Yes, it may seem unconventional for a toy store to be featured in a bridal magazine, but Le Toy Van’s vanilla birthday cake looks right at home in this beautiful Bride to Be shoot.
Find Le Toy Van’s vanilla birthday cake here for $24.95.
Meet Michele Blanshard. Through her business, Rose & Lily, she distributes the beautiful HABA, Learning Tower and Tidy Books products throughout Australia – brands that are synonymous with quality, functionality and lovability.
What initially attracted you to the Learning Tower and Tidy Books? The educational and developmental value of the products, combined with their practical application, really appealed to me when I took them on in 2010. I tried both the Learning Tower and Tidy Books in my own home with my children first and was convinced of their benefits. Tidy Books are a fantastic way to store and display books – having the books stored face-forward encourages children to interact more with their favourite stories. The Learning Tower also encourages interaction and participation in lots of household activities – like preparing food and cleaning teeth – by raising them to counter-top height. It’s also a great developmental tool for kids with learning difficulties.
You’ve been a fan of HABA for ages with your children loving the high-quality toys – is it easier distributing a product you believe in? Yes – my children have been playing with HABA and I have been giving the products as gifts for some time now. The play value of all HABA products is so high, as is the quality. It’s great to buy something that your child can play with in different ways for years, as well as items that can be enjoyed by children of varying ages.
For those who haven’t heard of HABA; how would you sum-up the products in a nutshell? Quality European toys that are thoughtfully designed to support children’s developmental milestones.
What are some of the exciting new things parents and children can look forward to this year? More games for 2+ (a really under-supported category); some fantastic new sand play items that are great for the sandpit and beach; gorgeous new play tents and houses; fun puppets, and lovely organic soft toy ranges for babies.
What’s an interesting fact about the products in general? Many HABA products are hand made in Germany with the associated quality. All games are ‘road tested’ with local kindergarten and school children as part of the development phase.
Chris and his wife Ros started making kites 27 years ago and their children grew-up surrounded by the colourful creations. And also thinking that every child had a kite named after them.
What got you into kite making? Kite flying did. My brother brought a kite back from a business trip to Canada, we flew it and I was instantly hooked. Fancying myself as a bit of a design wiz; I naturally thought I could do it better, so I designed three of my own. Since then I’ve designed and made about 300 different models but the original three are still in our range: the Diamond Tricolour, the Junior Delta and the Rainbow Cell.
What do you love most about your job? I love the response we get. Every week there are letters, emails and phone calls from customers thanking us for “bringing back fond memories”. Nothing beats that sort of feedback. But I also still get a big thrill out of driving past a park and seeing one of my kites in the sky. My children are sick of me saying, “See that kite – I made that!”
What has been your biggest highlight as a kite-maker? I’d say making the giant kites that were on display inside the Australian Pavilion at Expo 88 in Brisbane. My wife and I sat in a sail loft every night, all night, for weeks designing, laying out and sewing them, but it was such a buzz to finally hang them and see them on display.
You’ve been around for a long time: what changes have you seen? Technology and new materials have made a huge difference to how we make kites, but the basics are still the same: we make kites that kids love to fly. Kite flying is a very old traditional pastime: we all love things in the sky.
Where did the collective love of kites start do you think? You’ve no doubt heard the tales about the Chinese flying kites over 5,000 years ago, but kites were probably invented in lots of different parts of the world independently. The story goes that many of the tiles on the top of the Great Wall of China were lifted up with giant kites. My favourite story is about George Pocock, an Englishman in the 1800s, who designed a giant man-lifter kite; well, girl-lifter actually. He strapped his daughter to a chair and lifted her up over the English countryside: “Trust me honey, I’m sure this will work!”
How are they significant in Australia? Did you know that Australia is the only country in the world to have a kite-maker on its money? The man on the $10 note is Lawrence Hargraves and he invented the box kite. In fact, the story goes that if he had had a brother to help him, like Orville Wright did, Hargraves could possibly have invented the aeroplane before the Wright Bros because that’s what he was working towards. See kids, sometimes good things can come from having an older brother!
