hired me on. In fact, my design for the microscope actually got made into a real toy. I have designed over 150 toys for them and most of them have gone into production and are now sold in stores like Target and Barnes and Noble.

What I find most rewarding about my job is seeing my ideas go from paper to a physical product that I can touch in my hands. I also enjoy getting responses to the toys on social media and e mails. Parents will post up pictures of their kids playing with the toys I designed.

I never thought what I did was out of the box but I feel very fortunate to be doing what I love. I enjoy going to Career Day at schools and inspiring kids to go down an artistic path. There is definitely an under representation in the industry when it comes to Hmong artists, so it’s nice to let others know that they do have a career in design and creativity.

My advice to Hmong artists struggling out there is to involve family and friends in the process of their creativity. That way they can have support and proof that they can make a living out of it. They should also have their friends and family come to their showcases and let them see their designs and artwork. Sometimes it is also necessary to break someone’s heart a little if they don’t believe in your dreams and don’t want you to pursue them. Don’t ever let anyone stand in your way!

Some projects I’m working on that I want to share is an app called Zoosi that has animals in both the Hmong and English languages. I originally created the Zoosi flash cards but am currently working on turning it into an app. The user can look at the animal and press the word for it in English or Hmong. I’m still adding more animals to it as well as adding people to the team to help tweak it and market it.

I enjoy traveling and just got back from a vacation in Japan with some friends. We spent four days just snowboarding in the mountains. We also went to Kyoto and Tokyo. I love anime and cartoons so being immersed in the Japanese culture was just really inspiring.

To find out more about Tou Yia’s artwork, check out his Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/tyxdraws/.

To find out more about his Zoosi flash cards and app check out http://zoosiapp.com/

and https://www.etsy.com/shop/tyxdraws.

To get in touch with Tou Yia, e mail him at touyiaxiong@gmail.com

Seng Alex Vang

Seng Alex Vang is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at the University of California, Merced. He is also a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, Geography & Ethnic studies at California State University, Stanislaus where he teaches courses in Asian American studies.

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