“My belief is that there’s enough material in existence in the world that we could probably freeze all new production effective immediately and just get more creative with what’s already out there.” –Josh Title, owner of the Cate & Levi Collection toy company.
When I heard Josh say those words in his video about his toy company, I just wanted to hug him. But he’s in Canada. So consider this blog post a virtual hug. I don’t have kids, but I’m always on the lookout for great plastic-free toys for those of you who do. Toys made from natural materials are great, but they still have an environmental impact. So I was excited to find out about Cate & Levi toys made in Canada from recycled wool sweaters. Because the materials are secondhand, each toy is not only eco-friendly, but one of a kind. Josh sent me a box of hand puppets to check out. How cute are they?
There was no packaging material inside the box except for some cardboard tubes keeping each puppet upright.
I think the dog is my favorite, even though I’m really a cat person at heart.
Speaking of cats, I tried to interest Soots and Arya in a little puppet show, but they were more interested in chewing on the box.
While some Cate & Levi toys are made entirely from recycled sweaters (exclusive of reinforcement), other toys are stuffed with wool from a Canadian sheep coop.
Keeping it Real: While there were no plastic packaging materials inside the box, there was plastic tape around it, as well as a plastic pouch for the mailing label. I hope that Josh will consider switching to paper or natural cellulose packing tape in the future. (Josh, your fellow Canadians Jay and Chantal from Life Without Plastic sell biodegradable cellulose packing tape with natural rubber adhesive.)
Interview With Joshua Title of Cate & Levi
I love to learn about how small, environmentally-conscious companies get started and who the people are behind them, not only because it’s helpful to understand the full life cycle of the products we purchase but also because my hope is that these companies can serve as an example to inspire others to make the entrepreneurial leap to creating green alternatives. So I sent Josh some questions. Here are his answers:
Beth: Tell us something about your background prior to starting Cate & Levi.
Josh: I grew up in Toronto in a big family. I went to McGill University in Montreal for undergrad and then took a year to travel around New Zealand, Australia and Fiji. When I got back I started a company called Tigo Gifts which made leather gift items in Toronto. I was always proud of the fact that everything was made in Canada but thought the materials could have been more responsible. Dying leather can be bad.
I sold Tigo 5 years ago around the same time that my wife and I had our first son Levi. At that time I decided that I wanted to manufacture again in Canada but do it in a more responsible way. I met a woman who was making blankets from old sweaters and she helped me create the patterns for the first round of stuffed animals. You can’t imagine how many old sweaters are available just in Toronto! The best part is they’re natural and have the most amazing colors and textures!
I also knew when I saw my son, that I wanted to make products that he could enjoy and that I’d feel good about him using. If I’m not comfortable with Levi using it, I won’t make it.
Beth: Did you have a “green” awakening? Was there a particular moment or incident that made you aware of your impact on the planet?
Josh: I was not brought up “green” but have always been a “stuff” minimalist. Excess consumption makes me sick. I’d rather just have a few amazing things than tons of junk. But when Levi was born was when I had my awakening. I realized I’m a minimalist because we’re a sick culture addicted to consuming and throwing away. It’s not what I want for my sons (Harry was born 2 years ago).
Beth: What gave you the idea to design children’s toys?
Josh: When Levi was born there was a real lack of interesting products made from responsible materials and done in a responsible way. How can you feel good about giving a child a toy that another child suffered while making??? I would never gift a child a product that was potentially made by another child.
I care as much about who’s doing the making (us) as I do about the materials.
Beth: What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not designing or marketing toys?
Josh: I’m addicted to fitness and running. I also spend most of my free time now playing with my kids and enjoying quiet time with my wife.
Beth: Where did the name “Cate & Levi” come from?
Josh: Levi is my first born and at the time, before Harry was born, Cate was Levi’s little friend.
Beth: What are some ways you teach your children to care about the planet?
Josh: We are diligent about recycling at home. Also, I was blessed with a highly creative kid… you should see what Levi can turn an egg carton into.
Beth: What advice would you give to others who have a good idea for an environmentally-safe, less plastic product, but don’t know how to get started making their dream a reality?
Josh: The main difference between me and them is taking the first step. Also, try to make a prototype as cost effectively as possible and get feedback from friends and family.
Beth: Which puppet did Elton John play with on that TV show and how did it feel to watch him with it?
Josh: Monkey Puppet – Who wouldn’t want Elton’s hand in their puppet:)
Beth: Do you have a funny story to share?
Josh: One of the stores that we sell to called Earth & State, named one of our frog stuffed animals Fairis Afrog and they have literally sent him around the world promoting fair trade. Check out his facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001617079157) He has almost 100 friends!
Enter the Give-Away
Since I don’t have kids and since my kitties would just destroy these gorgeous toys, I am giving them away to some better homes.
I’ll pick 4 winners. To enter the drawing, please leave a comment with at least one creative repurposing activity to do with kids. How can we, as Josh says, get creative with what’s already out there? Also, let me know if you would prefer dog, monkey, cow, or moose (I think. Or maybe it’s a reindeer.) Note: Because I will be shipping the puppets to you myself, I have to limit this contest to readers in the United States this time. But please leave your ideas even if you don’t live in the U.S.! Let’s have a conversation.