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I've heard so much about the very unique Sprig Toys, but never had a chance to talk with them until I ran across their booth at the ABC Kids Show this month. I learned a lot of great tidbits about the company's background and decided right then to do a spotlight on their Dad-invented products!
Getting to know Sprig's team via Twitter has been a pleasure too. It's easy to see that they've got quality people behind quality products. Their ingenuity is continuous and their materials non-toxic and eco-friendly. They'll be launching a whole new line of baby/toddler toys soon which we will be happily adding to The Soft Landing! For now, my all-time favorite Sprig Toy is the Dolphin Explorer Boat Set which can be used in the bath tub or outside in rain puddles.
When did you begin developing the Sprig Toys concept and what gave you the inspiration to take a risk and just go for it?
The endless energy of a four year-old child can be credited as the inspiration for both Sprig and our initial product line. Co-Founders Justin Discoe, Chris Clemmer and Dave Bowen had set up a design studio in the machine shop of Justin’s farm where they were designing toys for just about everyone you can think of in the toy industry. Justin’s son Charlie LOVED hanging out with the guys and ran circles around them while they worked, serving as both distraction and inspiration. The guys started kicking around the idea of how to harness the energy of a child and from that, the Adventure Series and Sprig Toys were born.
How did you go about choosing such uniquely eco-friendly and non-toxic materials?
Once we had found a way to create a battery-free electronic toy, we started kicking around other ways of reducing the impact our product might have on the planet and the landfills. On a web search for recycled materials, we came across what eventually became “Sprigwood”, a mixture of recycled plastic and sawdust. We liked the idea that not only would we be giving a second life to materials that would otherwise be thrown away, but that we were minimizing the use of plastic by incorporating sawdust that would likely end up burned as waste. Once we caught a whiff of that wood smell, we were hooked!
Sprig is very conscientious in choosing the materials for use in our toys. We will not use PVC which tends to be one of the worst plastics for additives like phthalates or lead. Our plastics of choice are: HDPE, polypropylene and TPE. TPE provides us with the rubbery textured products and can be more easily recycled than rubber. The HDPE and polypro are used for the main bodies and structural components of our toys. When using recycled plastics we find sources with well defined chains of custody for the materials.
The wood is a by product of the sawing process at lumber plants and is used to reduce the amount of petroleum based material in our toys, as well as provide a warmth in appearance and texture in our toys. The sawdust we get comes from trees being made into dimension lumber and furniture products. We do not cut trees simply to make our sawdust. The sawdust is processed a second time after it is collected, essentially it is ground to a consistent particle size so that we can use it in our production. Most of this wood flour is actually used as a filler for cattle feed.
Was the production of your product a difficult process, especially considering that you found a factory in North America?
It was definitely a challenge, but we were committed to manufacturing close to home for a variety of reasons. First, we love the idea of being a few hours from the manufacturing line. It allows us the opportunity to see the challenges of the people on the assembly line and quickly catch any problems as they occur. Secondly, it reduces both our transit time and our fuel usage. The difficulty is in working around the higher labor costs comparative to China and we have found some pretty innovative ways to reduce the labor steps in our process. First, most of our assembly is done with snap fits. This reduces the number of people with screwdrivers putting our product together and in some cases allows us to minimize our packaging size by relying on the parents to do some of the easier snap assemblies. Second, the byproduct our conscious choice to not use paints in any of our products means that we don’t have the labor intensive (and potentially harmful) paint applications that most toys have.
What makes Sprig Toys stand out from others?
We view ourselves as Toymakers first. Our designers collectively have over 40 years of experience designing toys for just about every company you can think of in the industry. While we get a lot of attention for our commitment to making toys that parents feel are safe for their kids in a way that reduces our impact on the earth, our first priority is to make toys that kids love to play with and while we always think we can do better, we are very pleased at what we’ve accomplished so far.
I saw some amazing new Sprig Toys for toddlers at the ABC Kids Show. Do you have plans for more future products?
Absolutely. Having three designers and an engineer as co-founders means that we are never wanting for new ideas! We know what a big responsibility it is to produce product for toddlers and we are excited about making toys that not only help their early development in a fun and engaging way but do it safely and without paint.