New Beginnings

With the beginning of winter we are seeing shorter days and cooler nights. And although it is easier to work in the cooler weather there are most definitely times that our home fire is calling and we would both prefer relaxing on the sofa.. However work is waiting so while I stay huddled in my studio by the heater, Dave is in the workshop braving the cold, with a beanie on his head and layers upon layers of clothes. However finding work-life balance is our main concern at the moment and something we are working hard to achieve.

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We had a big learning curve a year so far, a crucible of sorts, Dave injuring himself very badly in the workshop late one night. And what then became weeks of craziness as we battled to fill orders and maintain our market stall with Dave injured, then myself becoming ill with another fibromyalgia flare.

Once we got over the worst of it we looked at each and said, what are we doing?? We had been working 7 days a week, most days well into the early hours of the morning for almost 2 years. Our little business had grown to beyond what we had ever imagined and we were forced to have a real look at what our intentions were. Were we entrepreneurs or artisans? And what is it that we want from life and our little toy business?

Getting back to basics.

Getting back to basics.

We were at the stage that decisions needed to be made. We either had to employ extra hands and keep growing or apply the breaks and slow down. For Dave and I and our family we decided to slow down.

We truly love making our toys and both Dave and I are the same level of crazy, obsessive workaholics, so it was very easy to fall into the mayhem of mass making. As we move through 2019 you might not see us at as many of the markets we have previously been attending. And some of our designs will only be available in small releases. However we will still be making, just returning more to our roots of being artisan toymakers and away from what is best described as “toy manufacturers”.

The soft winter light in my studio.

The soft winter light in my studio.

I’m really looking forward to sharing our next toymaking chapter with you all. We truly feel so blessed to have so much support and love for our work. I think we have learnt a lot from the last couple of years, both in business and creativity. However our heart is in being makers not mass producers and now is the time find that elusive balance.

Mel xx

Why Wooden Toys?

When my children were young I made the decision to stop buying plastic toys and only have natural toys. At the time, in the late 90’s, it was a very unusual road to walk and trying to explain to grandparents, aunties, uncles and friends my reasoning was often difficult. I am sure they thought I was just being a hippy and there were many rolled eyes.

Some nearly 20 years later, the decision to avoid plastic toys is no longer obscure or strange, it is becoming more and more mainstream. It is fantastic to see a new generation of Mum’s and Dad’s value natural toys within their home and family. However explaining to grandparents, aunties and uncles and friends that you’d rather them not purchase a plastic toy that’s currently all the rage can still be difficult.

So I thought I would share my top 5 reasons to choose wooden toys, to help explain why avoiding plastic is the best option for our children.

1. Wooden Toys Encourage Reverence

Beautiful play space by @tabitha_webb

Beautiful play space by @tabitha_webb

It might just be me, but there is nothing more beautiful or special than a gorgeous wooden toy placed thoughtfully on a toy shelf. Children who’s toys are placed within a space with conscious purpose, respect and love develop reverence for their belongings.

Teaching our children not to participate in a throw away society is important to the future of the world that they are going to inherit. Modeling care and appreciation is also important to nurture a sense of gratitude within our children.

Wooden toys can be cared for by children themselves by encouraging them to wax their own toys. This regular activity is a wonderful way to promote not only the longevity of the toys, but an authentic experience and connection to their belongings.

Photo by @lachlynandfinnley

Photo by @lachlynandfinnley

2. Wooden Toys are Safer

You might be surprised how many people think plastic is safer than wood for young children. This rhetorical pro plastic stance has grown in part from decades of effective marketing from petrochemical companies. The reality however couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Studies are finally debunking the concept that plastic toys are safe. A recent study used new technology called X-ray fluorescence spectrometry to penetrate the structures of a random selection of second hand toys. What the researchers discovered was shocking, with a large percentage of these toys containing high concentrations of “hazardous elements” (antimony, barium, bromine, cadmium, chromium, lead and selenium), which are highly toxic to children at low levels over an extended period of time. The researchers advised that parents should avoid allowing their children place plastic toys, especially second hand plastic toys, in their mouth. Crazy, as we all know that’s exactly what young children do with their toys.

Around 40% of toys sold in Australia today are made from PVC or polyvinyl chloride. Within the cocktail of chemicals they use to make PVC there are a few that have definite questionable safety. One in particular is a chemical known as orthophthalate or phthalate, this is a proven endocrine disrupter and not only upset the body’s hormonal balance, it has also been found to stimulate the growth of cancers.

Currently there is a very big fight being battled between 2 opposing sides concerning plastic safety. On one side we have big petrochemical and plastic companies who, in what seems to echo the tobacco industry of the not to distant past, are arguing that these phthalates are safe. On the other are independent researchers and scientists as well as organisations such as Greenpeace, who are fighting to reduce the amount of plastic being produced and warning people of their dangers not only to the environment but peoples health.

