Zara Picken is the creative force behind Oddcats!, an illustrated preschool property that won the Brand Licensing Europe License This! Character & Animation award in 2018. Picken returns to BLE this year as an exhibitor on the main show floor at stand B466 as part of her winner’s package.
The BLE team caught up with Picken ahead of this year’s event, which takes place at ExCeL London from Oct. 1-3. Picken shared how the win helped her brand and what the experience was like for contestants.
Where did you get the idea for your brand?
Picken: The idea originally came about when I sewed a cat-like creature for my husband as an anniversary present. It came with a note, apparently written by the creature, apologising for having “borrowed” the real gift. We started blaming the creature for all sorts of things that were mislaid in our apartment, including socks. This inspired us to create a story about a boy whose socks went missing, which went on to be developed into an interactive app which was positively received. However, I felt that the Oddcats! characters and their distinct stitch-style had potential beyond the story, so I started focusing more on them and their world with a view to developing a preschool brand.
Why did you enter License This!?
Having been on maternity leave twice in the space of three years, I returned to my illustration career and found myself more and more interested in preschool brands. I suppose I’d been through immersive market research! As someone with ideas and creative skills but limited experience of the licensing world, License This! was an exciting opportunity to showcase my work and explore new possibilities. The application process in itself was valuable in encouraging me to think more about my brand and the USP.
At that point, how much did you know about licensing?
I knew a little bit about licensing through my experience as a professional illustrator, though I had never created anything with licensing in mind. In the last 10 years, I have licensed images for uses such as album artwork, clothing, packaging and book covers. I have also been commissioned to work on brands for others, but around the time of entering License This! I had started thinking about creating my own brand. When I saw License This!, it made me think more about the potential of developing and licensing a brand I was passionate about, which is why I chose to present Oddcats!
Things have been tough for you, personally, over the last year, which interrupted your business plans. Are you back on track now, and what’s your strategy?
Unfortunately, the time since winning License This! has been incredibly tough. Shortly after the competition, my son Flynn was diagnosed with cancer. Everything immediately became focused on treatment and family, looking after Flynn and supporting each other through the hardest time we’ve ever had to go through. I initially thought I wouldn’t be able to attend BLE, but Flynn genuinely loves the Oddcats!, so I continued to work on them whenever he was well enough.
After a few months, it started to feel as if it was possible to put on a show we could be proud of. Flynn is now nearing the end of his treatment, so I am currently working overtime! I am in the process of finalizing a library of image resources, developing product mock-ups and designing the exhibition stand.
The characters have potential to work across a wide selection of categories, but my priority is to find a publishing partner, which would enable us to license the IP on a wider scale and develop other products.
It’s great that you’ll be exhibiting at BLE in October. Are you looking forward to it, and what are you hoping to get from it?
I’m really excited that I’ll be able to attend BLE, it’s going to be great to officially launch the Oddcats! brand in October. My hope is that BLE enables me to meet people with the same enthusiasm and belief in the brand who can help bring the characters and their world to a wider audience.
What is next for Oddcats!?
I am particularly excited about the early learning potential of the brand and would love to find the perfect licensees for Oddcats! products that reflect this. The designs are ideal for use within books, apps, toys, clothing and stationery, so I will be developing designs with these in mind.
What would you say to other entrepreneurs who are thinking about entering the License This! competition?
I’d say go for it! As an individual, the prospect of launching a brand can initially seem daunting but the competition gave me confidence and made it feel possible. With support and feedback from industry professionals, it’s an amazing opportunity to get an insight into the licensing world.
To apply for the competition, visit the License This! Application form page.