Friday, August 10, 2007

Where is this made?

From Dan: As Millie notes below, we've being trying to provide alternatives to Chinese-made toys for years. We feel like we've found a lot of great choices, especially in American made toys.

Finding good American made toys is actually pretty tricky, though. If you go to a trade show like the American International Toy Fair in New York City, most of the products there are made in China. This is where most toy stores big and small find their merchandise. Country of origin isn't usually advertised, so Millie and I go from booth to booth asking "Where is this made?" The answers we get are often bizarre, sometimes even hostile: "Why? In China, of course"; "Well, It's designed in Italy"; "It's made with love in China"; or "What does that matter?" We've even been laughed at.

We usually find a few new lines at Toy Fair, but most new toy companies nowadays don't even bother setting up manufacturing in the US--they go straight to China. In fact, the US toy industry has been decimated in the past two decades as company after company has left for China. Today, there's whole categories of toys with no option except made in China.

The truth is, most of the American Made toys we buy are from very small companies or individual craftsmen. Many are made by retired folks who enjoy making toys. These folks don't advertise, though. Whenever we travel, we seek out local toy stores, craft stores, and farmers markets looking for unique items. We've found toys from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine this way. Our Larry the Lobster, Dragon Pull Toy, and Magnetic Fishing Pole are a few examples of these. Some are more expensive, but many are just as affordable as the Chinese alternative.

There are also a few toy companies that are still operating toy factories in the US. Not only do we buy from them, but we also try to promote them to all the other toy store owners we know around the country. Minnesota's own BEKA and Fairy Finery are two examples.

Sometimes, though, we find a new product that we think is made in the US only to discover after we receive a couple dozen that it's made in China, either because the vendor's marketing material was unclear or because the vendor's rep was mistaken. There's no law that requires stating where a toy is made on marketing material or catalogs and most toy distributors don't. Most of our catalog competitors don't either. Take a look at almost any consumer toy catalog or website--you'll sometimes see reference to a toy being made in Germany or the US, but most items list no country of origin or just say "imported" (read: China). On our website, we state exactly where each item is made so you can evaluate it fairly.

So, when you visit our store, please feel free to ask us "Where is this made?". We've been asking the same question.
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