Christmas shopping is hard. Besides the challenge of trying to figure out what everyone wants, considering the ethics of it adds a whole other layer. From overconsumption to environmental impacts, there’s a mind-boggling number of considerations for a single gift, much less a whole family-full. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of companies making toys in an ethical fashion, making them not only great for your kid, but the folks who make them it.
Personally, I’m the most concerned about the conditions in which Sprout’s toys are made. I want people to be
paid fairly, in safe conditions. I also want his toys to be high quality, encourage creative play, and usable over a long period of time. It’s also nice if they are environmentally friendly. While this is an obscenely long list of requireme
nts, with some research, I’ve found several companies that meet a number of these standards. While not all of Sprout’s gifts are from these companies, they’re a good first place to start. I hope they’re helpful to you as well! (This post is not sponsored and I do not have affiliate links with these companies. I just personally like them and want to encourage ethical shopping.)
Etsy: If you’ve never explored the grand world of artisan-made crafts, Etsy is a treasure trove. Through this website, crafters and artisans sell directly to consumers, giving them platform for their wares and allowing them to set their own prices. However, it can be overwhelming to navigate because of the sheer number and diversity of producers and shops. Here are a few of my favorites:
- CreativeCapes: Custom-made superhero masks and capes
- A Summer Afternoon: Beautiful (albeit pricey) wooden toys with a specialty in Montessori and Waldorf toys
- Little Sapling Toys: More cool wooden toys, with teethers in the shapes of different states
- WeeKnit: Loads of finger puppets with a huge variety of themes, including pirates, monsters, and farm animals
Little Tikes: Little Tikes is a classic producer of children’s toys. In fact, more Cozy Coupes are sold than any individual vehicle model in America! But besides being well-known, they also produce a surprisingly large number of their toys in the U.S. With products made in the U.S., workers are at least making the U.S. minimum wage (which should be higher, but that’s a separate issue) and are protected by American health and safety regulations. Don’t tell him, but we’re actually getting Sprout this play kitchen for Christmas.
Green Toys: Along with being made in the U.S., Green Toys also makes all of their products out of food grade recycled plastic. From tea sets to stacking cups to recycling trucks,they have a large and expanding variety of make-believe and spatial toys for very reasonable prices. We could outfit an entire play city with our Green Toys transportation fleet.
Uncle Goose: Last Christmas, I wanted to buy Sprout wooden alphabet blocks. Unfortunately, all of the handmade sets were more than $50, which was simply out of my price range. That was, until I was browsing at my favorite local toy store (Barston’s Child’s Play) and discovered Uncle Goose. They make beautiful wooden blocks in Grand Rapids, Michigan on a variety of themes – the alphabet, the periodic table of elements, nautical signs, nursery rhymes, even the presidents of the United States. Along with letters, the alphabet blocks also have numbers, mathematical signs and animals on them. Uncle Goose even makes alphabet sets for non-Roman alphabets, including Arabic, Cherokee, Chinese, Greek, Hindi, and Braille. While the prices vary by set, the alphabet ones are only $36, a stellar deal for sturdy, lovely blocks that hold up beautifully.
Manny and Simon: If you’re looking for old-fashioned wooden toys that are made in the U.S., this company is for you. They produce a variety of wooden critters on wheels, as well as cars, banks, and even furniture. One word of warning – their tall dinosaur is a bit unstable for babies and likely to fall over. In fact, the toy is so sturdy that it may dent your hardwood floor. I speak from experience.
Ten Thousand Villages: Ten Thousand Villages specializes in Fair Trade certified items, which means that the people who make them receive a just wage and are able to make their voice heard in the production process. The process of getting certified is actually quite rigorous and trustworthy. While Ten Thousand Villages specializes in home goods and fashion accessories, they also have a number of items that can be used as toys, including games and musical instruments. They’re also a great place to buy stocking stuffers, with wonderful Fair Trade chocolate.
Fair Indigo: Fair Indigo also specializes in Fair Trade goods, with an emphasis on clothing. They carry the delightful Joobles collection, which offers baby clothes with matching stuffed animals. Unfortunately, he’s outgrown the clothes, but the monkey sweater on Sprout was definitely one of the cutest things he’s ever worn.
In addition to these, some websites that specialize in “green” or artisan products have items that are ethically sourced, such as Mighty Nest and Uncommon Goods. It’s also worth checking out locally owned toy stores and bookstores, who give back much more to the community than corporate retailers.
Finally, there’s always the option of giving fewer gifts altogether (like the Four Gifts Philosophy) and/or giving experiential gifts like concert tickets. Purchasing gifts as a family for other people also sends a great message to children, like buying gifts for local kids through Toys for Tots or development organizations like Oxfam and Heifer International.
For me, gift giving at Christmas is about demonstrating a spirit of generosity. By buying ethically-made gifts, I hope to share that spirit far beyond my family.
What are your favorite producers of ethically-made toys and other gifts?