HAVANA, march 17th When the government decided to create a national quality toy industry not long ago, Ariel Balmaseda answered the call.
It was just the kind of challenge needed to attract the entrepreneur and his 39 co-workers, which included architects, engineers, psychologists and designers, who comprise a cooperative enterprise known as Decorarte.
Based in Cuba’s beach resort of Varadero, about 120 km east of the capital Havana, Decorarte is one of Cuba’s fledgling privately-owned ventures, founded five years ago amid economic reforms intended to modernize the Caribbean island state’s socialist system and encourage innovation.
The cooperative soon expanded its interior design and graphics businesses to educational toys, and in December opened a small store that quickly came to the attention of the resort’s international clientele.
Today, the cooperative’s toy brand Gabi & Sofi, named after Balmaseda’s seven- and six-year-old children, has already been registered in Europe and the United States.
“We want to show that Cuba has talents, potential, design concepts and high-level professionals that can develop this type of product,” said Balmaseda, the cooperative’s president.
The toys “are designed for children to learn while playing, with a vision that rejects violence and promotes peace, solidarity and love for the family,” said Balmaseda, 51, who has years of experience in photography, music and design, as well as journalism.
All of the toys have a prized hand-crafted quality, and are colorful, entertaining and above all educational.
Decorarte, which generates nearly 40 million pesos (40 million U.S. dollars) annually, has ambitious plans for its new line of toys.
Balmaseda is looking to develop an educational animated television series starring Gabi and Sofi, two tots who inhabit a world much like Varadero, where they interact with the toys that come to life.
As a first step, Decorarte acquired state-of-the-art video making technology from a Chinese company, and is now working on a pilot episode in which the Cuban television has already shown interest.
In the meantime, the toys and some children’s products, ranging from clothing to children’s furniture, are set to be sold at four more locations, including two zoos in Havana.
Decorarte, the only Cuban cooperative of its kind, also plans to enter the world of e-commerce by making its products available online, opening the door to the international market.