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News / Business / Clark County Business

Vancouver-based Slumberkins helping children process emotions of pandemic

By Will Campbell, Columbian Associate Editor
Published: December 27, 2020, 6:00am
5 Photos
Slumberkins co-founders and CEOs Kelly Oriard, left, and Callie Christensen started Slumberkins nearly five years ago, and the duo have found major success. Online sales are higher than ever, it&#039;s helping produce a television show with Jim Henson studios, it&#039;s being integrated into the Camas School District&#039;s curriculum and it&#039;s created a culture for people like customer Susan Hall of Minnesota and tens of thousands of others on Facebook.
Slumberkins co-founders and CEOs Kelly Oriard, left, and Callie Christensen started Slumberkins nearly five years ago, and the duo have found major success. Online sales are higher than ever, it's helping produce a television show with Jim Henson studios, it's being integrated into the Camas School District's curriculum and it's created a culture for people like customer Susan Hall of Minnesota and tens of thousands of others on Facebook. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Susan Hall has three kids under the age of 10, all with emotional regulation issues. When the pandemic struck in March, she quit her engineering job in Minneapolis to focus on her family and to home-school the kids.

She soon stumbled upon a quirky, pleasant children’s book from Vancouver-based Slumberkins.

Upon opening the book, Hall discovered a way to show her kids how to deal with emotions. Having tried numerous therapies and treatments for her kids’ emotional issues, Hall found that the book offered a solution she hadn’t tried: an emotional attachment to a stuffed animal.

Hall ordered some of Slumberkins’ stuffed creatures and matching books, and she introduced them to her kids.

“It resonated and they took to it,” Hall said. “It created a connection.”

On a Monday, a week before Christmas, Hall looked at her 8-year-old, who sat at a computer doing homework. He had the Slumberkins narwhal draped over his shoulder. The creature, which represents a “growth mindset” to solve problems, has helped her kids identify certain emotions.

The family even refers to certain emotions with the Slumberkins animal labels. With the Lynx, the newest creature in the 13 animal collections, the animal represents using a child’s inner wisdom and voice, and speaking up.

“You need Lynx,” Hall will say to her kids during a moment when they won’t discuss an issue. “You need to talk about it.”

The company quickly became an integral part of the family’s teaching style.

Slumberkins is hitting its stride during this holiday season, which coincides with the approach of its five-year anniversary. Its list of achievements is long: Online sales are higher than ever, it’s helping produce a television show with Jim Henson studios, it’s being integrated into the Camas School District’s curriculum and it’s created a culture for people like Hall and tens of thousands of others on Facebook.

Market under pandemic

“Holiday shopping has been incredible,” said co-founder and co-owner Kelly Oriard. “People are wanting gifts that add meaning more than just clutter. Everyone is stuck indoors most of the time, and parents are buying more intentional gifts.”

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Sales doubled from last year, and they’re on track to double again, she said.

The pandemic and the issues that come along with it — social isolation, fear of illness and so on — are helping Slumberkins in a way because the company is meant as a sort of therapy and a way to teach. Christensen and Oriard co-write the books, and their backgrounds as a school teacher and a family therapist, respectively, help them know what to write.

“Anxiety is on the rise, there are a lot of unknowns on the rise,” said Christensen. “Screen time is increasing. Slumberkins is an easy-to-use turnkey way to facilitate meaningful moments of connection. Parents purchase it for the cuteness, they read the books and they see an impact.”

I think the pandemic has accelerated an area where there isn’t enough focus: emotional wellness,” Oriard said. “But we were planning to speak on this level to people before the pandemic hit.”

Every book’s story ends with interactive affirmation, a moral of the story. For the Lynx, it reads: “I can say what I need. I know what I belong to. I speak my truth when I believe it. I am worthy and strong.”

The company has a total of 13 collections of stuffed characters paired with children’s books. It soon aims to make more than the current single book for each of the animals, and it also will expand online resources for parents. That includes videos posted on the company’s Youtube channel.

The company also doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar presence, so it isn’t suffering from a lack of in-person shopping during the holiday season. Since its beginning in 2016, the company has harnessed digital advertising.

Creating more than animals and books

The next big step for Slumberkins is a television series in production with The Jim Henson Co. in Los Angeles that’s been in the works for years. Christensen and Oriard said that the show’s airing platform, whether it’s cable, Netflix, or Hulu or some other streaming platform, was not yet set in stone.

Meanwhile, the company is cultivating an online support group on Facebook with about 27,000 members. It’s free to join, and Slumberkins has a team of six people who monitor the group.

“We’re very active in it,” Oriard said. “We ‘go live’ for constant communication,” meaning the pair streams live videos of themselves. “It’s been an amazing community to see build organically.”

The group offers parents quick responses to issues they’re having with their kids, and a way to gain sympathy and strength through shared experiences.

“I can’t call a therapist in the middle of the night,” Hall said. “But I can go on to Slumberkins Social. It’s such a lifeline, that group. People offer advice and commiseration.”

The Slumberkins community runs so deep in some people that some people have gotten tattoos of the animals. The owners know of eight people who have done so.

“A grandma got a sloth on her arm,” Christensen said. “One dad got a giant bigfoot tattoo on his thigh. That’s a moment when we’re like, I know we made it.”

A new grant at the Camas School District allowed Slumberkins to build a pilot program to get its products into the schools’ curriculums.

Every pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teacher in the district is receiving a Slumberkins animal this month, and teachers will be trained on how to teach kids the animals’ mental health skills. Teachers will also provide feedback to the company to further develop the curriculum.

Christensen, who was a teacher in the Camas School District before she became an entrepreneur, said that the company is building a full curriculum for each critter.

The company plans on releasing two more creatures next year, and it will go deeper into each product collection, giving the animals more than one book.

“We’re so grateful for what can happen in five years,” Oriard said. “We feel like we’re living in an alternate reality.”

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