The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

May 1, 2012

Cate & Levi Toys and Puppets from Recycled Sweaters

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 ( He has almost 100 friends!

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11 years ago

So glad to see things repurposed or redesigned; I read a few days ago that we in modern/overdeveloped countries are using earth’s resources at 150% every year. Anything we can do to reverse that over-use? I’m all for it! And these toys are SOOO cute and cuddly!

11 years ago

I’m so excited!! I don’t want to give the puppet away, but alas… I don’t want to be the crazy puppet lady.

Beth Terry
11 years ago
Reply to  monkeyjen

Keep it. You’re not fooling anybody anyway. :-) Just don’t let Tiger or Tiger Junior have it.

Brittany C
11 years ago

My daughter and I made beautiful pillows from her old crib bumber, it was really easy because they were alreasy filled with fluff, we just had to purchase more cotten filling for them and do a quick sew. They look beautiful on her bed! Thanks for the giveaway
If I won I’d prefer the Dog Puppet! :)
BritJJ @

11 years ago

I cloth diaper my 10 month old. I turned my daughter’s receiving blankets into cloth baby wipes, liners, and booster pads. My husband made her a “shaking toy” using Cheerios and a toilet paper tube. We also made her a teether using hemp and wooden beads. I love the idea of those puppets. Her first birthday is coming up in July. I was so disappointed at Christmas. She got nothing but plastic, noisy, light up, obnoxious toys. I donated all of them to a local charity. I try to encourage people to make her gifts, or buy things made from recycled/sustainable/organic materials. We’d love any of the puppets, especially the monkey!

11 years ago

We take our old Tshirts and turn them into blankets. We turn old oatmeal (cardboard) containers and toilet paper tubes into craft projects. I was trying to repurpose some old clothing into reusable produce bags, when I realized that nylon (what the garments were made out of) is plastic, ugg. Its so hard to get away from plastic. I would love to win the dog, it is adorable!

11 years ago

We use empty dishsoap bottles as bath toys. My son loves to fill them with water and empty them. We also save wider-mouthed bottles/containters of all sizes, and he can fit the smaller ones into the larger ones.

Jennifer C
11 years ago

I’ve seen a ton of great ideas on pinterest of projects that are great for kids reusing materials. I saw one recently that I want to try where you turn a brown paper bag into a cute little gift pouch. These would be great for the kids to then decorate as well. Here are the instructions for making it:

I love all of those puppets and would be very happy with any of them!

11 years ago

The last time I went to a traditional baby shower I was discusted. It was a parade of consumerism. The gifts were beyond extravegant, not practical, and bought for the cute factor. How many dress up clothes does an infant need, they’re going to grow out of them immediately. Then there’s disposable diapers. The gal got tons of disposables. If I have a shower to attned, I buy the mother a gift certificate for professional photos. It may not be a great option, but for those who aren’t green inclined, it’s better that disposable plastic junk.

I really enjoy going to a shower with eco/practical gifts. It’s a joy to see what folks have made for the mother and baby. You learn how talented your friends are!

I’m an auntie and my neice and nephew have a savings account that I set up. I add money for holidays. They get a small gift to open (they’re 1 & 2). I’m not interested in the puppets, but maybe I’ll make my own set. We have a 3rd birthday coming up!

11 years ago

If you’ve been to most kids’ birthday party, you’ve probably seen the heaping piles of tissue paper that results. We try to collect that and turn the tissue paper into flowers or pom-poms to give away. As others above have said, any of the puppets would find a good home with us. Mostly I’ve enjoyed reading everybody’s contributions above!

11 years ago

There are so many fun crafts to do with children using repurposed “trash”. Cereal or food boxes can become magazine or book holders, cardboard tubes can become rockets and swords, dishsoap bottles can become bath toys, seventh generation toilet paper wrappers can become tissue paper art and watercolor painted butterflies, jugs can be made into “I spy” bottles or catching games. The list goes on and on. Also, we try to purchase most children’s clothing second hand, which saves an amazing amount of money and is good for the environment! We would love any of the puppets!

11 years ago

I can’t help but say this.

The CRAP people give you when you have a baby is OUTRAGEOUS. Of course we set out rules when we had a baby shower: no plastic, nothing new, please, coupons for help welcome etc. What did we get? An entirely plastic new wheeled toy. Plastic packaged Johnson & Johnson poison. Some things for cars, and we don’t have a car. A plastic “fabric” thingy to attach to a shopping cart except we shop at a coop. An entirely plastic player “piano”. Plastic (poly whatever) fire proofed with poison stuffed animals, puppets etc. Am I ungrateful? Yes. Give me an up-cycled used sweater toy any day.

Jessica R
11 years ago

A friend of mine made a baby toy out of some old jean material. She had hemmed her jeans and used the leftover fabric to may a soft toy for her baby. So ingenious and the baby loved the toy. I would love to have to dog or moose toy to give to her.

Deborah Royce
11 years ago

You could call your local Salvation Army or Goodwill to find out if they take unwearable clothing. They sell wornout clothes for fiber recycling.

Kay Pere
11 years ago

They’re not wool or cotton, but it’s better to make them into something else than toss them when they get beyond wearability.

Kay Pere
11 years ago

I’ve been saving sweaters, mostly chenille. Knew it was for something!

Amy R
11 years ago

These are so cute! We repurpose all sorts of stuff…use jars for I spy jars, use boxes and toilet paper rolls for crafts, use junk mail to draw on before shredding…

Theresa P
11 years ago

We don’t have a lot of money so when my 2 1/2 year old nephew Ziggy moved in with us and it was clear he had a drummer’s heart, my husband bound together several empty cardboard canisters, stuffed old rags into them, and presented him with his new set of “bongo drums.” He was thrilled! I also took an empty cardboard box and carved a face into it jack-o-lantern style. Thus was born “Robot Box Monster.” Ziggy and I have had hours of fun running around the house with Robot Box Monster on our heads–a fun, free, creative homemade toy that will quickly break down for recycling when we’re done with it.

