Magic Lab Co-founder Ryan Lo Mends Childhood Memories
Ryan Lo together with his brother, Raymond, set up Magic Lab to provide treatments for plush toys by cleaning, re-stuffing and sewing them up again.
What is the story behind Magic Lab? Since we were young, my brother and I had dreamed of having our own business. When we’d saved enough money, we opened Magic Lab. At first we were like Build-A-Bear, which allows people to customize their own teddy bears. We didn’t start fixing toys until 2016, when a customer suggested it. We learned how to fix toys at a very young age because our parents couldn’t afford new toys for us. Most of the toys we owned were broken or samples from our uncle, who worked at a toy factory.
Why repair toys? Toys have a lot of meaning: They have stories, names and memories attached to them. I grew up playing with stuffed toys. I took care of them and talked to them. My brother and I treated them like our best friends, and I’m sure a lot of Hong Kong people had the same experience growing up. Repairing toys helps preserve such bonds. But if there’s something we can’t fix, we’ll tell our customers honestly. We don’t want to disappoint anyone. 90 percent of our customers have really close relationships with their toys, and memories cannot be replaced, so we try to be careful with them.
Talk us through the repair process. We do a preliminary inspection by asking customers to send in photos of their damaged toy so we can decide what needs to be done. When cleaning toys, we prefer using a pressurized steam cleaner instead of chemicals. We re-stuff toys that are losing their shape using our stuffing machine. If there are holes, we’ll sew them up by hand. We also replace broken limbs and missing eyes, and so on. We can spend up to two weeks fixing a toy, since there’s only two of us.
Any customers that stand out? Our first customer brought in a 30-year-old teddy bear. She was so reluctant to leave it with us that she teared up. We were very grateful that she trusted us so much, even though we had no prior experience. Luckily, she was very happy with the results. Then there was this customer who brought her toy in for cleaning and re-stuffing. The toy was in bad shape and we explained to her that we might not be able to restore it to its original condition. We overheard her telling her boyfriend that the toy was the last gift she got from her late father, and that she would keep it for as long as she could. That really touched us and we made an extra effort to repair it. We put a device in the toy that mimics a pulse, so her father’s presence can live on inside it.
Why do you wear lab coats and masks? Do you think you’re doctors? What we wear aren’t just costumes—they actually protect us during the cleaning process. You’ll be surprised by the sheer amount of dust and dirt that comes out of these toys! That said, I guess the title “Dr.” is a bit too professional for us, but some customers do like to call us Dr. Raymond and Dr. Ryan.