One way or another, Azhelle Wade knew she would center children in her life, even as a little girl herself. Little did she know, her career would take her down a road where she’d literally play with toys well into her adulthood.
“I thought I was going to be a teacher growing up because I just loved children,” Wade told ESSENCE. But as she started to realize that her salary expectations were misaligned with the profession, she pivoted.
“As a teen, my older sister told me that as important as they are, teachers didn’t make much money so I started looking into toy design,” she shared.
Some years later, she then landed at the Fashion Institute of Technology, earning a BFA degree in toy designs and quickly landed leadership roles with companies like Toys R Us, Party City, Creative Kids and Madame Alexander. But it was hardly a playground.
“While in school, there were so many challenges,” she shared. “I didn’t sleep for two years. I had to really learn the industry and work up the ranks.”
She also discussed how difficult it could be to work in an industry where minorities are grossly underrepresented.
“No lie, I was the only Black woman I knew in the industry,” she shared, stating that diverse mentorship was hard to come by early in her career.
Only 1.6% of toy designers of US toy designers are Black or African. Even less are in leadership roles. This disparity ultimately led Wade to launch her toy coaching academy to provide targeted support and resources for Black women to break their way into the industry.
She said she was inspired to launch the brand after a conversation she had with a Black who had a genius idea, but lacked the resources needed to realize it.
“She had this game, and she was so excited about it,” Wade explained. “I was a VP of branded product at a company at the time and I was telling her, to describe the game to so I could take it my boss and license it, but she literally could not explain the game in the way that I needed her to. She didn’t have the pitch materials I needed. She was just so excited, but lost. So I wanted to help her, and exchanged contact info then and there, and the rest is history.”
She says that her Toy Creators Academy empowers newbies in the toy industry by providing them with step-by-step guidance, downloadable worksheets, group coaching and a listening ear.
“I know what it’s like to be one of one,” she told ESSENCE. “There’s no reason that that has to continue especially in an industry meant to spark joy.”
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