On a recent visit to Ambleside in the Lake District, I noticed, amongst the sea of North Face and Berghaus waterproof coats, a young Japanese woman carrying a parasol and dressed in pink petticoats adorned with ribbons and bows. It struck me as a little odd, but I thought nothing more about it.
A couple of days ago, as I was disappearing down the Instagram rabbit hole, I discovered an Instagrammer who just posts pictures of Miffy characters made of rice. I was particularly enamoured with a rice Miffy, wearing a bikini made of vegetables and lying in a bowl of soup. Yes, seriously!
I have always been fascinated by Japanese culture (anyone remember Endurance?) so I decided to find out more about the cult of Kawaii. I had heard the term kawaii to describe toys such as Miffy and Hello Kitty, but I didn’t realise that kawaii was a much bigger cultural phenomenon. Roughly translated, kawaii means ‘cuteness’. A little bit of research on the Internet revealed that the unusually attired woman I saw in the Lake District was wearing something called ‘Lolita Fashion’, which is another strand of the cult of kawaii.
So where did all this come from? Apparently, it began in the late 1960s when students began to read children’s comics (such as Manga) and were refusing to go to college in an act of rebellion against the restrictive rules of the establishment. In the 1970s it began to be popular for teenage girls to write in a childlike fashion and they decorated their school books with stars and hearts and cute faces. It was around this time that Hello Kitty was born. Kawaii grew in popularity throughout the 1970s and 80s and eventually became commercialised and absorbed into mainstream culture. There was even a Kawaii exhibition at the V&A in 2015.
Kawaii toys are designed to replicate babies and baby animals – they have small bodies and large heads, with big eyes and often just a line for a mouth. Hello Kitty and Miffy are good examples of this. Our fun Noodoll Rice Monsters also have kawaii feel. If you fancy a bit of Kawaii in your life – go check them out here.
Parents I speak to often tell me that they prefer to buy their children wooden toys rather than plastic toys. There is a generally held view that wooden toys are better. But why?
Children learn through imaginative play. So it follows that the more they have to imagine for themselves, the more they learn. Wooden toys tend to be simpler; they don’t make sounds or have flashing lights, so the child has to make more use of their imagination when they play with wooden toys. The child can imagine the flashing lights of a fire engine, for example, and create the sound of the siren for themselves. Children enjoy playing with simple toys and using their imagination – it’s a well known fact that children often spend more time playing with the box a toy came in than the toy itself!
Wooden toys are better for the environment for a number of reasons. Firstly, they tend to be more durable than plastic toys, so they last longer. Whereas plastic toys break more easily and are more likely to end up in landfill.
Secondly, the simple design of wooden toys makes them timeless, less subject to trends and fads, and therefore they are more likely to be played with for longer. They can be handed down to other children in the family and become an heirloom toy. Arguably, parents might think twice about discarding higher priced, high quality toys
Thirdly, wood is a renewable resource and it degrades, whereas plastic doesn’t. Furthermore, plastic toys are often battery-powered. Batteries soon run out and they end up in landfill.
Wooden toys are often safer. Plastic contains harmful chemicals, whereas high quality wooden toys are painted using non toxic paint. (Obviously you need to check this before you buy.) Children often chew their toys so it goes without saying that you would not want your child consuming dangerous chemicals. On top of this, plastic toys can break while a child is chewing them, creating sharp edges and can result in a nasty injury.
Obviously, there are exceptions to these rules – like Lego, for instance. But I believe that overall, wooden toys are better than plastic toys. But what do you think? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.
Fiona Walker’s first design was a bright green mini skirt that she made at the age of 6. She went on to work in the fashion industry for 10 years, but that all ended when she had her family, when she says she became ‘a taxi driver and money lender’ to her daughters! It was when she had her family that she began designing felt animals: her first creation was a little red robin. She formed Fiona Walker England and her collection has since expanded to include animal heads, hooks and bookends. Fiona Walker now exhibits at some of the world’s most stylish Trade Fairs and has been featured in lots of glossy magazines, including Vogue.
However, Fiona’s creations are not just beautiful to look at – they are handmade and ethical too. Fiona creates her designs at her home in Berkshire, then they are brought to life by an all-female workforce in Jaipur, India. Fiona’s philosophy is to support the community where her products are made, so all the water used in the dying of the felt is recycled, so as not to take valuable resources from the community. Also, the women who make Fiona’s products can work from home, so that they can take care of their families while they earn money.
All of Fiona Walker’s products are made from 100% organic lambswool. And because each item is handmade, each one will be unique to you. We are proud to be stockists of Fiona Walker’s beautiful creations. At Yoyo and Flo, you can shop a wide range of felt animal heads, from jungle animals such as lions, tigers and elephants to foxes, swans and unicorns. Check out our range of Fiona Walker animal heads and mobiles here.
Main Sauvage is brand of gorgeously soft, knitted animal toys, created by two young French architects: Julian Gippet and the very lovely Cécile Pinoteau. Their toys are not only beautiful to look at, but they have superb eco credentials too. They are made to fair trade guidelines in a Bolivian workers’ co-operative, using the finest, softest baby Alpaca wool. The production helps to support small communities involved in manufacture.
The colour of the wool is totally natural. No dyes are used because alpaca wool comes in a range of lovely natural colours. However, when the yarns are dyed they use eco-friendly dyes which have been approved for toy manufacture.
All the toys are CE certified and suitable from birth. They would make a perfect present for a newborn baby. No baby, or parent for that matter, could fail to fall in love with them.
Just occasionally, some of their toys have imperfections, so rather than simply being discarded, they are donated to charity. As Main Sauvage say, they toys are not ugly, ‘just a bit different, and want to be loved’. So they are given to the Secours Populaire Français charity which supports families who have been affected by poverty, wars and natural disaster around the globe.
You can shop our range of Main Sauvage toys here. We have lots of lovely creatures: fawns (in overalls!), raccoons, rabbits, cats, wolves and a Roly Poly Loris.
Welcome to the quirky world of Hazel Village where cats go fishing, raccoons collect crockery and fawns conduct the village orchestra.
Hazel Village was formed by Jane Van Cleef in Brooklyn, New York. She wanted to create the kind of toys that she would have loved as a child. Each toy is made with much love and care from organic cotton. They come with removable outfits which are created with exquisite attention to detail – as Jane says ‘you’ll never see a sewn on shoe or a button that doesn’t work, because that would mean admitting the animals aren’t real.’
And they are real, of course. Each Hazel Village animal has his or her own story. Here is a little biography of a few of our delightful Hazel Village animals.
Miss Flora Fox likes ballet and working on whittling projects. She recently finished carving a salad bowl. Her favourite outfit is a strawberry red pinafore with a pink chevron detail on the front.
Max the raccoon has a hollow tree behind his house. He has installed numerous shelves and cubbyholes inside it, and there he keeps cool things that he finds: bits of crockery that he makes into wind chimes; good paper bags he’s saving and jars of pickles and jam.
Gracie’s favourite activity is fishing. She has loved it ever since she was a kitten. She says on a good afternoon, she can catch a dozen minnows. When she has caught enough fish the animals in Hazel Village have a fry-up. Although some of them eat only salad. Gracie says that is fine; more fish for her!