11 years ago

Hi Beth, I have been reading your archives, and have been inspired by your efforts – what a long way you have come in such a short time. I am at the babysteps end myself. I don’t like the proliferation of plastics, and am trying to do better. This past week I have eliminated 2 plastic wrappers from the children’s lunchboxes!
I’m not eligible to enter your competition, but children and repurposing – well, children are just pros at that. Sometimes we have to stop them repurposing everything in sight. A box headed for the recycling gets whipped out of our hands to make a robot, doll’s house, car for teddy…it’s how to sneak it back into the recycling that’s tricky..

11 years ago

My re-purposing activity to do with girls is to have dress up parties. Bring a bag of fun clothes and scarves. The girls dress up and then rehearse a dance. All you have to do is help them put on some music. Then, they present their dance. They LOVE this! Boys love making toy cars out of clothespins. Just let them draw the wheels and all on the clothespins with sharpies. They have a blast racing the cars! Any puppet would be swell. Thanks.

11 years ago

My almost 2 year old would love one of these – any one :) I think kids are great at repurposing. My son will take almost anything headed for the trash and turn it into a toy for a day. The other day, he got ahold of the cup top from some cold medicine and used it as who-knows-what while playing with his “new” used kitchen we got for him on Craigslist.

11 years ago

Buy paper taper at Uline. ca in Canada, in the US.
unless you are sending super big and heavy boxes, you don’t need reinforcement in it.
I mail out 5 packages a day of glass & metal packaged cosmetics and it works just fine!

11 years ago

I use old (thoroughly washed!) cloth diapers to make hot packs willed with rice. I warm them up slightly before going to bed and my two-year-old and one-year-old love playing with them, soothing themselves to sleep.

11 years ago

Cow. Repurposing ideas? I have tons. For kids stuff, you can use old baby food jars for finger painting containers. Paper towel tubes make great stand-up things for figurines. Old popsickle sticks can be used for anything, from making an ornament to building a log cabin. When I was in Girl Scouts we used old coffee cans and old tuna cans to build ourselves a mini cooking stove.

11 years ago

Thanks for hosting a very cute giveaway! Any of the puppets would find a good home here. You choose, if we’re drawn. With five kids and now grands, we have made-do in all kinds of ways. Kids are happy creating with anything. Ours loved big cardboard boxes. Forts, castles, tunnels, you name it. Lots of creative fun! ~~Rhonda

11 years ago

I heard a depressing story the other day. For Earth Day, my friend’s daughter’s daycare asked parents to send their kids wearing Earth Day themed clothing. Instead of trying to come up with something creative using repurposed items, she went out and bought her daughter a cheap butterfly costume! How inappropriate to buy something new to celebrate Earth Day! Anyway, if it were my child, we’d have probably worked together on creating a skirt out plastic bags or something along those lines. We’d love the monkey! :-)

Jenny C
11 years ago

Reuse backs of poster paper or any types of cardboard for painting pictures or building structures. My girls love painting. Jenny C

Jenny C
11 years ago
Reply to  Jenny C

Ps. We LOVE the PuppyDog <3

Michelle L
11 years ago

We just made a bird feeder out of a milk carton. We also made a paper bowl out of a magazine and some homemade paste. All of the puppets are adorable, so we’re not picky :)

11 years ago

Puppets out of lone socks, buttons, scraps of felt and glue. I would love the dog, but I’m not picky. This would go to one of my nieces, not sure which.

11 years ago

I have a friend who is due in 2 weeks with her first baby boy and she lives close to the Earth like me and my daughter do. We both love repurposed items and any of these would make a great gift for her little boy. One project I did with my Girl Scout troop was to make reusable shopping bags out of old t-shirts. They came out so good and they are so simple to make. I use the one my daughter made all the time. Please pick us for the winner!! :)

11 years ago

I love these toys! The Moose is especially cute. We try to do as much repurposing as possible. This means using scrap paper for art projects, using wool sweaters to create new diaper covers, transforming old sheets into new stuffed buddies, & more. My daughter is very creative, so she can always find a way to bring new life to something.

11 years ago

We have the moose! We love it! Perfect for hucking in the diaper bag since it’s so floppy and packs well.

11 years ago

My kids have turned bandannas into blankets for their stuffed animals, and any sort of bag into a pretend shopping bag, which they use to collect their toys from around the house. Those puppets are so cute, I can’t decide which one I like best!

11 years ago

there are so many! kids aren’t born picky. they will play with pots and pans just as happily as with a fancy bought drum kit. or how about making play-doh with flour and water? or taking old fabric scraps and sewing a handkerchief for a friend (if they are a little older).

11 years ago

My little ladies turn all our scrap paper into amazing creations/monsters. Also my 3 year old is in charge of organizing our recycling and does an amazing job of putting glass in a bag by its self and saving anything she thinks she can make in to something new. The challenge is than getting her to recycle her new creations later . . .

11 years ago

we turn scrap paper/junk mail into doodle pads for our toddler! and i like the moose/reindeer ;)

11 years ago

We use mason jars with wax paper in place of the metal lid, and poke our stainless straws into the paper then write our names on the paper in place of plastic sippy cups at our house–at least when we’re at the table; otherwise we use our plastic free kleen kanteens. We’ve not yet made it to a fully plastic-free life, but we’re closer than ever before and doing better everyday. I’m think that even if I don’t win one of these puppets that we may have to try to make some ourselves with old clothes…I wonder if a pattern can be found somewhere?