Former Hillsides Employee Makes a Splash in Toy Business and is now Giving Back

When Ray Phillips was working at Hillsides as a program director at our residential program in the late 1990s, he noticed that bath time was often a problem for the children.

One little boy, age 9, in particular, refused to get into the tub because he couldn’t bring in his favorite stuffed animal with him. Ray had an idea. He found a spare teddy bear, squirted it with liquid soap, and gave it to the boy to take into the tub.

After this incident, inspiration struck again: Why not create a stuffed animal designed to get wet that also acted as a soap dispenser?

After a 16-year-career here, Ray left Hillsides to start a bath time toy line called SoapSox. He created a prototype – Taylor the Turtle – then brought in a business partner who had a background in product development.

The two organized a kickstarter campaign and raised $52,000 in 30 days. The product was soon picked up by Nordstrom. But Ray’s future was really set when he appeared on the TV Show “Shark Tank” and two investors offered him deals.

While Ray and his business partner ultimately walked away from the offers, the exposure on “Shark Tank” led to collaboration with Disney in 2016, when Ray launched a line of 6 Disney character SoapSox. Last year the company, located in Arcadia, CA, grossed one million dollars in 2016 and is on track to have a very successful 2017.

Not content with success alone, Ray wanted to give back to Hillsides. “My goal has always been to help create safe places for kids, just like Hillsides does,” he said. He reached out to our Youth Moving On program for transition-aged youth and offered an internship to a youth involved with the program.

Recently the first intern, Antwoine Cole, 21, started working at Soap Sox. His duties include order fulfillment and inventory management. “It’s a great environment, and I really like it,” says Antwoine, a youth formerly in foster care who underwent a rigorous workforce development training program through YMO to land the job.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Ray, who plans on bringing in one or two more YMO interns with the ultimate goal of hiring YMO youth. “Antwoine will be learning logistics and warehouse operations, skills that he can utilize if he decides to stay in the field. And I get the chance to mentor youth and give a kid who’s been through the system a real chance.”