Barbera is founder and president of ImagiPLAY.
When I made the decision to produce children's toys, I realized that I was manifesting a thought into a thing, creating something where nothing existed before, and I felt a tremendous responsibility to produce in a way that has a positive impact on both the child and her planet. As I thought more about it, I realized that the two questions manufacturers typically ask themselves when producing a toy are: 1) Is there a market for this? and 2) How can I produce this for the lowest cost? It's hard to create a viable business without considering both of these, but I reasoned, why do we have to stop there? With just a bit more time, energy and thought (okay, quite a bit more) can't we make a fun and educational toy using materials and methods that are not harmful to the earth, made by craftspeople who are paid and treated fairly? What I discovered was that thoughtful actions add up and positive impacts can be made one responsible decision at a time.
With a bit of research I discovered Rubberwood - a tree that is farmed on plantations for the rubber sap it produces. This tree produces sap for 25 years while oxygenating our world and then gives us its beautiful hardwood to fashion into toys and furniture. There is no deforesting, no harmful chemicals or questionable harvesting techniques involved in the production of this wood. Perfect. That was exactly what I was looking for. But what about the production?
Most toy manufacturers broker their toys through a middleman, who sources each run out to the cheapest factory. This model didn't make sense to me because I could not ensure the ethical treatment and fair pay of the people making the toys if I was never to meet them. So instead, I traveled across Asia until I found a small, family-run operation owned by Suki.
Suki is a 28-yr-old go-getter with a heart of gold. As I interviewed her craftspeople I noticed that each of them had a great admiration and respect for Suki that is evident in her employee records: 100% employee retention for the six years she's been in business! The fact that she cares deeply about each one is evident in the way she treats them, and they in turn exhibit a pride in their work I have not witnessed in any other facility. In addition, a little over 1/3rd of her workforce are physically challenged and hold positions that allow them to be productive, meaningful members of the team.
I discovered the true value of this approach in 2007, when Mattel and others announced massive toy recalls. I realized that although it takes far more effort to search for and develop a direct relationship with a woodshop, by doing so I had ensured not only ethical labor but that all the materials used in our toys were safe. While other manufacturers were scrambling to prove their toys were safe after the fact, I knew ours were because I had been directly involved in every aspect of material selection and production.
Creating toys for children in a manner that adheres to the very values we are hoping to instill in them, is an important step to changing the way the next generation looks at consumables. Green toys teach kids to think about where things come from and where they'll go-an early lesson in environmental responsibility and responsible buying.
I founded ImagiPLAY so that my grandchildren and their children would have educational toys that inspire their imaginations and to ensure that they will have the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong in a world with blue skies, dense forests and oceans teaming with life. I've witnessed first hand that with a little mindfulness, we can have it all.
ImagiPLAY is part of the Eco-Toy Alliance, a collaboration of four earth-friendly toy companies dedicated to helping consumers understand the benefits of eco-toys and the importance of raising our children to respect and protect the planet. Check out their tips for 5 Ways to "Green" your Kids Toy Box.