There is no doubt safer “green” plastics are available currently in market place. But navigating what may or may not be safe is very tricky, especially when most of the toys sold are imported from third world countries where historically the quality of the imported products are dubious and policing is very difficult.

Photo by @pochestoreaustralia

Photo by @pochestoreaustralia

3. Wooden toys Help Develop Imaginations

In the first few years of life children learn through play. As a result play is a vital part of healthy childhood development.

Imaginative or pretend play forms the foundation of a child’s learning. Many studies show that make-believe strengthens a wide variety of mental abilities, including sustained attention, memory, logical reasoning, language and literacy skills, imagination, creativity, understanding emotions and empathy.

Wooden toys by the very nature of their simplicity allow children to develop their own imaginative world. They can dream up the details, the story and use the simple structure of the toy as a basic framework. Wooden toys allow children to be the constructors of play, where more detailed plastic toys make them passive participants.

The simpler a toy is the more the child has to exercise their imagination, like a muscle that is worked and trained, the more a child’s imagination is inspired, the stronger it is.

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4. Wooden Toys are Better For the Environment

I think we are all becoming more knowledgeable regarding the trouble that plastic is causing environmentally throughout the world. The movement to stop single use plastic shopping bags throughout Australia recently is the beginning of a very large push back against plastic. Fundamentally plastics can take hundreds of years to decompose and during the process of breaking down they create toxic residues. And given that most plastic toys do end up being broken and in land fill, that’s a lot of toys remaining within the environment creating all manner of havoc.

But the dangers of plastic are not just concerning the way the plastic is being disposed of, it is also concerning the environmental impact of its very production. Workers in plastic manufacturing facilities as well as residents in nearby communities are at risk of exposure from these chemicals which can be highly toxic and can contaminate the soil, water and air.

A large percentage of the wooden toys that are currently in production are crafted from plantation timbers such as pine, rubber tree, beech, ash and even bamboo. These forestry products, when managed correctly, create a viable and environmentally friendly option to plastics.

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5. Wooden Toys Last

At the end of the day wooden toys last. Many families have a timber toy that has been past down through the generations. They are strong and durable and become family heirlooms. But if by chance they do break and end up in landfill, timber products decomposes safely and quickly.

A lasting toy is one that can move through a family, from sibling to sibling and then from generation to generation. Ultimately this is environmentally and economically the absolute best choice in a toy.

Comparably we know that a wooden toy that is passed down through a family is ultimately safer than a plastic one. Chances are those second hand plastic toys being passed around are indeed incredibly toxic and dangerous and not the kind of toy we would want our children playing with.

River & Wren Market

We packed up our Miss Molly market stall and headed for the hills this last weekend. Over the great divide to the Riverina of NSW and River and Wren Market in Wagga Wagga. 

We had heard some wonderful whispers on the grape vine about this market and we were not disappointed. What a fabulous, makers market, filled to the brim with beautiful artisan handmade goods, great food and even some live country music. It really captured the spirit of a country market.

River and Wren has won regional business awards and on the day we could definitely see why. 

Omeo. Super quaint and great place to stop for a hot coffee and a bite to eat.

Omeo. Super quaint and great place to stop for a hot coffee and a bite to eat.

Our trip over the mountains included some fabulous scenery of the Alpine region of East Gippsland. From Omeo we climbed high into hills along Australia's highest road, through the magnificent Mt Hotham, with its deep covering of snow. We hit Wagga late in the evening so missed seeing the beauty of the surrounding countryside, but our trip home the next day at sunset made up for that.  Australia truly has some of the most awesome places and a weekend drive into the countryside is one definitely to plan, especially if it involves a great country market or 2 along the way.

Along the Alpine Way

Along the Alpine Way

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Though a cold start to market day, it warmed up to a beautiful day. Our little Miss Molly stall was welcomed so warmly by the people of Wagga and we enjoyed meeting and talking to new customers as well as some familiar faces who had visited us before at Handmade Canberra.

Our Miss Molly stall all set up. 

Our Miss Molly stall all set up. 

The wheely shelf filled to the brim with a selection of toys on wheels.

The wheely shelf filled to the brim with a selection of toys on wheels.

A table filled with our imaginative play shapes.

A table filled with our imaginative play shapes.

Our next market day will be Boho Luxe at Federation Square in Melbourne city on the Sunday the 8th July. This is set to be a truly an amazing event, one not to be missed. 

