Monday, June 6, 2011

5 Minutes With Paul Budnitz of Kidrobot

PAUL BUDNITZ is the founder of Kidrobot, the world's premiere creator of art toys, fashion apparel and accessories. He also owns and runs Paul Budnitz Bicycles, a titanium bicycle company, is an author of several books, exhibits as a photorapher and filmmaker, and has founded over a dozen companies.

Budnitz's founded Kidrobot in a California garage in 2002 and moved the new company to New York City in 2003. Kidrobot produces roughly 60 new toy projects each year and its toys are sold in thousands of stores world wide. Budnitz has designed or art directed virtually every product created by Kidrobot since the company's inception and has worked with many of the world's top artists, designers, and fashion brands including Frank Kozik, Dalek, Gary Baseman, Shepard Fairy. Designers including Heatherette, Jil Sander, Dries Van Noten, Marc Jacobs, Visionaire, and Paul Smith; Musicians including Swizz Beatz, DJ QBert, and Gorillaz; and brands like Nike, Barney's NYC, LaCoste, Burton Snowboards, The Standard Hotels, Siemens, and Volkswagon; and many, many, many others.

In late 2006 he authored the book I AM PLASTIC: The Designer Toy Explosion, published by Harry Abrams Press. Its sequel, I AM PLASTIC, TOO, was released in late 2010. The Hole in the Middle, Budnitz's first children's book, was published by Hyperion/Disney in 2011. Kidrobot runs a website and retail stores in New York City, London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Dallas & Miami. Its products can be found in over 1000 retailers worldwide.

Paul Budnitz splits his time between Amsterdam and Colorado, where he takes boxing classes & owns 80 pairs of size 13 sneakers.

Q1. What was the first record you bought and what effect did it have on you?

A. This is a very sad and tragic story, actually. I grew up in a house with only two records: a double album of marching band music by John Phillips Souza and a scratched Country Joe and the Fish album. That was my father's entire record collection. The really weird thing is that he also had a very, very loud stereo system, and from time to time when the mood hit him my dad used to blast marching band music at top volume. He never really played the Country Joe album.


When I was eight my mom brought me a tennis racket and miniature classical guitar (nylon strings) that she'd picked up at a garage sale. She said that playing tennis, and playing the guitar, were good way to meet girls when I got older. At eight years old this was a perfect anti-motivation to play tennis, and I refused to go after the first lesson. But I liked the guitar.

Since our family didn't own any music, my new guitar teacher suggested I buy a Beatles album so we could learn some of the songs together. Next thing my mom and I are in a record shop, and the hippie salesman offers me two choices: Sgt. Peppers or The White Album. I chose the White Album, and I now know that this is the exact moment where I basically fucked up the rest of my life.

Think about it -- I'd heard neither album. I was just going by cover art. What kind of demented kid would choose a big double album with nothing at all on the cover over the candy colored promise of Sgt. Peppers? What the hell was wrong with me?

I got home and spent days listening to "Sexy Sadie", over and over. I mean, I listened to it hundreds times. Then I discovered "Happiness is a Warm Gun". I eventually found the place where you could hear John say "turn me on dead man" if you spun Revolution 9 backwards. You can't do this on a CD, by the way. You need to own the vinyl.

I didn't buy another album until I was 12, and bought a 45 of "Refugee" by Tom Petty. And I never was any good at playing the guitar.

Q2. How did you get involved in the whole vinyl collectible world?

In 2002 saw a bunch of toys that Bounty Hunter made in Japan, and then in Hong Kong, and said, "Oh, I want to do that, that looks fun!". They reminded me of cereal box art gone to hell. Plus, I figured I could make a few bucks doing it, which doesn't make much sense in retrospect.

Plastic toys for adults. Brilliant business plan, right?

Q3. How did you come up with the name Kidrobot ?

A. I was into cowboy movies at the time (still am) and all the bad guys had names like "Kid Texas" or "Kid Alabama". I figured, "Kidrobot" -- that's me.

Q4. Where do you find inspiration for creativity?

A. It sort of finds me more than I find it. My experience is that creativity comes from a deep discontent that I have, that I can never quite see the world as it is. I think this is true for all of us -- things are never quite right. Those of us who become artists experience this so deeply that we are driven to go out and make something that fits in better than the world we got stuck with.

I think that's why all good artists are perfectionists. We're trying to create something stable in a world that's a total disaster.

Q5. Has Internet effected the way you do business?

A. Yes, completely. I'm in the process of starting a bicycle company ( and it's all more or less virtual. I did the designs, the frames are being welded in Tennessee by the best Titanium bicycle builder in the world, they're assembled by the best bike maker in the US, and then shipped directly to customers who order them online. Thanks to the Internet I have very little overhead, and this allows me to put more money into making the bicycles even better, into using only the very best materials and components.

Without the internet this would be impossible!

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