For Business

Brand spotlight: Brown Toy Box

This educational toy company thinks outside the box when it comes to inclusive play for children.

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Young children spend time learning about their world through toys. It’s through play that they learn creativity, empathy, and self-esteem. A toy is so much more than just a toy to kids, it’s a tool that can show them what’s possible.

Terri-Nichelle Bradley has always seen the magic in toys. But she hasn’t always felt that the toy aisle captured the diversity, nuance, and richness of the world they’re meant to represent.

“When I was a kid, inclusive toys were something my mom would drive around looking for, and I would see her frustration when she couldn’t find any,” says Terri-Nichelle. “Then I became a mom, and I got frustrated when I needed inclusive toys for my kids but couldn’t find them either.”

Terri-Nichelle’s four kids, D’Andre, Justin, Elliott, and Makayla, inspired her to create the change that she wanted to see. She founded Brown Toy Box in 2017, an inclusive educational toy company that produces puzzles, games, and toys that teach kids about STEAM (science, technology, arts, engineering, and math). She says, “I knew it was something that was needed in the industry, but I didn’t know I would be the one to do it.”

The mission of Brown Toy Box is to disrupt the world of play with products that celebrate Black children in an engaging, culturally affirming way that encourages all children to join the fun.

Parents are seeking out inclusive toys, and they’re discovering Brown Toy Box. According to 2022 data from the Toy Association, 68% of US parents desire toys that teach inclusion, and 73% appreciate that toys are more diverse than they were a generation ago. Brown Toy Box meets a consumer demand with carefully designed toys that spur the imagination and delight the curiosity of children everywhere.

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“We want to create play that’s equal parts learning and fun,” Terri-Nichelle explains. “Brown Toy Box gives children early exposure to STEAM education and cultural diversity, and it does that through the promotion of Black excellence.”

With Brown Toy Box, she has created an entire universe replete with storytelling for all its characters. In the chemistry puzzle, Amara is a young girl from Detroit who loves experimenting with her chem lab. In the medical science kit, Haylee wants to be a doctor and loves dressing up in a lab coat and teaching people about anatomy. In the entomology kit, Willow learns all about her favorite insect, the lady bug. And in the Dre to the Moon puzzle, a young Dre loves space exploration and invites kids to put together a galactic jigsaw.

Dre’s character is actually named after Terri-Nichelle’s son. It was important to her that the characters in Brown Toy Box have diverse names. She wanted names that Black children could identify with, and she wanted to help normalize culturally Black names among kids from other backgrounds.

“We have been very intentional about naming,” Terri-Nichelle says. “I thought it would be cool to have this kid Dre who’s obsessed with astronomy, or another kid named Jaylen who’s passionate about solving mysteries through forensic science. All children benefit from diverse representations.”

What she also loves about the Dre puzzle is that it gets kids off of their devices and screens and encourages tactical play, which is important for developing minds.

“There’s nothing better than seeing that look of pride and achievement on a kid’s face when they finish putting the puzzle together,” she notes. “You can see their brains working as they use logic and deductive reasoning to place each piece.”

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Terri-Nichelle works with artists, product designers, researchers, and STEAM professionals on new toy releases to ensure that each toy feels premium and that the story behind each toy is compelling. For the puzzles, the pieces are large and colorful so that it’s easier for younger kids to put together, and they’re made several millimeters thick so that they don’t bend easily. For each character, Terri-Nichelle takes painstaking effort to craft culturally aware and accurate storylines

One of the Brown Toy Box characters, Amara, is a Black Muslim girl. “I’m not Muslim, so I spent a long time researching her character because I wanted it to feel respectful and authentic,” explains Terri-Nichelle.

The result is a line of toys that educate, inspire, and empower.

And kids aren’t the only ones who are in love with Brown Toy Box. Terri-Nichelle regularly gets feedback from adults that enjoy playing with Brown Toy Box toys as much as kids do. For those who might not have encountered diverse toys as children, it’s an opportunity for them to have experiences that they didn’t get growing up. This demographic, known by the toy industry as “kidults,” are responsible for 25% of toy sales annually, according to data from the NPD Group.

“There is this phenomenon I’m seeing of adults buying the toys they wish they had when they were kids,” she says. “We all have that child inside of us, and Brown Toy Box speaks to that.”

For Brown Toy Box fans, both kids and kids-at-heart, the brand is changing how people play and crafting a future that’s only bound by the imagination.

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Anita Little