Toys facilitate play. Toys change and shape our lives. According to George Leonard, a thought leader in the human potential movement, play is primordial and cannot be explained in terms of other things. Play precedes culture, extending beyond the rational, the abstract, beyond matter. Play is essentially irreducible. Play is whatever absorbs us fully, whatever creates purpose and order, whatever involves us in as much meaningful interaction as possible.
Everyone who sees a flowtoys creation quickly realizes that while they are technically toys, they are so much more. Functionally they fulfill their toy mission to facilitate play and positively impact our lives. Aesthetically and interactively, they are inspired - thoughtfully designed to illuminate our lives in more ways than one. Durable, rechargeable, well-constructed are features that most people understand and require of the stuff in their lives. But why make it beautiful, intuitive and inspiring? Well that's just how we flow. We believe that attentiveness to these attributes inspires interaction, raises awareness of our surroundings and our connection to other beings, and generally enriches overall quality of life. Read on to learn the purpose and inspiration behind our various products.
The flowlight was born of the need for a durable LED glowstick that could be powered by a readily available, affordable and sustainable energy source. While its main purpose was to serve as a lightstick for illuminating flowtoys, it was also developed as a "pixel" of light that could be linked together and have a wide range of uses, including fashion and costuming, parties, safety, task and mood lighting. We use them daily to light up our belongings, to illuminate our child at night-time events so that we and others can see her, we use our flowlights to find our friends and family.
We set out to create a light where every design feature would also serve a functional purpose. The flowlight needed to look and feel like it belonged and evolved somewhere in our universe, that it had motivation to live and thrive beyond recovering investments and turning a profit. Functionally it had to fit in a 1" tube, be about 5", click together, stand on its own, have 1 button and a battery door that did not require screws. It needed to allow as much light to transmit given an opaque battery and circuit board. We ended up designing a pretty unique circuit board and battery door, and even custom battery springs. We also made the flowlight length backward compatible with the streetlight system, so that our first customers and supporters wouldn't have to change their rigs to upgrade to flowlights.
The aesthetic vision behind the flowlight was that it resemble a deep-sea organism that sentient beings from the future engineered and cultivated as a light-emitting object for decoration and illumination. Our initial mood board included deep-sea creatures, images by Ernst Haeckel and Giger, and that thing that crawled into Neo's belly in the Matrix. After many versions and tweaks, learning what could and couldn't be done with injection molding, ultrasonic welding and our budget, we were pretty happy with the final design. It's been over 10 years, and we still love looking at it and the beautiful play of light it encompasses.
For those who don't already know, the generation 1 and 2 flowlights had breath and a heartbeat. "Breath" (mode 1) approximates the breath rate of a healthy human at rest. "Beacon" (mode 5) approximates the heart rate of a healthy human at rest, with a distinct lub-dub pulse compared to a simple blinking beacon. The flowlight has ribs and many other features that you would find in some of nature's curiosity cabinets. It also has a heart inside that is only visible when the flowlight is broken open.
The green flowlight was born of a mission to raise awareness on responsible e-waste recycling.
The world's appetite for electronics is growing and with it, a mountain of electronic "e-waste" and related health, social and environmental problems are piling up. Most "recycled" e-waste is shipped to China, India and Africa, where lower environmental standards and cheap labor make e-waste disposal more profitable, but less responsible.
To help reduce the impact of electronic products on our world, flowtoys donated 10% of all green flowlight sales to e-Stewards, a non-profit doing awesome work to reduce toxic e-waste. Each order of green flowlights also came with a beautiful postcard by our friend and visionary artist Geo Atherton. When we transitioned to the new flowlight-FS, the green flowlight was discontinued, though we continue to support e-Stewards efforts as an e-Stewards Enterprise.
Watermelon flowlights were first released in May 2010, when we launched a special limited run to recognize the contributions of Dan Gordon-Levitt. Burning Dan was a dynamic performer/teacher, who actively fostered community around the artform both locally through his weekly FlowTemple parties in LA, and globally through his travels, teaching and inspiring people all over the world.
Burning Dan was also known as “Watermelon Dan” for his love of the pink and green watermelon color scheme, and the positive effect it has on people.
