Saturday, August 2, 2008

Saturday Morning Interview with Paul Budnitz, president and founder of Kidrobot

New York-based business owner Paul Budnitz is an interesting man. Since founding the online urban vinyl toy store Kidrobot in 2002, his company has blown up to epic proportions. Originally just offering a few vinyl toys by a select couple of urban street artists, KR has recently expanded to offer hundreds of different toys by dozens of artists, a clothing line, and KR boutiques in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami. Recently, a few one-of-a-kind and super limited KR toys were auctioned off at Christie's auction house in NYC for a couple thousand dollars each. All of these things are a testament to how much this industry is growing, and are proof that KR is at the forefront, commanding the tides.

I was able to ask Paul a few questions about himself, Kidrobot, and the future of the company.

Explain what Kidrobot is all about.
Kidrobot is about making the very best art toys in the world. We make clothing and bags and snowboards and sneakers and other things from time to time as well. And, it's about working with many different people as a collaboration. One of the things that I discovered was that when I work with other artists, something great happens. It's usually much bigger and better than what any one person can do on their own. So part of our mission is to be as collaborative as possible, and that usually means getting our egos out of the way so we can make great art.

How did you decide to get into urban vinyl toy making?
I was working on an animated movie in 2002 and one day I saw some art toys that were made in Hong Kong, and I just fell in love with them, and said, "I want to do that!" So I did.

KR has had a clothing line for a few seasons now. Do you see it "reinventing the business" like the toy side did?
Well, it's hard to "reinvent" clothing. And, the idea is to do something totally original and different, and not worry about trends and styles. So I feel like we're doing that, and we have a very recognizable style that's all our own. I love the clothing, especially the new stuff coming out this fall.

When did you know that your company had become successful?
When we opened the NYC store and there was a line around the block the first day. I have to reinvent success over and over again, though. You can't ever become complacent or you begin to repeat yourself, and I refuse to do that.

Tell me about your life before KR.
Um -- well it's been pretty dense. I've programmed computers, designed video games, shot movies, photographed professionally, owned online stores, bought and sold used levis, and probably run 50000 miles because I have been a runner since I was 17. Kidrobot is nice because it's many of these things all mixed together under one roof. And, it's all the same stream, if you know what I mean.

What catches your eye, art-wise?
I love street art. It's great because the artist isn't being paid to do his work, and he or she has great personal risk with each piece. This is what makes it so compelling. There's no room for bullshit. Really, graffiti is the most original form of American folk art.

Some one-of-a-kind KR art and toys were recently auctioned off at Christie's. Does it surprise you that these toys are now "highbrow" art?
No. And, it's just as fun for me when I see kids playing with (and happily breaking) our toys.

What is the craziest gift you have received from an artist friend?
A fur Andy Warhol dildo.

Where do you see KR in ten years?
I don't know. If I knew where I was going in life it wouldn't be worth living. Same with Kidrobot.

What do you have planned for KR in late '08 and '09?
Well, a big exhibition in London is coming up (I think you're the first person I've told that). Lots more amazing toys. I've decided to concentrate more on super-limited toys, very small runs that are edgy. So just wait, great things coming. And animation is on its way, only because it's fun and I've done it before in my life.

Paul's blog can be read here. I highly reccomend it.
I'd like to specially thank Merryl Spence for putting up with my constant annoying e-mails about this, and Paul himself, for being one of my personal heroes.

No comments: