By Tae Hong
Linda Suh is every parents’ unknown best friend.
With one initial idea — helping children sleep — the toymaker and mother of two has brought restless children to sleep for more than a decade.
Cloud b, a California-based company which leads the market in specialty sleep aid toys, fills aisles around the globe in stores like Target, Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart with staples like its sleep sheeps and light-up turtles.
Started in 2002 while on maternity leave from a web development company with her first child, Suh’s idea has now spread to her native South Korea, where she partnered with Naver, the largest web portal there, in July.
And it continues to expand as the specialty market for children’s toys grows and as Suh herself pushes the importance of good sleep on all consumers.
“We’re not just selling products,” she said. “We’re trying to instill a lifestyle.”
The toys light up, casting stars or constellations or water waves on the ceiling; they emit soothing noises, from whale calls to white noise; they are scented lavender.
Her children, 13-year-old Madeleine and 8-year-old Kaidan, act as two of the company’s most influential test subjects and discerning critics.
“[Kaidan’s] kind of tried and trued all of them. He’s definitely opinionated, so he tells me what’s cool and what’s not and what he likes,” Suh said. “He’s not embarrassed to gift them to his friends, so I think that might be a seal of approval.”
Those gifts may include one of Cloud b’s most visible achievements to date, the Tranquil Turtle that won Infant/Toddler Best Toy of the Year in 2013. A model sits inside Suh’s Gardena office, a space stocked with plush toys of every color. They’re all products in development, overseen by herself and co-founder and CTO Jeff Johnson.
It’s toys like the turtle, and the specialized category it falls under, that did not exist 12 years ago when Suh was shopping for Madeleine. When she walked into a Babies R Us for the first time, the number of cribs, bottles, clothes and strollers was overwhelming, but she was struck by the lack of a section for specific needs.
“There’s beds to put them to sleep, but how do you transition them into [falling asleep]?” she said. The topic of good sleep is gradually becoming more and more mainstream; she and her team are a part of that process.
Suh is a 1.5-generation Korean American who moved to West Los Angeles with her family from Incheon, South Korea, when she was three years old.
She’s always been drawn to creativity. Her Barbie dolls were draped in self-made clothes when she was a kid; later, she attended Cal State Long Beach for a degree in design and merchandising with dreams of a big, glamorous New York City fashion career.
But she soon learned the private fashion industry’s mass-production environment was a bad fit. Even now, Cloud b keeps all its facilities close, with its fulfillment center stretching right next to its office.
“Are we a Mattel? No. I’m home-grown,” she said.
Knowing that her products will be handled by children like her own keeps Suh’s focus on safety.
“Making sure the product is tested and tested again and inspected and inspected again is important to us,” she said. “If the safety of your customers are not put forward, your brand cannot sustain.”
Equipped with a team of sleep experts, pediatricians and the help of a children’s hospital, the toymakers are insistent that everyone, not just kids, get a good night’s rest. Among Cloud b’s offerings are now eye masks, bamboo robes and a Tranquil Starfish for adults.
Since 2011, the brand has been expanding into the global market, especially Europe, a venture that has been a long time coming — by that time, countless knockoffs and counterfeit toys were in circulation.
In July, Cloud b became one of 20 American companies to become included in an e-commerce pilot program launched by Korean web portal Naver. Its products are featured and available for sale to Korean consumers straight from the U.S.; Suh plans to use the opportunity to better gauge Korea’s interest in her offering.
“Sleep is universal,” Suh said. “There are no translations needed — everyone needs it.”
This article originally appeared on The Korea Times.
Images courtesy Brian Han/The Korea Times