Sustainability isn’t just the basis of my work in fashion: it’s a guiding force in my life. I make a very conscious effort to navigate the world through environment-friendly practices, such as trying to cut back on plastic consumption in all areas of life. When I became a mother, this way to see things came with an extra responsibility: I am now raising a small human to be aware of his direct impact on the planet. I wanted to pamper my child with beautiful and fun toys, of course, but I also wanted the things that surround him to be meaningful. And so the quest to find sustainable toys began.
As a new mum, I have a set of basic standards when it comes what I want my baby to play with. I’m looking for nice-looking toys that can help him through each stage of development, but I also need toys that will entertain him and keep him safe, which quickly eliminates more than a few brands that still use toxic components. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a synthetic plastic polymer with tons of harmful additives, has long been used to build toys, and it hasn’t been entirely phased out yet. Some of the biggest brands in the world continue to use this hard-to-recycle and dangerous plastic, which is good enough reason for me to steer away from those companies’ products. Unfortunately, crossing out brands that use harmful chemicals also diminishes the umbrella of options and so when it comes to eco toy sets, I am not there yet!
Finding environmentally sound toy brands with ethical work practices can prove somewhat difficult, even in Europe and the US. The amazing thing is that we’re getting an increasing number of choices, which in turn means they’re not a luxury anymore. Celebrities and royalty aren’t the only ones who can afford sustainable toys for their toddlers and growing children at this point, as there’s a growing variety of more affordable options. There’s no need for children in general to grow up surrounded by PVC and who knows what other toxic components.
For decades, highly processed plastic has become the norm in toy making, even for babies and small children. That’s why I was so thrilled to find a company that specialises in crafting beautiful, old-fashioned wood toys: Tender Leaf Toys.
This California-based American company is at the forefront of ethical toy making. Tender Leaf Toys has a myriad of different themes, with lovely collections ranging from educational to adorable and gender-neutral toys focused on showcasing everyday life to small children. Some of the loveliest toys include a Garden Wheelbarrow Set and an Afternoon Tea Stand, in bright colours. They’re the kind of toys our grandparents grew up playing with, with a contemporary twist to them.
I love the feel of Tender Leaf Toys because you can tell each of their products comes from a place of love. They pride themselves in their team of artisans overlooking every step of toy-making, with designers and craftspeople joining forces to create products that may look like an old-timey toy but encompass the kind of thing little kids see in their everyday lives all the time; particularly for children growing up in urban areas. Older children can enjoy toys like an Espresso Machine or a Smoothie Maker, which can even turn into sweet conversation starters when playing with their parents.
Tender Leaf makes toys for toddlers of over 18 months, and then for children over the age of 3. We’ve only bought the toddler-age collection so far, but as my son grows, I’m sure we’ll have many items for older children. The experience has been quite enchanting, and the toys for babies have provided hours worth of fun in our household, with little puzzles featuring animal themes that make it easier to teach my son about those species we share this planet with.
I had the chance to catch up with Director Danielle Hanson, and here is what she had to say about the brand…
PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELF AND TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BRAND? TELL US ABOUT THE VISION FOR YOUR BRAND?
My name is Danielle Hanson and I am the Creative Director for both ThreadBear design and Tenderleaf toys. Nick Shirley and I set up ThreadBear design 2017, in order to offer top quality well designed textiles for the children’s gift market. Above all, we had a shared vision to produce ethically made products using sustainably sourced materials that would be biodegradable but practical! During that time I had also been invited by the largest wooden toy manufacturer in south-east Asia to create with them a wonderful new brand and range of wooden toys. This awesome supplier is based in Java, Indonesia, and they have been manufacturing wooden toys for 35 years now, supplying well-known toy companies around the world. They care deeply about the planet and it’s dwindling resources and so only use Indonesian legal rubberwood which is a by-product of the rubber industry. In addition, they, like us feel strongly about ethical trading and standards of customer care and good practices along the supply chain, and so a wonderful collaboration between ThreadBear design and Tenderleaf toys ensued. We have, in just over one year of real trading already attracted some wonderful and renowned retailers and so we hope to continue to grow and to offer a steady flow of original well designed, plastic-free products to the children’s gift market.
HOW DO YOU APPROACH SUSTAINABILITY/TRANSPARENCY WITHIN YOUR BRAND?
WHAT MORE DO YOU THINK CUSTOMERS ARE LOOKING FOR THESE DAYS BEYOND GOOD DESIGN? OR DO YOU THINK THAT DESIGN IS REALLY ALL THAT MATTERS?
I think today’s customers are a lot more informed and care a lot more about our planet. Media attention is now firmly on plastic-free products and there is a growing desire to eliminate needless waste, we realise that good design is now about thoughtful and mindful design not just in the way our products reflect the beauty of the natural world but the way they are presented and packaged and we think we are achieving this!
HOW DO YOU ENSURE QUALITY WITH YOUR BRAND?
WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACED WHEN TRYING TO GROW AN ETHICAL BRAND?