We had the good fortune of connecting with Annamarie von Firley and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Annamarie, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I started my first business when I was 27. reVamp was a fashion house that specialized reproduction vintage clothing for men and women focusing on 1910-1957. The concept was my friends idea. I wasn’t interested in starting a business because I worked for a startup and saw that my boss never got paid. I needed to get paid. When that company sold and moved to the Midwest leaving me without work, I relented. reVamp was born in 1998. I didn’t even know how to sew at the time (but I knew how to operate a bandsaw. Turns out they require the same eye-hand coordination).

The partnership lasted a year. The friendship has lasted a lifetime. I ran the company for 20 years. But I felt like I was living someone else’s dream. I wondered when I was going to be able to do what I wanted to do. I felt like she knocked me up and left me to raise the baby alone. The baby was 20 now. I decided that it was time to return to my roots.

In 2016, I successfully crowdfunded my second business, Adventuretown Toy Emporium. While that might seem pretty random, toys were my first love. A path not taken. I have a BA in Wooden Toy Design and Construction from Hampshire College and BFA in Furniture Design from California College of the Arts. In 1993, when I graduated from Hampshire, I decided not to seek employment in the Toy Industry. At the time, there were almost no educational toy companies in the U.S. Most toys were made from plastic and broke easily. Toys with educational value did not exist. There was no market for them in the U.S. I tried to get an internship in Europe where wooden toy design was inspirational. But the companies were worried that I would steal their ideas when I went back the U.S. There was no place for me in the toy industry. So I moved on to designing furniture.

Fast forward 25 years. I am working at reVamp. We are building some time-sensitive costumes for some huge feature film. My son was 7 at the time. He was invited to 3 birthday parties in one weekend. It was the day before the parties. I had waited too long to order anything online. My go-to toy shopping destination at the time was the gift shop at Central Library in DTLA. But it was closed for renovation. My business was located in DTLA and there were no toy stores. A half a million people worked in DTLA, but there were no toy stores. I wondered why. Then wondered if I had a toy store what it would look like. That is how Adventuretown Toy Emporium was born.

I ran both businesses for 2 years. In 2018, I decided that I only wanted to pursue one. I threw myself into growing my toy business. Six years in, I can see that the path has not be straight and I am not where I thought I would be. But I here I am: adapting and growing the business in a very different yet exciting way.

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
When I founded Adventuretown Toy Emporium in 2016, I always planned on opening a huge experiential toy store. Covid had other ideas. When the second wave of the pandemic hit in August of 2020, I knew that this pandemic wasn’t going to go anywhere and while everyone was going to be effected, the youngest children were going to be the most profoundly effected. Eighty percent of the brain is developed in the first 1000 days from birth. Another 10% is developed by age 5 and the last 10% by the time you can have your first legal alcoholic drink.

Critical connections in the brain are created through experiences: Seeing dappled light on the grass in a park; the sounds of birds chirping and the song of the ice cream truck as it passes your house; the smell of salty air from the ocean; the feeling of the crunch of leaves under your feet and the dry scrape of brittle leaved pressing between your toes, the taste of food your mom never made you, the sound of words being spoken by people who originate from countries you have never visited. All of these experiences build the neural network in the brain and 80% of that happens before the age of 3. Here is the kicker: brain connections operate on a strictly use-it-or-lose-it basis. After the age of 3, the brain begins to prune the synapses that aren’t being used. I knew that the kids born before or during the pandemic were going to be profoundly effected because you can’t lock a kid in a house for 2 years and not expect it to effect their development.

25% of parents believe that their children are not meeting their milestones. And they are right. The first studies were released in January. They confirm that children who were as young as 6 months old when the pandemic lockdowns began showed “significant developmental delays”. This will have a profound effect on this generation because if these issues are not addressed by age 3, it can lead to sensory processing issues, physical limitations, anxiety, and depression in adulthood. The good news is that with early intervention, children can get developmentally back on track. That is why we created Fledglings’ Flight.

Fledglings’ Flight is a child development app and customized subscription box that gives parents of children under 3 years old the tools they need to optimize their child’s development.  The app includes daily play-based exercises created by specialists in pediatric occupational therapy, developmental optometry, and speech pathology. The free app also provides a library boasting over 1200 articles on child development and self-care as reference materials for parents. Basic members can track the 812 milestones that their child should achieve by their child’s 4th birthday.

For the first time, parents can receive a monthly subscription box that is tailored to their child’s unique needs when they become a Premium member. The Fledglings’ Flight app collects parent-provided data about milestones and exercises completed along with feedback from parents about their child’s experience with the toys in each “Toolbox” to create a developmental profile that looks for lags or acceleration. Unlike other toy subscription boxes who send every child the same box of toys several times a year, Fledglings’ Flight’s Toolbox is customized to each child’s developmental needs whether they are delayed, on-track, advanced, or asynchronous. The Toolboxes features one or two developmental toys curated from 35 countries and chosen for their educational value, as well as supplies needed for the daily exercises such as balloons, pipe cleaners, pompoms, straws that may not be found in the parent’s home.

