Nearly 30 years ago, North American Bear Company began as a creative business enterprise of a new mother, Barbara Isenberg, starting a family in New York City in the mid-1970’s. Her desire to find a teddy bear with the nostalgic charm of an antique toy and a contemporary sense of whimsy for her own small son prompted the start of a toy company creating unique, high quality plush bears that would appeal to both children and adults alike. In 1978, after perfecting a variety of sample bears, assembling a sales force and locating a small NY factory to produce bears, Barbara teamed up with her brother, Paul Levy, a Chicago-based lawyer and real estate developer, to form North American Bear Company, Inc. Barbara continues as the company’s Creative Director, running the New York Studio in the heart of Manhattan’s toy district where she and the closely-knit design and production team develop each season’s rich and varied collections. Paul Levy serves as CEO in the company’s corporate headquarters in Chicago, managing the administrative, financial and warehousing aspects of the business.
North American Bear Staff
The North American Bear staff is a small, but wonderfully diverse group of people who know and care about the products and make sure everything is “just right” before anything ships out the door. Ten different languages are spoken at North American Bear and like the customers who ultimately purchase our products, our staff is predominantly women (the majority of whom are moms) with a delightful sprinkling of dads. There are 43 children total amongst our employees and every one of these kids is as much a part of the North American Bear family as their parents. More than half of our staff have been with the company for over a decade, including 8 warehouse and design team members who have been dedicated employees for over 20 years. Our 4 person in-house design team lead by Barbara Isenberg is the heart of our company. The design team has been together a very long time and is as much a family as it is a highly skilled and diversified talent engine. They work in the magical space of our design studio, the birthplace of every North American Bear product, located in the Flatiron district of Manhattan where their unique creativity materializes into products in our Everyday Friends and Muffy VanderBear® lines.
We’d like you to meet them:
Born in New York City, Katya studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. After graduating, she was a painter, an art restorer and couture clothing designer. She came to North American Bear in 1988 and continues to design couture clothing... but for bears (and a bunny): Muffy®, Hoppy™ and the entire VanderBear Family®. She also works on our Everyday Friends Play and Baby lines of new two-dimensional soft toys. Drawing upon her exacting eye for exquisite detail and fashion finery, Muffy VanderBear® Couture continues to be Katya’s pride and joy that she designs for North American Bear.
Born in Japan, Chizu attended Musashino Art University in Tokyo for graphic design and worked as a plush designer after graduation. She came to New York City in 1990 to visit the Hewitt-Cooper Museum and discovered a new adventure with The Big Apple Circus where her artistic talents were employed painting circus billboards and sewing props. Her eventual friendship with a North American Bear employee 10 years ago lead to full-time work with the company as a plush designer. Chizu is the master monster maker of our custom design monster program and works on a variety of products in our Everyday Friends Play, Doll and Baby lines. She is especially fond of Droopy Bear™, one of the many Everyday Friends she designed.
After escaping the war torn region of his Tibetan youth, Thupten lived in India for 15 years before emigrating to the U.S. He attended art school in India, studied clay sculpture and wood masks and later learned the traditional techniques of Tibetan art under the state painters from Tibet. His professional career as a Buddhist Thangka painter (making complex religious icons) led him to New York City where he taught, received private commissions and became a Tibetan art restorer at the Museum of Natural History. His previous sewing experience included making elaborate Tibetan tents and specialized camera bags. In search of a “Himalayan sherpa man with handy paws”, North American Bear hired Thupten in 1983. A longtime design team member, Thupten handles many aspects of the design process including pattern engineering, character creations and quality control. Flatsos™ and Oatmeal® Bear are personal favorites among the many Everyday Friends he designed.