A conversation with @krooltoys, the young duo producing one of a kind work for major record labels, marketing agencies and fashion brands.
Stefan Cohen and Tia Chinai, the New York-based duo better known as Krool Toys, make one-of-a-kind pieces that are excitingly novel yet comfortably nostalgic. The two young creatives work within a variety of mediums, designing and programming fully playable Gameboy games loaded on physical cartridges, hacking and reprogramming classic console and computer games as well as producing handmade toys and art. Their pieces often reflect on the different characters, iconography and mediums that inspired them as kids while tying them into modern cultural contexts.
The two sell their work on their early 2000’s Yahoo! looking webshop and have worked on collaborative pieces with musicians such as Lil Uzi Vert and Megan Thee Stallion. They have even begun showcasing their interactive pieces to the public in two gallery shows this past spring. Their most recent game with the beloved New York Instagram account Subway Creatures sold out in less than 2 minutes showcasing the strong brand and hyper-engaged fanbase they are just beginning to cultivate.
J.E.: How did you guys get started?
S.C.: Tia and I began by just creating 1-of-1 bootleg toys for artists we knew and were fans of and documenting everything we made online usually just for our friends. Our goal was just to make stuff that we would want to see available to buy and just have fun with it. We usually try to take what we learn from previous projects and go crazier on the next one which has led us from designing fake Gamecube and PS2 game boxes to learning to develop our own retro video games and working in all types of mediums.
J.E.: Why do you think people are so drawn to your work?
T.C.: I think people are drawn to our work because it instantly brings back memories of their childhood and a simpler time in life. We often get DM’s from people telling us how happy our work has made them and as an artist what more can you hope for? Another reason is because people can’t believe that we have actually made this physical piece and it’s not photoshopped or 3D rendered.
J.E.: Do you have a spontaneous approach with your work or is it all very calculated?
S.C.: I mean I think it's a bit of both. Usually when taking on a project or starting something from scratch it’ll take at least a few weeks of our time so we definitely try to narrow down our ideas to the best ones and loosely map out how to get it done. Another piece of it also is just working off of trying to create a feeling. Online you really only get a few seconds to catch someone's attention so we always try to create this immediate feeling of confusion and happiness.
J.E.: Aside from retro video games and nostalgic characters, where do you guys take inspiration from?
T.C.: With our Indian and Syrian backgrounds, we can’t help but have our culture sneak into the design we make. Coming from India, my style and design infuses into our work because of how bright and vibrant it all is. We try to leave a little bit of ourselves in everything we make - for example we try to make all characters brown because most video game characters are traditionally white. We’re also interested in different cultures and when building worlds for our games we are inadvertently inspired by the cultures we study or learn about from books or traveling.
J.E.: Do you have reservations about working with other’s intellectual property?
S.C.: Not really. We’ve made a bunch of stuff using artists' brands and likenesses and they usually just end up reaching out and it turns into an official project or a friendship with them. We’re not a video game company trying to compete with Nintendo and we’re not negatively impacting anyones brand. We’re just creating fun pieces that we would want to see in the world and treat our pieces more as standalone art so I think companies and other artists understand that.
T.C.: Also a cease and desist these days just means that you're making noise so it’s not the worst thing. It would be worse if we weren’t getting heard at all.
J.E.: Where do you hope Krool Toys will take you guys?
T.C.: We’re on a journey with Krool Toys that we could not be more grateful for. Every year we have set new goals and reached new heights so I never know where this will take us but I do know that it has already made us grow as people and as artists.
S.C.: Totally. We both just want to continue to make stuff that genuinely excites people as well as introduce new mediums and develop our pieces on a larger scale.
The duo’s first collection is now available to purchase on their online webstore.