The limited number of toys is intentional. We don’t want to overwhelm parents with having to store a bunch of toys every time they receive a box. Since we ship new toys each month, the toys are always relevant to each child’s needs. If a child’s fine motor skills, their ability to pick up and use objects, is delayed, we will ship toys that focus on building these skills so that they match their peers. If they are advanced, we provide toys that will keep them challenged and moving forward at their own pace.

More than 200 million infants have been born globally since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I had to move fast during the pandemic because the clock is ticking. 80% of the brain is developed in the first 1000 days from birth when the number of synapses hits a peak level. Then the brain starts to remove synapses that it no longer needs. If your baby was born on March 25, 2020, the day that the US began its nation-wide shutdown, it is day 930.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The first thing I would do is go onto the Esoteric Tours website to see what tours that they have coming up. They specialize in true crime, California culture, and Los Angeles literary tour such as walking tours areas described in Raymond Chandler’s books. I am a huge fan of Noir, so this would allow me to share this love with my friend. I would book one or more of these tours.

I love all things historical, so we would definitely go to the Highland Park Bowl.

If it corresponded with the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles’s Cocktails in Historic Places, we would make the trip to whichever old restaurant or bar was being showcased that month.

Grand Central Market or the original Farmer’s Market are only-in-LA experiences that I would need to introduce to my friend.

I would look for shows/concerts at any of the historic movie palaces on Broadway in DTLA because you can’t see that anywhere else.

As a flying trapeze artist, I love to introduce people to the sport.

I suppose the week would look something like this:

Day 1 : Lunch at Ladybyrd Cafe – Esotouric Literary Los Angeles Tour – Dinner at Tam O’Shanter
Day 2: Lunch at Grand Central Market – Bradbury Building – Angels Flight – Central Library – Dinner Los Angeles Athletic Club
Day 3: Lunch at Tail O’ the Pup – California Institute of Abnormalities – Dinner Musso & Franks – Cocktails at Sassafras Saloon
Day 4: Tasting at one of LA’s local distilleries – Dinner at Hippo = Highland Park Bowl
Day 5: Flying Trapeze class at New York Trapeze School at Santa Monica Pier – ADSLA’s Cocktails in Historic Places
Day 6: Lunch at original Farmer’s Market – Movie at Forever Hollywood Cemetery
Day 7: Los Angeles Conservatory walking tour – Performance at a historic movie palace on Broadway in DTLA – Cocktails at Cliftons

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
When I was 18 years old and arrived at Hampshire College, I did not know what I degree I wanted to pursue. I collected silly toys and curiosities from museum gift shops. I loved to play. There was a course that first Semester called “Play and its importance in human development”. It had me a “play”. When I took that class, I knew that I wanted to design and build unique hands-on educational toys that celebrated play.

At Winter break, I told my father about my interest in toys. He was a business-owner himself and loved model trains. He discovered that the world’s largest toy manufacturing convention was in Nuremberg, Germany and happened when I was on my January Break. He created an import business and made me the Vice-president so that I would have the credentials to attend the convention.

I knew that I wanted to design toys, but I didn’t know what kind. The convention called, Spielwarenmesse, divided the toy brands into categories. There is one huge warehouse with model trains (my father loved that), one for baby products, one for outdoor toys, one for mass market toys, and another huge warehouse for wooden toys. At the time, I thought that wooden toys were unremarkable. Car shaped push toys, whirligigs, and blocks were not very interesting to me. But when I walked in there. I saw the most innovative toys that I have ever seen. I knew that this what I wanted to do. 30 years to the day, I went to Spielwarenmesse to curate the most innovative toy from 34 countries. The world had finally caught up to me.

My shout out is to my dad. He died when I was 20, so he never knew what would become of me. He never walked me down the aisle at my wedding or met my son. He never knew that I got a second degree and founded 2 businesses. But he is the reason that I am here right now curating the best toys the world has to offer. He believed in me and had the means to allow me to follow my curiosity. He encouraged my discovery and gave me the confidence to run towards my dreams, however unconventional. If he were here today, I know that he would be proud of me.

Website: www.fledglingsflight.com & www.adventuretowntoys.com

Instagram: @fledglingsflight & @adventuretowntoys

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/annamarie-von-firley-b7650ab/

Twitter: @fledglingflight & @adventuretownt1

Facebook: Fledglings Flight & Adventuretown Toy Emporium

Image Credits
Ashleigh Bostic

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