When Mary Beth Minton's three children were growing up, she saw that one of her daughters preferred playing with her teddy bear and dressing it up in outfits really designed for dolls.
Flash forward a few years and the Greenwich resident decided to use her sewing skills and develop a toy that combined the concept of a teddy bear with themed, doll-like outfits. Minton says she wanted a toy that would be both fun and educational. The result of her efforts is 'Zylie the Bear,' a cuddly, world-traveling toy that embraces the security children find in a teddy bear and the educational concepts of teaching world geography and culture.
Minton says thousands of the panda-like bear have been sold in specialty toy shops in the tri-state region—from Greenwich, Stepping Stones Museum Shop in Norwalk, Age of Reason in Westport, and upstate at the Red Barn of Woodbridge. On Long Island, they've arranged for children attending the OASIS Kids Camps in Manorhaven, Point Lookout and New Hyde Park, to have access to the dolls.
Minton, whose background includes Wharton School of Business degree, says she tinkered with various designs of the doll before settling on the the panda-look which was popular during the Beijing summer Olympics 4 years ago. "It was a country that was being taught about in schools and Pandas seemed to be a very much loved bear," Minton says.
"We wanted fun places to visit and to incorporate the animals that are indigenous to the country," she explains. So the world is literally her oyster for potential story lines for the mini travel books that are available with the dolls. There are plans to transform Zylie passport into an interactive tool that will connect children to online lessons in geography and culture, Minton says.
The working name for the doll bear was Sophie but Minton says she wanted a name that was catchy and had the potential to become a household name. It took about a month of her and her family playing with Scrabble letter tiles to come up with the name Zylie.
She employed a Broadway set designer to help develop the final design of Zylie and Greenwich resident Katie Fong, who's worked with top name designers including Oscar de la Renta and Vera Wang, to design the five different outfits that are available.
While Minton employs outside help for her doll line, her efforts are a true family affair. Her daughter Sarah who was the inspiration for the bear doll now helps with writing content for Zylie books and accessories such as a passport that helps teach youngsters world geography and culture. Her 25-year-old son Matt works with his mother on the branding and marketing of the doll that sells for $49.99.
Matt says he's enjoying working with his mother after leaving a job in Denver to return to Greenwich. "We found out we had many complimentary skill sets. I always saw her as Mom. It's neat to see her in a different context," Matt says.
Minton says, "He's the big picture thinker, the strategy; and I sit down and figure out how to accomplish it."
In the meantime, the doll has been featured on the Today Show and won several parent and toy organization awards.