The watermelon flowlights were very popular and the first run sold out before the end of the summer. Later that fall, Dan passed away and the flow community worldwide mourned the loss of a champion. Dan was a radiant and generous soul, who left an indelible mark in the flow community, touching the lives of everyone he met. Dan had many dreams for the flow arts. Following his passing many wondered how they could contribute to continuing Dan’s vision. His friends at flowtoys came up with an idea to start a foundation for the flow arts, and to seed the fund with the profits from a commemorative run of watermelon-themed flowlights.
Following months of behind the scenes preparation, Fund the Flow Arts launched at the San Francisco Flow Show in April 2011. The non-profit organization serves the mission of advancing the flow arts, and fostering flow communities.
The commemorative Watermelon light can be distinguished by inscriptions on the circuit board:
“Burning Dan: 1974-2010, carpe awesome, the Flow must go on”
We ordered several thousand watermelon flowlights and donated $12 for every one purchased to Fund the Flow Arts.
We consider the perfect universal poi head to be streamline and slightly tear-drop shaped, where all the weight is focused towards the end of the poi head. It has to be durable with no exposed electronics, yet be cushy-on-impact and not hurt, so people are invited to learn to spin and motivated to practice. It has to have an intuitive user interface, be easily rechargeable, and of course be beautiful on or off, inside and out.
The podpoi’s organic design evolved out of an engineering challenge. After exploring all the mechanical solutions to our various requirements, we found the design had evolved into something much like a seed or flower pod. Tapping into nature's wisdom for the final details, we found that we were essentially creating a fruit to contain the seed of light to propagate the artform that we love. We needed a vessel to carry and protect this seed, it had to have a way of opening, protecting its cargo, attracting its propagator and delivering its message.
The design didn't begin with us trying to make a poi head that looked like a plant. Every attribute pretty much came out of solving some structural challenge, and resulted in the same sort of solutions that nature has evolved overtime. It's like the fundamental fractal nature of the universe expressing itself in poi.
Every story has a beginning and the story of the flow-wand began in South Africa in 2002 with a man named Hen. Sean and Prisna met Hen in Cape Town where he was making and selling what he called the Nimbus 2000 – a wooden magician’s floating cane that he decorated with fluorescent spray paint and presented as a modern yo-yo and juggling toy. It was the first time we had seen the magician’s floating cane outside of the stage magic context. He shared a few magic cane tricks with us, we went to a local trance party together, we got some wands from Hen to play and share with friends in the US. We enjoyed it for some weeks, but the novelty of the few moves we learned wore off and without further inspiration, our Nimbus 2000 sat collecting dust for months.
One day, while listening to some pretty music and feeling restless, Prisna picked up the wand and danced with it, exploring movement and possibilities outside of the tricks she knew, finding her flow with it. The result was pure magic. Not the tricksy-I-can-levitate-a-stick type of magic. But the kind of magic that threw open doors and presented a whole new way of connecting with an object and exploring movement. It was no longer about levitating a stick and making it do things, but about tuning into the wand’s momentum and allowing it to teach us to go with the flow and guide our movement.
Sean is always ready to make the perfect flow prop. He was inspired by Prisna's newfound discovery and designed a wand that handled like a dream. It was thin, dense and stiff – qualities that brought out the flow in the flow-wand. It was perfectly balanced and had a revolutionary swivelled finger loop. It was a joy to handle and play with. Our friends wanted it. Their friends wanted it. The rest is flow-wand history. That we have been imitated by flow arts and prop companies around the world is a testament to the awesomeness of the flow-wand, but the original flow-wand floats above the rest.
Prisna has been sharing the wonders of the wand for over 10 years – teaching at numerous flow arts workshops and festivals, and performing for countless audiences from San Francisco to Singapore to Switzerland. We are grateful to Hen for his role in instigating something awesome that has inspired thousands of people around the world to move and be moved by this wonderful tool. Thank you Hen and all the magicians that have passed on the art of the floating cane. We are honored to be part of its evolution and to be taking it to new dimensions.
The toroflux is one of the few current flowtoys offerings that we did not invent. We did however bring it from relative obscurity to worldwide popularity. It's the 21st century slinky. Math and physics geeks, novelty shoppers, high-design types, new-age esoterics, your boss, your mom and all her grandkids - everyone instantly falls in love with the toroflux.
