(photo credit: )
It was a trip to Japan in the late 1990s that inspired Michal First to begin making colorful dolls and toys for children. As an architectural student at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, she appreciated the delicate balance between beauty and color that she saw abroad, and wanted to create something of her own in a similar vein.
"The awareness of color and aesthetics in Japan is amazing. They pay such attention to detail, and even in their toys for children, that attention is reflected," she says. Once she came across the idea, it evolved and grew into what is today Pomfitis, a company that designs bright and soft therapeutic toys for children.
Although Michal envisioned the dolls nearly eight years ago, it took a few years for the design and production to fall into place, and the toys did not go on the market until 2003. "Had I known then how much work it would be to start a company and make it successful, I would have thought twice about it," she says. "It's a lot of hard work, energy and time to make sure things are running smoothly."
Once Michal's husband Amit, a professional artist, began helping, the company really started to grow.
"Before we could start selling, we had to find suppliers for the materials, manufacturers for the dolls and we had some kinks to work out in the designs," explains Michal. "It took nearly a year to solve a problem with Tito's eyes. We started out by gluing them onto the fabric and then realized that we had to find another solution. Now they are round balls and they give him a more puppet-like appearance."
Tito, the company's first doll, has a large, hand-sewn pocket for a mouth and two round eyes on top of his head reminiscent of Jim Henson's muppet character, Animal - minus the eyebrows and hair. Tito comes in three different sizes and a variety of colors, but it is the simplicity of the doll that children are attracted to, especially boys.
"I have mothers tell me all the time that their boys love Tito and a lot of people buy him as a gift for boys," says Michal. "I'm happy to have created a doll that boys can play with, and because Tito is so simple, he inspires children to use their imagination when it comes to details like ears, hair or hands."
With the rapidly growing craze of anthroposophic toys, in which children are encouraged to play with the simplest blocks of natural materials to encourage creativity, the minimalism of the Pomfitis toys fits nicely into the trend. And all of the Pomfitis products are filled with small, synthetic beads that make them fun to squeeze and flexible.
"We are not exactly anthroposophic because the materials we use are synthetic," says Michal, "but we do try to keep our toys simple and plain so that the children have room for their own mental creations."
In addition to inspiring creativity, Tito is water-resistant and durable. He is made to withstand any pulling, pushing or tugging a child can manage, and he can even join you for a swim in the pool. According to some physiotherapists and therapists, dolls like Tito also encourage movement and sensual developments in children.
"The toys give children something soft to take care of, and parents often tell me that one of the dolls scares away monsters or comforts them when they are away from home," says Michal. "One mother told me her child was so concerned about Tito that she got worried when his eyes wouldn't close that he wasn't sleeping."
At its inception, Pomfitis only sold Tito, but now there are six toys to choose from and Michal hopes to introduce the next two products by the end of this year.
One of Pomfitis' newest products was inspired by Michal and Amit's three-month-old daughter, Rani. "Our latest creation is a floating pad for the bath that parents can use to help wash their children," says Michal. "Newborns are often so tiny that parents are afraid to wash them, and this pad makes it easier to put them in the bath tub and it's soft on their skin."
The toys range in price from 99 shekels to 399 shekels, and they are sold in stores across Israel. Michal aims to lower the prices in the future, as the company grows, so that every Israeli family can afford to have a Pomfitis toy at home.
For more information, visit www.pomfitis.com