Mel  :-) 

 

 

1 year on

Hi guys, its been a while since I've written a blog post. It was a regular event in my previous dolly and toymaking life to be blogging about what we were up to. I've really been inconsistent with new posts on this blog over the last year. We have been in a whirlwind of creating and markets, so its been hard to fit in blog topics into my overcrowded mind. I will definitely try and be more regular with posting and add some information about not only what we are doing but also continue to discuss natural toys and the value of them for young children. 

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So its 1 year this month from us moving down into East Gippsland and working at Miss Molly's full time. We can't believe how much life has changed in a year. Our dreams of being a homesteading, home based business type of family has fallen to the wayside, we quickly realised that running a full time business and homesteading was not going to happen. Our vegie crop was a massive fail and East Gippsland has been in one of the hardest droughts in many a year, so our fruit trees are a mess. But our business is chugging along and in many ways has consumed us and is now very much our main focus. 

To everyone who is supporting our little business a huge thank you. It means the world to us. We did have a little dream of living by the sea and making toys and we are definitely achieving that, with or without bucket loads or organic fruit from our orchard.

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When we first came down we concentrated on doing as many markets as we could to introduce our work. Just this month we realised that we simply couldn't keep up with the amount of markets we have been doing and meet the demand of wholesale and online orders, so we've had to restructure our business. We will be moving more to an online business model and not so many markets. But you'll still be able to visit us at a small select group of amazing events scattered throughout Eastern Australia, so keep an eye out on our markets page for the when and where. 

Dave has also moved out of the small home based workshop that we started out in into a factory unit in Bairnsdale's industrial area. This was an amazing step forward, giving us the space to grow that little bit bigger and increase our production. 

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So what's next as we move into our second year of full time toymaking, well we have big dreams for our little Miss Molly toy business, but our first step is introducing some exciting new designs and working hard at expanding and prioritising our online shop platform. 

The wooden toy business is a big one, however most wooden toys on the domestic market are currently manufactured in Europe and Asia. We love that we are part of a growing group of Australian toy businesses working to make Aussie toys for Aussie kids. We are also proud that our toys are also supporting Australian industry and jobs, through integrating sustainable Australian timbers, paints and finishes. You will be seeing a shift in our new toys as we start to use more and more beautiful Victorian ash timbers, locally processed in and around East Gippsland. 

Thanks again for visiting our website and blog, next post I'm planning to show you a sneaky look at some of our new toy designs.

Mel :-)

Why Wool?

There is definitely a wave of of people who, like Dave and myself, have woken up to how important wooden toys are for children. Wooden toys last longer than plastic, look great, are more likely be the toys to be past from generation to generation and above all are better for the environment. But I thought I would add a little information on woollen toys and why they are a better alternative to mainstream soft toys.

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So here is my top 6 reasons for choosing pure wool for children.

  1. Wool is comforting. Woollen toys are nurturing for a child as they hold and give warmth. They are filled with wool stuffing that absorbs the sweet individual smell of home and family, which is comforting for young children. 

  2. Wool is healthy. Recent studies have proven that pure wool is naturally antimicrobial, antibacterial and hypoallergenic. Due to the natural lanolin in wool it is resistant to dust mites and the structures of wool do not support mold or mildew or other allergens. These qualities are super important for children who have asthma, eczema or allergies.

  3. Wool is safe. The structure of wool makes it resistant to fire and an excellent fiber when it comes to fire safety. Wool requires more oxygen than is available in the air to become flammable. Furthermore, it does not melt, drip or stick to the skin when it burns. Most synthetic soft toys are treated with flame retardants. These include bromine and organophosphates such as chlorinated Tris, these chemicals have been linked to cancer and are known neurotoxins. 

  4. Wool is environmentally sustainable. For me the debate on environmental sustainability lies not just in its production, but in its long term effect on the environment. Over the last few years a number of scientists have studied the ecological damage of synthetic fibers. Many of these pervasive fibers shed and are now found everywhere, throughout our waterways and even into the food chain.  Many scientists are now predicting that microfibers will become an environmental disaster. Furthermore synthetic fibers are plastic derivatives and like plastic toys, simply don't breakdown. They fill our landfills and create long term environmental issues. Wool however is biodegradable, it breaks down easily and safely and actually produces a nitrogen byproduct that fertilizes the ground.  

  5. Wool supports local agriculture. Buying products made from wool supports our farmers not petrochemical companies. Where we live we are surrounded by local farmers who grow wool. Small business people who work the land as has been done for countless generations. Supporting farmers also supports country communities.

  6. Wool Lasts. Woollen fibers are super strong, they are also extremely durable. Woollen items last many years, as seen in antique teddy bears that were made from wool and mohair and have lasted well over a hundred years ago.  Woollen toys withstand all the love, cuddles and play a child can give whereas synthetic toys will rip and tear and their polyfill will spill out, a handcrafted woollen toy will go on for generations. 
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