What’s your favourite kite? Without a doubt it’s the Jellyfish. It’s a super-easy kite to fly and our youngest daughter Grace is the girl on the packaging (so who’s a proud Dad?). Actually, all of the children on the packaging of our kites are our kids and their friends. When they were little we always referred to the kite by who was on the packaging. So our kids grew up thinking every child had kites named after them.
What does the future hold for Windspeed Kites? Hopefully more of the same. I love the fact that kite-flying is a traditional family activity: no batteries, no video screens and you have to go outside to play with them. We will always be coming-up with new designs and better kites, but I hope that in another 27 years’ time that this year’s kite-flying kids will still be buying Jellyfish kites and Rainbow Deltas for their kids.
To see our range of Windspeed Kites go to our website.
As the joint managing director of Johnco Productions, this ‘ideas man’ is the face behind the globally popular and award-winning Kidz Labs science kits.
How did you originally get involved with science products? About 17 years ago my son Brodie kept mucking around in his bedroom designing things. For instance, he was concerned that his sisters were coming into his bedroom when he wasn’t there so he designed a type of burglar alarm. It was a texta stuck to the back of his door and, if anyone dared to open the door, it would leave a mark. Unfortunately it was on the carpet, but it got me thinking that there were really no educational kits on the market. So we devised the Professor Brainstorm series, which we developed in Australia and used my son dressed as a professor as our logo.
What happened from there? These kits proved to be very popular and we continued to expand the range: Around the same time I saw a nature series that had palaeontologists digging-up dinosaur skeletons, so Dig a Dinosaur was born. It wasn’t long before I realised that we would have difficulty selling large quantities overseas without good distribution. We decided to team-up with 4M (an award-winning Hong Kong-based manufacturer with global supply chains), which began the process of designing and developing some of the prototypes that I’d given them. About six months later we released Kidz Labs series which was snapped up immediately right across the world. Over the years many of the Kidz Labs products have won awards in many countries, including Australia, and some product sales have exceeded 1.5 million.
Where does your inspiration come from? Mainly when I’m not really thinking about designing a product! It is comes from life experiences… I suppose as a kid I was always making and building things and I think this urge continues to this day. Having a son I think also reinvigorated my thought process, and ideas for kids around his age. We have so many letters from consumers telling us how great our products are and how the children enjoyed making and playing with them. It gives me a great deal of pride to see something that I came up with being accepted so well in the marketplace.
How much involvement do you have in the development of other products (such as craft kits)? I travel to Hong Kong at least three times a year to meet with 4M and other suppliers. In the 4M meetings we have quite lengthy discussions regarding new products. The products not only have to be attractive and well-priced, they also need to have some learning aspect or give the consumer something to use or play with after they have finished the project. We want the consumer to have a good experience with our products so they look for them again when they make another purchase. On average, out of every 20 products we progress with three of them. 4M products are now available in 90 different countries and they’ve seen enormous growth in the Eastern Bloc countries which are now becoming wealthier and have a higher disposable income than they once did.
What do you enjoy the most about what you do? We started this business up over 32 years ago, working at the back of the house. We worked very hard for very little money, which my wife was not keen about as I had come from a large corporation earning big money. However, I wasn’t satisfied and I wanted to do something on my own and, luckily, in the end it paid off. We are now in a fortunate position that we can take a few risks and push the boundaries, which is where you really have the opportunity to develop new concepts. Not everything works, but you need to be bold to move forward.
What’s next for Johnco and 4M? We have many projects on the drawing board, both in different categories and in different age groups. Many of these take years to develop until we can get them fine-tuned, safe, and attractive to the consumer. We don’t put these products into the marketplace until we are completely satisfied. So sometimes it feels like we’ve been working on it forever, but when it does reach the marketplace and it’s successful the waiting period is worthwhile.
