It’s a nearly 60-year wish-fulfillment according to many of the women BMC Toys President Jeff Imel has spoken to as part of his project to create plastic army women toys.
“What really surprised me was how many women have sent messages to me saying: ‘when I was a little girl in the 60s I wanted female soldiers to play with my brothers and friends and they didn’t exist. And I can’t wait to get them now and share them with my grandkids,” said Imel.
The project has taken several years to come to fruition and has been helped along by several female veterans and even a six-year-old girl.
An Idea Is Born
Imel has been in the toy game for several decades and early on developed a niche for toy soldiers. For several years he had the opportunity to work with Bill McMaster, a one-time buyer for Toys R Us and founder of BMC Toys. After McMaster’s death in 2014, Imel purchased BMC and became the new president.
Throughout his career, he had always heard the occasional request for female toy soldiers. At one point, he looked into it but realized it was a “pie in the sky thought” as he was not in a place to undertake such a huge project. But now, as the owner of BMC, it was finally something he could possibly achieve.
The catalyst for the project came in 2018 when a retired navy master chief contacted Imel and urged him to create army soldier toys that would represent females.
“She had a lot of really good impressive facts and figures about women veterans, women serving in the military, and how much their role has expanded in recent years,” recalled Imel.
And so was the start of a project that would change Imel’s life.
After speaking to the retired navy master chief, Imel, with the help of his sister, created a few sketches as blueprints for the future toys. He created a blog post and newsletter to reach out to others for feedback and interest. According to Imel, there was a fairly large amount of positive feedback but also some criticism, mainly of the hair. Many customers were quick to point out that the hair was not regulation length.
“Early on, I knew I didn’t want to make something pin-up style. I wanted more realistic women as opposed to comic-book type figures, something distinctive,” noted Imel.
With his vision and people’s feedback combined, Imel decided the best way to go was to style the toys after the iconic 50s and 60. Green, four army men, and the pictures used to model the toys after were from several decades ago when regulation hair was not as strict.
However, interest was still limited in the project. With an entire company to run, the project was put on the back burner.
The Turning Point
In the summer of 2019, Imel received a letter from a six-year-old girl named Vivian Lord, who expressed her frustration and not being able to play with women army soldier toys. Imel was taken by the letter. The girl’s mother then posted it on Facebook, which caught the attention of a local journalist, and before Imel knew it, an entire media frenzy ensued. The story was picked up by national outlets, including NPR, New York Daily News, and CBS.
“That raised the profile of the project to the point where I thought we’re going to go ahead with it,” stated Imel.
He then, later, also started a crowdfunding campaign that would help to cover some of the costs of developing the set of plastic army women toys. Thanks to the campaign Imel was able to raise $55,401.
The project is currently in development stages. The company is designing 16 figures, some of which include female riflemen, snipers, grenadier, and bazooka operators.
The goal is to have the toys out by the fall.
“My overriding mission is to have this under Christmas trees for 2020,” said Imel.
Although Imel remains humble about his part in creating these long-awaited toys, it’s no secret that their impact is of astounding significance to women soldiers and veterans around the world.
“What military women have told me is that it just represents a little bit of acceptance and a little bit of recognition. They often do feel a little under-recognized in the culture. People don’t realize how many women have been serving in the military for such a long time. How important their role has been, and how it’s expanded over the years,” said Imel.
To keep updated with the progress of the plastic army women toys and to check out BMC’s other army men toys, including a Juno Beach set that honours Canadians that in the Second World War visit the BMC website here.