For parents whose young children are used to playing with Tickle-me-Elmos and LeapFrog Leapsters, a wooden pull-along toy or abacus might...
For parents whose young children are used to playing with Tickle-me-Elmos and LeapFrog Leapsters, a wooden pull-along toy or abacus might seem hopelessly old-fashioned.
But Earthentree in Kirkland is capturing parents’ attention by promising something other than flashing lights and funny noises: peace of mind.
Earthentree’s toys are handmade in India out of sustainable wood and colored with vegetable dyes, meaning no lead paint, said owner Deepti Shankar.
“I joke that children get their five color vegetables if they put the toys in their mouth,” she said.
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Living in Kirkland with her wireless-consultant husband and 2-year-old daughter, Shankar bemoans that “everyone’s house is like Toys R Us.” She promotes Earthentree as an alternative to mass-produced, battery-operated toys, believing that parents “really like not buying the millionth toy on a factory line.”
“Sometimes, you can see the wood grains, or the sizes vary a little,” she said of Earthentree’s toys.
An art historian originally from India, Shankar, 34, spent some of her 20s teaching and working on adult literacy in her home country for a British nonprofit. She started Earthentree in late 2006 out of a spare bedroom to make money and to do good. “It should be about much more than my success.”
Earthentree employs 30 toy makers in Channapatna, India, a rural town near Bangalore. Prices range from $4.50 for a bird whistle to $64 for a 20-piece train. They’re sold online at Earthentree.com and an increasing number of specialty retailers, including the Seattle Symphony, Darvill’s Bookstore on Orcas Island, and Bellevue Botanical Garden’s Trillium gift shop.
“They’re just good old-fashioned toys that will last and last forever,” said Jan Lyon, a buyer for the Trillium. “And with the danger of some toys that we keep hearing about, these just seem to be so safe, so well-done.”
At the Seattle Green Festival this weekend, Earthentree will be among a dozen child-focused exhibitors, joining makers of cloth diapers, dolls with sustainable materials and games designed to nurture respect for the environment. The festival takes place at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Shankar hopes to develop Earthentree into a million-dollar-a-year company, but she talks about meeting sales projections more as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Besides paying employees in India decent wages, she said, she’s trying to line up health-care checkups for them and their families. She also wants to bring employees from India to the U.S. to teach school children about making toys.
As it happens, Shankar’s goals appear to resonate with consumers at a time when social responsibility and environmental stewardship are unlikely buzzwords.
“I usually order about 300 toys of each piece, and by the end of the month, I run out,” she said.
— Amy Martinez
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Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or email@example.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org