Online toy retailer Crafts4Kids has been nominated for the Let Toys Be Toys Toymark. Carey Conway, co-founder of explains what prompted her to launch the business, and why they work the way they do.
Crafts4Kids was born out of simple frustration as I personally struggled to find creative and activity toys to give to my own children, or as gifts, that had not had all the creativity and activity stripped out of them, or that were not just a lot of cheap tat in a box! So many were simply all packaging and no content and then of course everything deemed creative was always pink so buying these for boys was nigh on impossible. On top of that the finished product never looked like the picture on the box, which is simply disappointing for kids.
So I said goodbye to my glamorous Management Consultancy career and hello to warehouse shelves and trade fairs.
Our vision is to bring together a range of great quality brands that offer genuine creative and imaginative play opportunities regardless of gender. In reality it is a) hard to find these brands, b) difficult for them to survive long enough to become successful in a retail world dominated by old fashioned thinking on toys and c) a constant challenge to make people aware of our existence when we have a teeny marketing budget compared to the big players. Having said that we launched in 2006 and we’re still here so that must mean we are making headway!
I am embarrassed to say that I have only recently become aware of the LetToysbeToys campaign and its fantastic work and I feel genuinely honoured to have been asked to add my three-pennies worth to this important campaign.
I am the co-founder of Crafts4Kids.co.uk and before you think ‘sticking and gluing’ please let me introduce you to my background. I am the product of two parents who were very firm believers in encouraging their children to make the most of their talents. They had both made the most of themselves against the odds, my father cast as ‘East End lad with few prospects’ had a very successful career in the civil aviation industry and my mother fought all the way to get degree educated (against her own father’s wishes) and went on to have several successful careers in the fashion design and publishing industries and latterly as a professional artist.
To set the context further, I emerged into the world of work just four years after legislation allowing single women to have a mortgage entered the statute books and where skirts and dresses were the only permissible form of clothing as a professional woman. I was one of that generation of women that fought really hard to be taken seriously and treated equally in the workplace often at the expense of a peaceful life!
Now on my third career myself, and the mother of 3 teenage daughters, I do recognise much has changed in a positive way. However I often find myself in despair at how many aspects of ‘modern’ life seem to be regressive when it comes to how we are educating and socialising today’s generation of children and young adults. I do see much of the toy industry as sadly guilty here.
My own memories of my best loved childhood toys were my large box of toy cars, my red, yellow and blue Lego bricks, my doll that cried (you know the one), my orange space hopper, my blue pogo stick and hours and hours either spent sewing soft toys out of felt and making things out of cardboard or riding my bike and making dens. It was a very gender-neutral, free and unpressured existence and I have tried my best to create the same environment for my own children, letting them lead the way in developing their interests (which are all very different).
I am a very strong believer in enabling children to develop their creativity, imagination and talents by letting their natural interest lead the way. It seems to me that in a world of rapid change, with the very considerable challenges there are ahead for this generation of children and young adults, that translating these qualities into ‘life skills’ is critical.
Sadly much of the toy industry seems to have gone in the opposite direction over recent decades reinforcing stereotypes such as ‘women as homemakers’ and boys as ‘action heroes’ through both their toy design and packaging. These are narrow traditional roles that in the real world both women and men have been trying to move on from! This is not been helped by the media, fashion and music industries who seem to objectify young women and dumb down boys at every opportunity. This is why the Let Toys Be Toys campaign is such a worthwhile one – if children are pushed into traditional gender roles from babyhood how much harder is it for them to break out of these when they get to be teenagers and what opportunities will they have lost to explore their latent talents and develop interests along the way?
In the pressurised world children are growing up in today the weight of responsibility on parents to create a positive environment in which their children can thrive unhindered seems huge to me. As my own children have grown I have come to recognise how lucky I was to have enjoyed just such an environment as a child, even though I too had busy working parents.
What parents don’t need is the extra challenges put in their way by a misguided toy industry whose primary focus is to sell you more and more stuff. We hope that Crafts4Kids is doing its bit by offering parents really well designed and well crafted creative and imaginative play toys that genuinely offer developmental fun for kids and that encourage their talents to be explored and hopefully life-long passions developed.
For more on the Let Toys Be Toys best practice scheme, see our Toymark page.