Sylvanians for the Masses?

7 Oct

You can find knock-offs almost anywhere these days. Clothes, shoes, bags, electronics – all replicas of name brands – flood the market. Even toys are no longer exempt. There are fake Barbie dolls sold for less than ten percent of the price of the original, fake Transformers robots which look amazingly close to the originals, Hello Kitty stuffed dolls that are no less pretty as the authentic ones ripped off from Sanrio- you name it, there’s probably an imitation of it being sold anywhere at any time in the world. Apparently, even Sylvanian Families are not exempt, with the appearance of “Sylvanian-like” figures, buildings, and accessories in online market places like eBay.  

Theratpack360 of Sylvanian Haven has a very good review on a particular set of knock-offs manufactured by SanJin Toys (China). You can find the review here. Not only does she describe the products in clear detail in terms of figure quality (flocking, joints, clothing, coloring) and packaging, she also makes a very prophetic statement on the effect of these knock-offs on the market as far as Sylvanians as concerned. 

“The down side is that as companies try to compete with a name brand and customers keep buying the alternative, it has the potential to drive quality of the main brand down to keep within competition.”~ Sylvanian Haven

True enough, we see that happening already. In a recent visit to the toy store that owns the distribution rights of Sylvanian Families in the Philippines (Toy Town Eastwood), I came across these items- three-figured families, matching babies, and some furniture.

I wasn’t at all surprised to see these, having heard about their existence in the forum beforehand. But seeing them up close and personal, I could not help but notice the marked differences in quality, packaging, and costs from figures previously released. For example, comparing the three-figured sheep family side by side with the original four-figured sheep family, it is clear that SF has cut corners with coloring (single colors as opposed to multiple colors and variations), clothing (single items of clothing without much structure or design), and packaging to diminish production costs. The dogs and mice aren’t so bad looking, though. They are, in fact, rather cute.

The new sheep family comes in a single color and has lost the pink noses and ears of the original. Clothes are simpler, less detailed single pieces. These are also packaged in clear plastic with only cardboard backing.

The introduction of these new families seems to be the response we were expecting to cheap copies that threaten SF’s market share. Sylvanian Families toys, as we all know, have a reputation for being expensive (and they are, really) and while this affords the brand a certain prestige, it also tends to discourage a large segment of the market from trying out the toy line. By meeting market needs with simpler toys that require less to produce, Epoch may be effectively heading off competition from knock-offs.

But figures are not all that these new releases have modified. If original Sylvanian Families designs are genteel, refined, and elegant in nature, these new releases can be considered a simpler, working man’s line, or what my husband likes to call “the farmer’s line.”  (No offense meant to farmers, though. Even the salesman kidded and called these new critters as “ipinanganak sa bukid” or literally “born in a field,” in reference to their simpler, less sophisticated aesthetics.)  Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but collectors can definitely see the differences in quality and attention to detail. For the first time,we have Epoch Euro furniture sold as single items, much like the singly-boxed Epoch JP furniture sold in Japan, Hong Kong, or Singapore. Beyond that, the similarities end.

versions of living room sofas

three generations of the television- from L to R- vintage, deluxe and farmer's line

While still made of sturdy, smooth plastic, not much else was added to its appeal. The sofa, for example, is no longer upholstered with foam and fabric; what passes as cushioned seats are strips of cloth pasted directly on the plastic molding. The television lacks a clear screen, which used to be thick acetate in older versions. Pictures provided for the telly are no longer laminated plastic, just simple cardboard. Moreover, the packaging seems fuzzy and unclear, making it look like knock-offs when they really are not.

What these lack in aesthetics, they more than make up in affordability. These three-figured families are pegged at PHP649.75 as compared to PhP1000-1200 for the regular four-figured families, a savings of 13-28% per figure off of the original. The babies are sold at PhP179.75 each compared to the PhP250 of the baby carry cases.  And single furniture go as  low as PhP149.75, making it easier and lighter on the pocket as one can choose specific items without having to buy complete sets. This makes these perfect for little kids or for parents who want sturdy, safe toys for less price. 

I don’t know if this is the ultimate future of this toyline, and if it is, this is a development many diehard collectors will one day rue. Side by side with the original designs, I can learn to live with these new releases, no big deal. Choices are always good for the consumer. By themselves, however, I feel that these are but a sorry excuse for Sylvanians.




7 Responses to “Sylvanians for the Masses?”

  1. P-Angel October 7, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your find!

    It’s a bit disappointing to hear about the turn in quality – ultimately it will make it easier for parents buying for children who want to play with Sylvanian Families. I don’t think a child will notice the subtle differences, however collectors of course have a keen eye, and pride themselves on the quality of the line.

    The one thing I do like about the three figure pack is that it is at least different from the standard neuclear family. A little more like real life!

    I hope the quality doesn’t infect the UK market. I don’t mind paying more for something, providing the quality I’m accustomed to is there.

    P.S – I will sort out a photo soon for you, sorry I’ve been ill and ditzy >_<;

  2. Eric October 7, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

    Thanks for this post. It’s very well-written for the collector, Pinky.

    I really like those brown dogs and mice. They look pretty adorable. It would be nice though it they would mix it up and include a brother figure with some families instead of a sister. Maybe mother, brother, and sister and father, brother, and sister sets would be nice to have also.


  3. BugzySUPERhappy October 7, 2010 at 8:30 pm #

    Your review is great. I enjoyed TheRatPack’s review as well. I’m not a fan of knockoffs, or cheaper made Sylvanians. Yes, Sylvanians are expensive, but it’s the detail and craftmenship that make me go crazy for them. I wouldn’t trade in price for quality any day. However, I agree that these are a great option for parents who want Sylvanians for their children, but don’t want to spend a fortune.
    You did a great job on this, Pinky, I really enjoyed reading it 🙂 Bravo!

  4. Michael October 22, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    I want the family sets. I am not dissuaded by any of the negative points.

  5. Kittymama October 22, 2010 at 11:41 am #

    They grew on me, friends! I opened one of the boxes and noticed how, despite the simple no-frills clothing, these critters were beautifully made. The flocking was good, as also the joints. 🙂 I wish they’d sell us Sylvanian clothing here, though, because these critters desperately need new ones!

    @P-Angel- I hope you’re feeling much, much better. I have a package on the way to you but it didn’t have my surprise yet because I am still waiting for your pictures. But no rush, sweetie. 🙂

    @Eric- They only look awful inside their packaging so I am really happy I decided to open them. The dogs are super cute!

    @Bugzy- I agree. Kids lose those tiny accessories anyway and as for clothing, as long as the critters aren’t naked, they’re good for playing. They are cute, though, and I’ve completely gone bonkers for them. 🙂 They do add a certain country charm to Kitty Little Lanes.

    @Michael- I’m glad you’re not because I have just made a turnaround on my opinion of the “farmer line.”

  6. Michael October 23, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    I might have to work on getting those when the budget is in Sylvanian mode as I have other items I am going after right now.


  1. New Kids on the Block « Okasaneko Chronicles - November 11, 2010

    […] I first wrote Sylvanians for the Masses, I must admit that I didn’t get Epoch’s marketing strategy on their new EU […]

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