Toy Company Discusses the Joy of Creation

by | Dec 2022

Nora O'Leary of Manhattan Toy Co.

Photos: Chris Emeott

Manhattan Toy Company creates a world of imagination for young dreamers.

If there are two material things in this world that I value most, it is my blue stuffed rabbit and the dollhouse I had growing up. The dollhouse came with interchangeable curtains and wallpaper and the most adorable furniture and home accessories. It even had battery-operated electricity—a creator’s dream to say the least. As for the rabbit? Well, that’s just my favorite animal and a companion since childhood.

It is these joyful interactions with toys that can spark imagination and a life of creative growth—a lasting impression that Minneapolis-based Manhattan Toy Company hopes to leave on its customers, too. The company makes toys for early childhood, with a focus on cognitive development, sustainability and safety.

Longtime Edina resident and president of Manhattan Toy Company Nora O’Leary says it’s the brand’s efforts toward creating such unique toys that keeps her excited each day. “Manhattan creates toys for children, and design is an integral focus of that creation,” O’Leary says. “It is creativity that can produce this amazing product.”

Wooden Toys by Manhattan Toy Co.

Jeanne Bleu, the creative director at Manhattan Toy Company, says, “Aside from making high-quality, safe toys, our real purpose, or our way to compete, is that we say design matters. So, we focus on making these toys beautiful.”

Through extensive trend research, the design team learns how parents are decorating their homes and children’s bedrooms, and they design with those colors and aesthetics in mind. Part of this trend research has led the design team to take a gender-neutral stance in terms of product design and color schemes. This is particularly notable in their “Style Your Own Wee Baby Stella” doll collection, which launched this fall, where people can customize dolls’ skin tones, hair color and style, gender and accessories.

But these toys aren’t just beautiful. They’re also designed for specific developmental phases in a child’s life. O’Leary says that a foundation of Manhattan’s toy design process is thinking about the development of a child—where they are cognitively and how each specific toy they design can play a role in how children’s brains develop. “Play is how children learn … We believe we have heirloom products that can last generations [not only] because of the aesthetic design but [also] because it’s a component of developmental and cognitive play.”

Plush Dolls by Manhattan Toy Co.

That idea of creating heirloom products also plays into its focus on sustainability. The toys are made of high-quality wood and textiles, creating durable, long-lasting products that can be passed on. In addition, the design team is working toward creating little-to-no-waste packaging for the toys. The company is in the process of designing packaging that encourages its reuse, where boxes can become a doll bassinet or shelters for toys. “We are making sure that we are being good citizens for the kids who are the future inhabitants [of the planet],” Bleu says.

But for children, the toys they create are simply meant to spark imagination, creativity and joy. “It inspires us to see a child play and create with our products,” O’Leary says. “Watching everyone do their magic is the best part.”

Shop Local

See where you can find Manhattan Toys right here in our community. Manhattan Toy also designs custom products for Anthropologie, LEGO and Target.

4942 France Ave. S.; 952.767.6565

Legacy Toys
3555 Galleria; 952.955.6938

4400 France Ave.; 612.999.8443

Santa’s Minneapolis Workshop

Get to know Manhattan Toy Company’s team of toy-makers.

Manhattan Toy Co. Team

Manhattan Toy Company’s in-house design team creates all of their toy designs, packaging and web and social media visual directions. Each member of the team brings experience from varied design backgrounds—though none started out as toy designers! Scroll down to learn a bit about everyone on the team, courtesy of Jeanne Bleu, Manhattan Toy’s creative director.

Shenandoah has designed for fashion, decor, puppets—and now plush toys, including the exclusive plush toy partnership with LEGO. Her creativity and pattern making skills enable her to do the impossible.

Heidi and Maddie both have illustration backgrounds. Their talent has defined the Manhattan Toy look: beautiful toys that have purpose.

Cathy is a master plush toy maker. Her love of animals and creative interpretation has led to best-selling, best-loved plushies.

Marie José is a bookmaker and graphic designer. These skills are essential for every facet of our design process—marketing pieces, product design, illustration and packaging.

Jackie makes sure all toys are safe and that vendor-providers are socially and ethically responsible.

Sue keeps an eye on costing and vendor management. We always want our toys to have a few more features than we can afford; Sue helps us get there.

Jules is spearheading our sustainability efforts. Our toys are meant to contribute to a happy, clean future for the planet.

“Our super-power is this combination of talent, skill and team-work, ensuring Manhattan Toy

stands out in the competitive toy landscape,” Bleu says. 

Bleu has led the design effort for the past seven years and has carried the torch for Manhattan Toy’s “look” and drive for excellence. O’Leary says that “Manhattan has benefited from Jeanne’s ability to maintain and drive creativity while understanding the end consumer (the child) and that we are only successful if we survive as a business. A rare combination.”

As for her favorite part of being a toy-maker? “We were all kids once. As toy designers we tap into our own experiences and memories. We seek new and familiar ways to create beautiful toys that have purpose.”

Manhattan Toy Co.
Facebook: Manhattan Toy
Instagram: @manhattantoy


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