BERJUAN DOLLS: FROM INNOVATION TO SUCCESS

They have done it again, although it was difficult. Beating the rivals, when you are among the best, is not complicated. What is more difficult is to surpass yourself when everything you do is better every year.

But Berjuán has done it.

They come back from the seventieth edition of the International Toy Fair, in Nuremberg, and they do it with a harvest of successes. No wonder, of course, considering the incredible novelties they offer this year.

The career of this company located in Onil has gone through over 42 years, during which they have produced mythical creations. Taking advantage of the launch of 2019 novelties, in Mundo Diversal we can not miss the opportunity to interview its manager, César Bernabeu.

Born in Onil, this second generation doll maker joined in Berjuán to give that breath of fresh air that is perceived in everything the famous firm does.

He receives us with a cordial and kind smile, to answer the thousand and one questions that many of his fans have transferred to Diversal.

 

The first thing we would like to know is when Berjuán company was created, in what context, and the reason for his name.

Berjuán was born exactly on February 7, 1977, when my father, José Bernabeu, decided to start the company in collaboration with my two uncles, Francisco and Salvador Juan Cerdá. And that’s where the name comes from: Bernabeu and Juan. In fact, my two surnames are those.

 

Are you all from Onil?

All of us. Born and raised in Onil.

 

Cradle of dolls …

Exactly. The doll tradition of the area goes back several centuries. Onil was originally a pottery town, an activity derived from the argillaceous mountains of the area. It was precisely this material that would give rise to the valley industry.

 

And how’s that?

Well, back in the eighteenth century a businessman from the area, who travelled a lot, made a ten or twelve centimeters doll in clay, as a gift for his daughter. He always brought her some gift from his trips, but not knowing what to give her on that occasion, he made that doll, which proved to be a success among his daughter’s friends. Little by little he began to make more for the local girls, until he decided to start a doll-making company.

 

Then the first dolls were made of clay …

Yes, but they were not very playable, as you can imagine. They broke easily. Later they began to make them from a kind of carob paste, with which the cardboard dolls were made. These dolls were made during a long time, until in the fifties and sixties of the twentieth century came the revolution of plastic. But for decades the cardboard doll was the standard.

 

And how was Berjuán born?

Berjuán arises because my father was already working in other toy companies, so he knew the sector well. At that time there were around fifteen very powerful companies. My father decided to start his own business.

 

What was the first thing they made?

Well, at first they established themselves as an auxiliary company, working for other firms. In fact, in Berjuán more than a million Nancy’s bodies were made for Famosa. For a decade we worked in that line, until, in 1987, we began to manufacture our own products, already 100% in vinyl.

 

And what were your first own creations?

Well, at the Valencia Toy Fair, we introduced a doll with different features and ethnicities: Asian, Arab, European … They were “Your friends of the world”. With them we won the “Aro de Oro” (Golden Ring). Today, with some variations, the collection remains.

Berjuán has many emblematic creations, well known to the public, for example “Baby Pelón”, (Bald Baby) the baby created for children with cancer.

 

Baby Pelón was a creation of Berjuán for Juegaterapia. Its president brought us the proposal, and we added the necessary features to an existing doll for the project: sweet little babies without hair, with a kerchief on his head, etc. But it was a doll that we already had.

 

So … how do you create a new doll?

It depends. Each project has its own origin. For example, in the case of Anekke it’s a license from a drawing that was already created, and of which there was a lot of merchandising, but not a doll. We proposed its owner to create it, and the truth is that it surprised him a lot. In other cases, the process starts completely from zero, as for example in the case of the Biggers, one of our novelties this year.

 

The Biggers are such a phenomenon. How were they created?

Well, during the last 5 years the manufacturers have been very focused on the baby doll. There is very little mannequin doll. With the notable exception of Nancy (Famosa doll), almost all they make are babies, especially reborns, which have become a revolution in recent years.

Then we considered making a mannequin doll. The existing models were Bratz, Monster High … those have little projection, because they are temporary trends.

We were looking for something more lasting, and it has been a two-year investigation, in which we have analyzed the trends, and observed many types of dolls. The result of this work is the final design of the Biggers, which we also wanted to have a story of their own, I mean, we have created not only a series of dolls, but authentic characters.

 

And from the design? What are the steps to follow in the manufacture of a doll?

First we meet the sculptor and we propose the project. He helps us to decide whether it is viable or not. It must be borne in mind that certain features are not feasible, due to the complexity in the extraction of vinyl. With the artist we determine how the doll will be in detail.

 

Part of the process to create “The Biggers

 

So you don’t use 3D technology?

 

Not at all. Here we continue to carry out the process by hand, as it has always been done. In addition, for what he explained previously about the clay soil of the area, it has always been tradition to do it so, since it is easier to manipulate the piece. In other places molds are made directly in wax, but the special characteristics of Onil mean that the whole process is linked to the initial creation in clay.

 

And after making the doll in clay?

A plaster mold is made and filled with wax. Wax allows to finish the details. That piece of wax is covered in a nickel bath that lasts between 20 and 25 days. Then the wax is melted with a blowtorch, and we have the mold for the vinyl.

 

It seems the making of a doll has a lot of steps…

Totally. For the making of a single doll, at least 24 hands are necessary. But it does not end there. The nickel mold is filled with a quantity of liquid vinyl, and it is passed to the “rotomolding” process, that is, the mold rotates in the oven for 25 minutes.

 

You must need a lot of staff…

Let’s see: Berjuán has about 15 direct people. But the industry has a very large net; At least 400 or 500 indirect workers are needed. It’s what we call the auxiliary industry.

 

Operators making some of Berjuán’s creations

 

The auxiliaries are then the oxygen of the sector…

Absolutely. In the area, 60% of the families live from the doll making activity, either in the direct plant or in auxiliary companies. Some make only eyes, other clothes, other footwear, other hair …

 

You just returned from the International Toy Fair, and March is the month in which all companies launch the news. When will you start working on the next year’s creations?

Right now! Once we return from the fair, we start with the new catalog, in this case, for year 2020.

 

Wow, you never stop. Was this of yours a vocational profession?

Well, I am the youngest of five brothers, and if I tell you the truth, I did not intend to develope this career. However, I entered for something circumstantial, and in the end I stayed. Now I am the manager.

 

You have made many changes. How did the first generation understand the changes of strategies? Did they agree?

As usual, the generation gap means that those who arrive want to grow and change things, and those who were already bet on secure things. But we think that the goal to achieve is to be different. For example, we have created the first breastfed doll in the world. It was a very risky project, but we obtained a subsidy from Aiju for its development.

 

Some of the many awards that the prestigious firm has harvested during his career

 

The delocalised production in China and other Asian countries … is endangering the industry in Onil?

There have been times when it was so, but the trend is reversing. People are increasingly aware that the quality and safety of the toy prevail over the price.

 

And how are you doing in the international market?

Fairly good. Currently we export to different countries: Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, USA, Canada, Portugal, UK, Italy, Russia, Eastern countries … The sky is the limit.

 

Certainly, we would not be surprised if Berjuán exceeded that limit. With this young manager at the forefront, and the numerous and varied proposals with which they surprise us each year, we predict a very promising future for this company of the magical Toy Valley. The commitment to quality, but above all, its commitment to innovation, make them worthy of it. Bravo.

 

C. Chulián.

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