Dorthe Malil


The founder of beloved Danish toy brand Maileg reveals all, from design inspiration to influential childhood memories

Shop Maileg

Escape to Maileg Universe, where fantasy flows and story-making is in full-force. Linen mice clad in considered costumes, matchboxes for beds and tents for houses are just some of the treasures you can expect to unearth in Danish toy brand Maileg’s assembly, all spun from the imagination of director and founder, Dorthe Malil. Here she shares the making of Maileg and her passion for make-believe.

maileg mouse toy
How did Maileg come into fruition?

Maileg was founded in 1999, but the idea to transform my illustrations into 3D came to life when I studied at the Danish Design school. I made little clay figures that amused my classmates, so you could say that everything started from that moment.

What is the meaning behind the name?

I combined my last name ‘Mailil’ with ‘leg’ - the Danish word for play. In English, it translates as “me play”. Play, fantasy and imagination are all essential for the toys that I create.

"Play, fantasy and imagination are all essential for the toys that I create."

maileg toys
Have any childhood memories inspired your toys or collections?

When I was a child, I was often sick – the days away from school were filled up with drawing and making up characters. I don’t re-call any particular memories, but simple play where I would create my own stories and bring them to life. It’s the notion of authentic play that enables ideas for new developments and characters.

Where do you draw inspiration for your designs?

I like to travel to cities that have a lot of history, beautiful buildings and old shopping areas – cities like Paris, London and Copenhagen. I enjoy visiting book shops and art galleries, it sparks new ideas. Also, a simple thing, such as our everyday life can be an inspiration. Children’s storytelling is also very amusing and exciting.

How would you describe the brand’s identity?

I would describe the Maileg Universe and our brand identity as a story-making company. We strive to make designs that inspire children to create their own stories, use their imagination and fantasy. I hope that the toys we make bring the magic of story-making into everyday life and play.

You’re an award-winning illustrator – what is your role in the creative process?

I initiate ideas and fully immerse myself in the creative process from the beginning, until the final design is complete. In a way, it’s the same as modulating a shape in clay – it’s possible to adjust and re-mould the clay until the look and shape is perfect.

"No matter how old you are, it’s a joy to be able to imagine stories and make up a magical world. I love to amaze grown-ups and awaken their childhood memories."

maileg toys
Maileg has won several design awards. Can you tell us about material sourcing and selection?

Quality, hand-feel and appearance of the different materials and fabrics are crucial factors in the material selection process. I get inspired from traditional children’s clothing, vintage fabrics and old toys.

Maileg matchbox
What do you consider to be most important when designing a toy?

To inspire fantasy - no matter how old you are, it’s a joy to be able to imagine stories and make up a magical world. I love to amaze grown-ups and awaken their childhood memories.

maileg bunny toy
How do you harness a Danish approach to toy design?

I don’t think that I have a special Danish approach to toy design – the influence goes back to my younger days when I stayed in Oxford and Paris and my time at the Danish school of design. I incorporate a little bit of Danish “hygge”, which is a term used to describe a mood of cosiness, contentment and comfort.

We love Maileg’s iconic mouse toys. What is the story behind this particular character?

The mouse in match box is created from an early childhood memory. An old neighbour folded his handkerchief so that it looked like a little mouse and gave it to me. I kept it in an empty matchbox until it unfolded one day. The little mouse was so special. I remember the joy of creating a little “home” where the mouse could sleep and be safe. So simple in a way, but full of fantasy.

Lastly, which Liberty print would you love to work with and why?

I love all Liberty prints but Belsize Park, June Blossom and Hannah Fay are my favourites because of the colour harmony and the classic designs.

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