Toying Around at Work

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When you see Gabe Leung’s business card, chances are you’ll do a double-take. At first glance, you read the company information for Ooqboo. Then you see that there is more information on the other end of the card so you turn it upside down. That’s when you realize that “Ooqboo” looks the same from either end. This card is a perfect example of Leung’s off-beat humor and creativity.

Leung is the co-owner of Ooqboo, a toy e-boutique specializing in unique collectible toys and books. “We started this retail business a year ago when we hunted for many limited edition toy figures from all over the world,” Leung said. “Many of these toys are collectibles, not typical educational toys for children. So we realized we could make a business out of this and cater to a specific clientele, ranging from teenagers to senior citizens.” The toys Ooqboo sells are typically urban vinyl toys, designed by both renowned artists and new artists. “It’s a neat trade-off, because many of these new or renowned artists have paintings that are too expensive for collectors, so a designer toy is a great and cheaper alternative for fans.”

In addition to Ooqboo, 31-year-old Leungis also a freelance graphic and web designer who works with various clients around the world in countries such as Japan. “I usually work in the evenings when my creative juices flow rapidly into sketches and the computer,” Leung said. “I tend to work better with the pressure of deadlines creeping into my head. I don’t really have a typical schedule. Sometimes my schedule is really hectic for a week, and then I’m free the next week. This helps me keep myself entertained as opposed to a stable job.”

Leung’s love of art began at an early age when his father gave him a few “Learn to Draw” books. He also credited his globetrotting days as a young child for his interest in various art cultures. “However, I drifted away from art while in college. I juggled majors, including biology and computer science, before I found that visual communication was a perfect fit for me.” As an art student and an outgoing personality – Leung is known among his friends for well-attended and fun parties– he began to create visual projects for family and friends. After earning a bachelor’s degree in visual communication from the University of Arizona, Leung worked in different cities, including Chicago and New York City, before settling in San Francisco with his wife, Susie Lai.

Leung said that the many jobs he has held played a major role in choosing his current career. “I was a mail sorter, peer mentor, newspaper web assistant, stock photo researcher, web consultant, and interactive designer,” he remembered. “The vast experience of going through many different jobs definitely shaped my current career, as I got to know which career would ideally fit my personality and skills. Did I want to sit in a plain office for the next 30 years or did I want to split my work time being on my feet half of the time and the other half on my buttocks in the office? Did I want to sit in front of a computer monitor for 40 hours a week? Being a designer was something that I fell in love with, because I like creating things for someone else.”

Leung stressed the importance of volunteering for various organizations. “I also volunteered for so many different things,” he said. “It’s nice to give back what the world has given me.” Another potential career on the horizon for Leung is to teach, he said. “I wouldn’t mind teaching at all; I would love to nurture the kids with my knowledge and experience that I have gained in the academic and work world.” He adds, half-joking, that the three months off during the summer would enable him to travel the world.

In fact, this love of travel enables Leung to attend toy and comic conventions around the world. “It’s great, because I get many cool freebies, and get invited to many underground parties,” he said. “I’m often the only deaf attendee at these conferences. I was surprised to see so many positive responses from people there when I approached them with pen and paper for communication. It seems like toy designers and toy retailers form a tight community, much like that of the deaf community.”

Owning a small business is challenging, but Leung has some sage advice. “Always be optimistic about what you can do instead of being too pessimistic about what you have done. It’s also good to try to be innovative in what you do.”

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