Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Little Little Little Toy Company

As we look forward to 2008, we're wondering where the issue of Chinese-made toys is going. Will the toy industry and the government institute meaningful reforms, or will this string of recalled toys continue?

Supposing that toy companies will continue to seek higher profits and less expensive toys, it seems likely that most toys will continue to be made in China. Given that, what should a responsible Chinese-based toy maker look like? We offer the example of the Little Little Little Toy Company.

Little3 is headed by Peter Reynolds, who ran the American branch of Brio Toys from 1977 to 2002, working with specialty toy stores across the country. When Brio decided to pursue mass market stores like KMart, Peter left to found Little3. Little3 seeks to be

"a little toy company for little retailers who sell to little people."

Little3 toys are made in China, but Little3 emphasizes how their approach is different. In a recent email, Peter wrote that most companies manufacturing in China are concerned only with cost. "US importers spend a great deal of time arguing with providers over price and comparatively little over safety standards. Hardly surprising, and this reality is the underpinning for our current safety crisis...Too many companies are willing to take the long-term risk for our children in order to sustain their short-term market share and profit margins. "

He calls for higher standards and mandatory proactive screening of all toys by third-party labs to ensure that they continue to meet those standards. This is what Brio has always done and what Little3 does now.

Also, toy companies innovate mostly by offering "endless additions to basic toys even when they have nothing to do with any recognized child-rearing ideal". Thus, we have computer-chip driven pounding benches with blinking lights, blaring sounds, and claims of educational qualities.

So, Little3's statement of purpose is "that toys should be viewed as the 'tools of childhood,' not possessions to be acquired. Further....that less is more, that parents can choose fewer toys, better matched to challenge and engage their children. We need more companies to adopt a philosophy where the child comes first, not the income statement."

We have always argued that it's the toy companies who have created this safety crisis. And, if the toy companies are going to get us out of it, we think Peter Reynolds' Little Little Little Toy Company offers the right blueprint.

You'll find several Little3 toys in our store, including their new line of simple wooden trains (like Brio circa 1980) called Nuchi.
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