Genius of Play Ambassador Spotlight: The Toy Coach’s Azhelle Wade
March 9, 2021 | Azhelle Wade is a 10+ year toy industry veteran, having worked at major toy manufacturers and retailers including Horizon Group USA and Toys"R"Us – and was even named a 2020 Women in Toys Wonder Women Awards “Rising Star” finalist. Today, Wade hosts the podcast “Making It in the Toy Industry” and is known by many as “The Toy Coach.” Toy News Tuesday editors had the opportunity to chat with Wade about her newest role as a Play Ambassador for The Toy Association’s Genius of Play initiative and how gamification of everyday problem-solving could help society.
Q1: How did you get your start in the toy industry and what you are doing now?
Wade: I always wanted to work with kids, with aspirations of being a teacher or a child psychologist. Ultimately, it was while I was studying to be a children's exhibition designer when a teacher told me about the toy design program at my college. My true start in the world of toys began with the Toy Design Program at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
After graduating, I worked at various toy companies, starting as a toy designer and eventually making my way up to vice president of brand & product. Along the way, I learned a lot about what makes a toy appealing to buyers, executives at toy companies, and, of course, kids! Today, I share that knowledge as The Toy Coach and founder of Toy Creators Academy, an online course that educates and empowers aspiring toy creators to develop and pitch their unique toy ideas.
Q2: Why was it important to you to become a Genius of Play Ambassador and what does play mean to you?
Wade: My goal is to positively influence and help grow the industry that has been so good to me over the past decade. Any opportunity where I can share my knowledge, beliefs, and insight is one I simply cannot ignore.
To me, play is an opportunity for people to learn about themselves, grow their minds, and develop socially. Play is vital to our emotional growth and evolution as a society.
Q3: What is your favorite toy and/or play memory?
Wade: Polly Pocket — I loved, loved, LOVED Polly Pocket. I would spend my weekends setting up entire neighborhoods for my dozens of Polly Pockets, completely covering my kitchen table. My favorite Polly Pocket was this little teacher Polly. Aside from Polly Pocket, I loved my purple Skip-It. I remember bringing it to school, and I was the coolest kid that day because everyone wanted to try it out at recess.
Q4: Play benefits our emotional and physical well-being at any age, so what steps have you taken to incorporate play into your daily routine both in and outside of work?
Wade: In my work as The Toy Coach, I make it a point to arrange game nights and toy challenges to keep my community connected through play. You can visit gamenight.thetoycoach.com to join in on the fun. Outside of work, I love a good game night at home with my partner. Since we can't have many guests due to the pandemic, we'll often create house rules for four-player games so we can play it as a two-player version.
Q5: How do you think we as a society can better incorporate play into our lives?
Wade: Society could take a cue from the toy industry! We've developed so many methods to playtest products and brainstorm ideas that turn our work moments into play moments. If our society could find a way to gamify problem-solving, it could help alleviate some societal pressures and daily stress. Obviously, gamification cannot be applied to every situation, but where applicable it could lead to much more creative problem-solving and strengthened relationships.
This interview is part of an ongoing series that spotlights the members of The Genius of Play Ambassadors program, who serve as play thought leaders within their own professional networks as well as key supporter and spokespersons for ongoing Genius of Play initiatives.
Azhelle Wade is the owner and founder of The Toy Coach, where through her online Toy Creators Academy course she uses her industry knowledge to teach aspiring toy inventors and entrepreneurs how to develop, pitch, and sell their toy ideas. To learn more, visit The ToyCoach.com.