A chat with Unai Rollan, the hands and mind behind toy company Brumm
Why did you decide to start making toys?
Brumm is the first piece I’ve created as both a designer and a producer. I wanted to start this new phase of my life with a toy, and specifically with a car, because it reminded me of the forms and passions of 1980s motorsports—a childhood obsession that I believe marked the beginning of my career as a designer.
The second piece I’m working on is not a toy per se, but it is in the same vein as Brumm. I am making a children’s chair that parents and children have to work together on to construct. It gives kids the experience of building something with their own hands while learning the beauty and ideas of furniture making.
What were you doing before you started making Brumm?
I was and continue to work as a product designer. I studied engineering and industrial design in San Sebastian, before moving to Milan and then Barcelona. After attaining a higher degree in product design, I worked with a number of different companies until last year, when I decided to go for broke and start my own brand so that I could finally design and manufacture all these objects that had been living in my brain.
What are the things you find hard about being a toy maker?
Because I hand-make everything from natural, unaltered materials, every piece requires a huge investment of time and dedication. I love the challenge, but it means I’m always busy. Running your own company also means you have to put a lot of effort into things that aren’t manufacturing or design—things like marketing, advertising, sales, web design, graphic design. They’re necessary, of course, but not where my passions lie.
What are the things you most enjoy?
All of it! Generating new ideas, solving problems and designing interesting, intelligent, simple and educational pieces for everyday life. Drawing and converting these ideas into real objects, iterating prototypes and then trying them out. Experimentation is a thrill. I also love getting into the nitty-gritty of the manufacturing process. It’s all about trying to find a model that involves the minimum manipulation of the raw material, and also uses the least amount of machinery and technology.
Why do you use such basic materials?
I love natural materials because they are so pure and clean. I live surrounded by mountains, sea, stone and trees, and the presence of all this nature influences my design deeply. The feelings the materials transmit to me through their texture, touch, colour and smell are captivating. Wood, in particular, also has the advantage of being directly accessible in my environment, readily mouldable and easy to work with.
What drives your toy-making?
I try to reflect the purity and simplicity of nature, and create a special bond between the child and their toy through the child’s ability to change and interact with it. In the case of Brumm, children are able to build their own van, sports car or truck, and I think this lets them start building their own story together.
What challenges have you faced?
Working by myself and trying to do every step of the process alone has been my greatest challenge—and it’s one that I’m still grappling with every day. It’s very difficult financially to start your own company, especially one that requires as much raw material and equipment as this one does. I would love to commit to Brumm full time, but because of where I am in its journey, I still have to combine it with other jobs.
What was your favourite toy as a child?
When I was a kid, cars (and especially high-powered sports cars) were my singular obsession. Every inch of my room was covered in posters. I also loved games and toys that required assembly and construction. But playing with friends from the neighbourhood and exploring the streets and the forest surrounding my home was what I liked the most.
Do you have any dreams you’d like to achieve with your business?
All I really want from Brumm is to be able to have my own studio, to have the freedom to create my own products, to share these products with people who love them and to be able to live off it. I don’t need to become rich—I’d just like to have the space to design without limits and follow my thoughts wherever they take me.