We were first introduced to this amazing toy through Dai Zaobab. Dai had a couple of torofluxes and amazed us with them at a party one day, but he couldn't remember what they were called or where to get them. We tried hunting them down, then pretty much the same time Dai remembered the name, we found the source. We contacted the inventor Valett in Germany and placed a wholesale order. After several orders, it became apparent that he could not meet our demand, which was not all that big at the time. We could have just made it ourselves without telling Valett, but we wanted to honor his family's art and invention, and worked out an exclusive license agreement to manufacture and distribute them.
We launched the toroflux online in 2010 and by 2013, the product was so popular that it was counterfeited in its entirety. Not just the toroflux, but our packaging and toroflux logo, our product description and video. Several companies in the US importing the counterfeits have changed the name, but have piggybacked on our marketing and even won some accolades from it. We'd like to feel flattered, but it's been a pretty big problem and the counterfeits are shoddily made. We've had warranty incidences with the counterfeits finding their way to us, have found that they perform poorly and have rusty spots. In 2014, Valett assigned all toroflux IP rights to flowtoys, so that we can pursue protection for it and continue to ensure quality and honor the inventor and invention. We are now working on the next steps. Please help by purchasing genuine torofluxes from us or Valett.
When Sean first discovered firedancing in 1998, he wanted to practice staff, double staff, poi, club swinging, and juggling-sticks. He was backpacking around the world and in order to carry all that equipment with him, he developed a collapsible aluminum staff that could break down into three pieces and transform into all those props. There were 4 wicks, rubber grip and leashes made from inner-tubes that wrapped around the handle when not used for poi. The two smaller sections connected to form a second short staff, and could also be used as poi, clubs, or control sticks. This set-up enabled Sean to practice any of the flow arts he was inspired to whenever the opportunity arose, while traveling around the world.
Sean carried over the concept of modularity and interchangeability in his design of the first flowtoys system of props. The Flowtoys Modular System comprises a series of tubes, caps, connectors and lights that are modular and interchangeable, enabling users to create many props with just a few parts. If any one part failed or got lost, it was easy and cheap to replace. The versatility and affordability of the system was an immediate hit. We launched the modular system at the European Juggling Convention and sold out of everything - including our booth, which happened to be made out of modular system parts :)
Like many tools, instruments, or sports equipment, flowtoys are used in ways that push the limits of what is physically possible. The ideal poi would have a leash with zero mass, and the head would have all its weight concentrated at the end, have bright, long-lasting electronics inside that can handle 100mph impacts yet be soft as a pillow. The ideal staff-shaft would also have zero mass, yet be perfectly rigid under 200lbs of force, be under 1” diameter and transparent.
Designing awesome props requires a careful consideration of features, balancing durability with performance handling, brightness with battery size and life, strength and rigidity with softness on impact, and quality components and high design with affordability.
The Composite System was born of the need for a high performance system of staffs and batons that were thin and lightweight yet durable and rigid for optimum performance handling. All this is made possible with high-tech materials typically used in the aerospace and racing industries like carbon fiber, custom elastomer super grip, and 3d-printed compression connectors. The Composite System was 1 giant leap towards effortless flow and brought high-tech materials to the flow props world
The push to make a dragon disc came about when our friend and dragon staff spinner Francois Erb came to visit the flowspace in 2015. Francois thought to give an impromptu dragon staff workshop, and Sean gave himself a 5-day deadline to come up with a solution. In those 5 days, he upped his illustrator skills and came up with the manta design to secure capsule lights to a disc that attached to the composite staff.
The shape of the manta ray emerged as we were exploring the optimal interplay between strength, durability, required mounting points and minimal material weight, while designing with the fewest vector points possible. A few tweaks brought to life this inspiring and graceful animal with its iconic curves, the cephalic fins around its mouth, and the claspers on its tail. The marine theme continued as the shape of the support discs took on the appearance of a whales' tale as they followed the lines of the primary disc, and the outermost support began to look like the metal reinforcement around the keyhole to a futuristic pirate’s treasure chest.
We did not begin with the manta-marine theme in mind when we set out to develop the structure. As with many of our designs, we are their conduit for manifestation as we seek to solve mechanical challenges, while honoring the beauty and intelligence of nature. Call it the viral beauty of nature using us as their host ;)