idlezoo: the little story of a little children’s entrepreneur

Ever wonder what might happen if you simply let the child in you continue to thrive and dream and create in your otherwise “realistic” adult world? Ever wonder what may be possible if your hands did their own bidding, creating ideas as you go about your grown-up, responsible day? Ever wonder what might happen if you allowed your mind to get out of your heart’s way?

Working around the world as a human-centered design consultant on behalf of a large, global architecture firm over the last several years, I have met many an inspiring character. And no, they were not all successful, well-formed, suited-booted, 50+ year old men. Many of them were young ones, no more than in their mid-to-late twenties, with bright eyed-ideas, beautiful dreams and incredible talent. Here I tell you the story of one, because what she has just done will bring the simplest of joys and smiles into your children’s (and your) lives.

I met Vanessa working on a large project in Hong Kong; she was part of a renowned branding design firm providing my company with branding and graphic design consultation services. She is part Australian, part Singaporean, and her direct manner, distinct Australian accent and uniquely attractive looks caught my attention rightaway. Later, working together closely, I also witnessed her incredible talent in imaginative graphic design and storytelling for brands. Eventually I got to know her as a dear personal friend. Over dim sum and bubble tea, subway rides, shopping in the many psychedelic markets, and the most vigorous late-night Chinese foot massages that make you divulge all, we exchanged life stories and dreams. We were both working for big, well-known, international design firms, and we were both looking to fulfill our little dreams. We were both navigating corporate politics, trying desperately to save and resurrect the creative muse that got us there in the first place. (The contexts were different, but the games were amazingly the same.) We were both working for a big client that makes big pots of money in Hong Kong, and wondering what little meaning we were really making for this world.

Then in one of our late night chats, Vanessa told me about one of her little ideas.

“On an airplane high in the sky, between places far apart, some idle hands were twiddling their thumbs wondering what to do. A little lonely and not wanting to get into too much mischief, they got to work drawing a collection of animals to keep them company. The first stowaway was the armadillo (because you should always start at the beginning), then came the bluebird (he said he wanted a better view…) and then… well, you can see where this is going … And so, the further we flew, the more animals came along for the ride and before we knew it we had danced our way through the alphabet and had twenty-six new friends!”

And thus was born the idlezoo. I met Vanessa in June 2007, we worked together through December that year, and it was about then that Vanessa told me about idlezoo … and the birth of the very first animal character. By March 2008, she had left behind her firm in Toronto and a long-time relationship in Berlin, and flown to Australia to “check out the design landscape.” That’s the last I heard … for a while.

Then, a few weeks ago, amidst my own creative sabbatical, Vanessa wrote me again. She made the long story short, making everything sound much easier than it had undoubtedly been. She was now in Singapore! She had not found much going on in Australia and had decided that it was time for all the animals in idlezoo to be born, raised into products and make their own travels to avid little fans all over the world. Figuring that Asia would provide good manufacturing opportunities, she had landed in Singapore, made another talented woman a business partner, and set about making her animals. It had taken her barely 3 months since jumping off her big corporate design life to bring her idlezoo to life.

As the website says:
“The idlezoo collective is an assortment of some very curious animals that are intent on being as kind to the planet as they can. The papers are FSC certified, and the fabric we use is 100% organic cotton, printed with water-based inks. We’ve all had to adjust our living arrangements a little… the animals were SO particular, and had some VERY odd habits… but I probably shouldn’t talk about them behind their back like this… so i’ll leave you to get acquainted and see for yourself.”

These curious A-Z animals are available as room posters, cards, baby clothes, tote bags and more, online and at good prices. Each animal has a mind of its own, of course, and tells us its mini-life story.

Wow. It’s not just the idea or products that make me smile and simultaneously tear-up. It is the story of a young woman, who had the courage to let her hands do their own bidding. It is the spirit of a good friend who allowed the child in her to flourish at all cost, even if it meant she traveled time, space and 4 continents to make it all happen. I am inspired. And reminded to allow the child in me to … always … thrive and drive.

Last 5 posts by Shahana Dattagupta


  1. Anonymous

    That is an interesting story about a creative enterpreneur. My kids uses webkinz but that is very corporate.

  2. I recently discovered this blog. I’ve had a similiar idea to your rewriting the ten commandments for some time now.

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