LEGO® Polybags: A Natural D&I Tool06 Feb 2022
Written by Kosha Brightwell
LEGO polybag sets, in their current form since 1992, have been the cheapest way to get your hands on LEGO bricks. Because of their low price, they’re actually a great way for LEGO to address multiple D&I issues around minifigure representation and availability. We’re encouraged to see the many conversations LEGO community members have been having about diversity, inclusion and representation. LEGO’s announcement “to ensure LEGO products and marketing are accessible to all and free of gender bias and harmful stereotypes” is a huge step forward, but we believe there are steps LEGO can take to make their products even more accessible in the short term. In this article, we’ll describe how polybags can be useful in helping LEGO reach multiple worthwhile goals.
First up is affordability, which is so important with LEGO undoubtedly being an expensive product. At a price point of 3-5 units of local currency (in the US and Europe), polybags are an affordable access point for many children and may serve as some children’s first experience with LEGO ownership. This point is particularly important with respect to the availability of Disney Princess People Of Colour (POC) characters. As noted in the WBI findings, POC princess characters tend to be included in expensive sets and appear less frequently in sets, generally. LEGO should consider issuing more polybags featuring POC Princesses as such sets are small in quantity of pieces, a low price point for attainability and provide more variety to children in the target audience.
Many LEGO fans seek out and purchase sets that represent themselves, their families and their friends. This task remains difficult because of the lack of availability and / or differentiation of facial printing in LEGO proprietary themes; high price point of licensed themes; and lower rates of female representation in both licensed and proprietary themes, among other reasons. One way to increase the number of skin tones available at large would be to increase the number of Friends polybags featuring the family members and acquaintances of the five principal Friends characters. While yellow remains the default minifigure representation for LEGO proprietary themes (City, Ninjago, Creator, etc.), Friends has produced an ever-wider range of mini-dolls in shades ranging from light nougat (Emma, Mia, Stephanie), and nougat (Olivia), to medium nougat (Andrea). In 2022, Friends set #41701 introduced a female mini-doll acquaintance in the reddish brown color first used for Star Wars’ Lando Calrissian. Since Friends has also significantly increased the number of male, mature, and primary school aged children in their sets beginning in 2021, this would already be a large increase in the availability of “whole family” options for many LEGO audiences.
LEGO could also make various skin tone shades, hair styles and ethnic representations consistently available through additional polybags featuring figures with a wide range of appearances and interests such as has been done in Duplo Education. These sets are issued as “community people ” sets and are exceptional in their representation across ethnicities.
Representing disability and neurodiversity can also be very challenging for LEGO lovers. LEGO had made some efforts over the years in representing people with vision, hearing and mobility impairments, but these sets aren’t always available and several years may pass before a new minifigure appears. LEGO could make polybags a vehicle to distribute additional mini figures with “supplementation” packs. These could make assistance equipment and apparatus available to a wider audience at a low price point.
Given LEGO’s goal to make products free of gender bias, let’s also look at how polybags could help there, too. For 2022, the current line-up of 23 polybag sets features 11 with minifigures (excluding magazine gifts). 4 of these sets are from licensed themes and contain four minifigures: 2 male and 2 females. The remaining seven sets contain 9 minifigures (excluding skeletons). 1 is gender neutral, 4 are male and 4 are female, again representing a equal gender balance of 1:1. However, this is due to the Friends polybag containing 2 female minifigures, so they are 5 polybags including female minifigures and 6 containing male minifigures. Either way, it is great to see LEGO’s stated commitment to gender balance being met / very nearly met in this area. While it would be great to see this in products of all sizes it seems like LEGO has tackled the low-hanging fruit to target as an initial effort.
To conclude let’s discuss the availability of polybags. We don’t know LEGO’s purpose and distribution strategy for polybags; or if a comprehensive “plan” even exists. Currently, most of these polybag sets are difficult to obtain, even if you’re actively trying to acquire them. From my experience in the US, they were never readily available in retail stores, nor ever available in LEGO retail stores or on lego.com prior to the COVID pandemic. This distribution pattern seems to have changed because of COVID. On a trip to the US in May 2021, I was pleasantly surprised to see more polybags available in store AND available to order on the retailer’s website. Similarly, here in and around Paris, I’ve seen (some of) them available in LEGO retail stores and on the local lego.com site. I summed these changes up as a response to the pandemic—for retailers, making pre-ordered stock available to customers in alternative channels; for LEGO, needing an alternative to giving the polybags as GWPs—when people were not able to browse stores and obtain polybags as usual. Perhaps LEGO can capitalize on this hard-learned flexibility to respond to community requests and meet important D&I objectives as we’ve described here.
In the meantime, Brick Alliance is holding a year-long Polybag Project: we are challenging participants to build one polybag a month and then use the parts from the sets to build something new or add to a display of the polybag set built. We’re also is also collecting data on the project to share with The LEGO Group. To find out more and to join the project, follow the link….