As the key account manager at New Zealand’s beautiful creative toy manufacturer Seedling; Sarah Stewart (right) explains what it’s like to be one of the masterminds behind the award-winning and globally growing products.
Is it easy to get distracted at work with all the wonderful products getting fashioned about of your Auckland headquarters? Absolutely! Everyday distractions range from trialling double-dutch skipping ropes (turns out I was much better when I was eight!), through to poring over new design work going through its many stages in the process of becoming a finished product. I don’t want to spill any beans, but I can say that I recently ‘tested’ a new work-in-progress by flying through the office 😉
Is it rare for a company to still be manufacturing out of New Zealand? What advantages does this give? The rarity itself is an advantage. NZ, like Australia, is a bustling hub of creative and innovative energy. We have found that producing Seedling in NZ allows for consistent quality and pioneering design elements that we know our retailers want and need in order to provide their customers with high-end, on trend, and relevant products.
The Entropy elves absolutely LOVE Seedling. We are intrigued to hear how the Seedling team comes up with such wonderful ideas. There is a huge range of ideas that come into play around inspiring creative play. Most start with things we knew we loved doing when we were kids, and then we work on putting a modern spin on it and making sure it’s still fun for today’s kids. We’re lucky that the scope of what we do is quite unlimited so we can have fun and really blow an idea out and see where it goes. We can go crazy on the ideas and then we have to face the business realities of cost and sale values, production costs etc, which takes out plenty of ideas, but we keep them in the ‘maybe one day’ pile…..
How do you test the ideas? Our rule is if it doesn’t last or entertain our kids (who have become harsh critics over the years) it’s a no-go. There are always plenty of willing ‘testers’ but we have considered expanding this with more volunteer test groups (watch this space)!
Do you have any personal favourites? I feel a little bad to say this as they are all great, but my favourite would have to be the Colour the Earth because I love what it means for a child to have a global awareness. I started off as a Seedling customer and, having travelled a lot with and without my son, the Colour the Earth kit was an amazing way for us to rekindle old memories of where we had been and also create new dreams around where we want to go. It’s the tangible element of learning and engaging that I love the most about all of the Seedling products.
What do you think others love about Seedling? I think that it is both the joy of giving a beautifully-crafted gift and, for the child receiving it, the endless possibilities of what they can create with the added fusion of their own imagination.
How important is creative play? Even as an adult I can remember back to the sensation that came with making something that I was proud of as a kid. I think that every kid needs exposure to creative play and activity to become the happiest version of themselves!
What are the advantages of children being able to dress-up in some of the things they’ve made? Our dress-up-inspired products are an amazing way for kids to be able to take off their everyday masks and replace them with the endless possibilities of becoming a character that they themselves have created. Being able to become anything from their own version of a super hero through to every little girl’s dream of becoming a fairy princess, engages their imaginations and is also a great form of expressionism.
Do you have anything especially exciting in development for the rest of the year? YES! It’s all a little hush, hush at the moment, but I can promise that the spring range (available from August/September) is looking absolutely divine! But a lot is still very unknown to me too, which makes my job even more interesting!
Seedling has won a few awards since it started in 2006 – what has been the proudest moment to-date (award or otherwise)? The recognition through the awards has been amazing, but if it was me answering then I would say my proudest moment was when Jessica Alba Facebook ‘liked’ one of our trade fair stand pictures (featuring the back of my head!). But honestly, I would have to include that everyone here has immense pride whenever we step into stores, whether they be in Australia, NZ or somewhere else around the world, and see our products prominently on display. For a company that is less than six years old it is still very humbling to have such amazing reach around the world.
What was your favourite toy growing-up? A voice recorder that my friends and I made ads and radio features on!
What do you do outside of Seedling? With one son and two step-kids my life outside of Seedling is a nice mix of craziness and chaos! As a family we love camping and exploring new places. And we all LOVE finding new and exciting places to eat. But, after a busy weekend with my gorgeous little monsters, sometimes I secretly look forward to Monday mornings…
For more from Seedling, visit our website.