This Christmas I’m thrilled to have my sustainable products featured in two very cool gift guides. What’s really good though is that the gifts featured are not just for Christmas. They could just as easily be given for a birthday, anniversary or any special occasion. The first is The Ultimate Sustainable Christmas Gift Guide from
The Quirky Environmentalist is a sustainable living blog with a focus on helping you live more sustainably and to understand environmental issues better. It’s written by #Yearofgreenaction Ambassador and physics graduate Izzy McLeod.
Her guide is great as it gives you so many ideas divided into helpful categories (13 in all). Love HeartWood’s Pencil Spinning Tops featured in the Waste Free Gifts For Children section. By choosing a gift from Izzy’s guide you are taking a step towards being a more conscious consumer. You can get gifts that aren’t just going to end up gathering dust on a shelf after Christmas. As Izzy says:
There are so many things out there that don’t involve copious amounts of plastic, waste, or even an awful lot of money.
Sincerely Essie is an online magazine and community, created by Essie, focusing on empowering women. It features guest posts from various individuals on women’s lifestyle, health and parenting.
Essie’s guide is divided into 5 general categories. Love HeartWood’s Gnosi Rattle and Crafty Car‘s are featured in the Stationary & Toys section. By choosing a gift from Essie’s list you are supporting a small business but you will also be helping the environment, advocating ethical practices and aiding various charities with your purchase.
By checking out great gift guides like these for inspiration you can give in a much more meaningful way this Christmas. There are so many great ways to show you care that don’t involve a lot of money, waste or plastic.
When you buy a toy do you check for a CE mark? Do you know what the CE mark stands for? One of my proudest achievements as a craft business is completing the CE certification of my first collection of handmade wooden toys. Never mind testing the toys, going through the process really tested me. I’d like to share that experience with you.
All toys sold in the UK must legally comply with the Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011. These Directives apply equally to the big toy manufacturers and small scale makers like me.
However, finding out how to comply isn’t straightforward. An email to my local trading standards office produced a reply saying yes, I needed to comply and a link to a guidance page telling me broadly what documentation was required but not how to go about it.
I was left scratching my head for a few months until I had a conversation with a member of my local craft group who told me about a Facebook support group for people who wanted to certify their toys themselves.
I joined the group and started to learn about the world of self certification. It was a steep learning curve and I can never thank the members of that group, and the one I joined later specifically for wooden toys, for their help, advice and support during the whole process.
The Facebook group led me to the CE Marking Handmade Toys Collective website. I joined the collective and was able to download a clearly written CE marking guide which helped me decifer the legal documentation I’d been reading so far.
I learned I had to comply to EU Toy Safety Directives 2009/48/EC, harmonised standards and EN71. The relevant EN71 standards for wooden toys are EN71-1: Mechanical and Physical Properties and EN71-3: Migration of Certain Elements. You can self-certify EN71-1 but you need laboratory test results for EN71-3.
EN71-3 means ensuring and proving the materials and components you use don’t contain any of the toxic metals listed above the required threshold levels. I was able to obtain the relevant certificates of compliance from the manufacturers of the paints and finishes I use. For the wood there was no option but to send a sample of each away to be tested in a lab. This might seem a bit ridiculous. Is wood likely to contain chromium? However, you aren’t allowed to make that judgement. You must have proof.
With natural materials, like wood, the material is not as controllable as a man made material, like plastic, however, I’m not able to have every wood delivery tested due to expense. A lot of the compliance relies on the maker showing ‘due diligence’. Basically, I decide when I need to get my wood retested, for example if I change my supplier.
Proving compliance to EN71-1:Mechanical and Physical Properties involves performing a series of physical tests in a specific order. It took a while to source items like ‘a 4 mm thick steel plate with a 2 mm thick coating of Shore A hardness (75 ± 5)’ as well as ‘a metallic weight with a mass of (1 ± 0,02) kg, distributed over an area with a diameter of (80 ± 2) mm’. These are direct quotes from the documentation which did take time to unpick and work out. I also had to some make test rigs and templates.
Below is the video evidence taken of testing the Gnosi Wooden Rattle. They’re listed in test order. There was also a decibel test, a soak test, a sharp edges test and a small parts test.
Once testing was complete I moved onto labelling and tracability. There are as many requirements to meet for this as for testing, so it took a while to come up with a solution that met the requirements but also satisfied my own Eco friendly criteria.
Legally, at point of sale, toys must be labelled with:
the CE mark, at no less than 5mm in height.
Manufacturer / company business name
Traceable manufacturer’s address
Model / batch number Required in relation to traceability, so if the toy itself is customised or named specifically and recognisable as an individual unit.
Relevant warnings if applicable
To reduce waste and for practicality I decided to brand the CE mark directly onto my toys (see featured image at the top of the page). Branding also means the CE mark’ll still be there if the toy’s passed on. The rest of the required information is printed onto the cotton bags that my toys come in. I decided to package my toys in reusable bags instead of cardboard boxes as this reduces waste and they can be used to keep the toys clean and safe for years to come. For the toys too small to be branded, I’ve designed a tag, printed on recycled card, with all the relevant information, including the CE mark.
Once this was done I compiled all my evidence and documentation into a technical file. This is a live document which means any changes to the design, the making process or the materials must be documented in it. The technical file contains:
A Full Product Description
Claim of Compliance
Manufacturing Location & Storage
Product & Packaging – Product images, description and packaging, including images.
Materials and Components – Outline all materials and components used in all variations of your toy.
Manufacturing Process – Outline your manufacturing process, step by step.
Show your Labelling & Traceability
Testing Checklists & Photographic Evidence
EN71-3 Test Results & Evidence
Declaration of Conformity
Oh yes, and each toy must have it’s own technical file. Phew!
If you’re still reading, you can now see why I’m so proud of myself. I deciphered the legal jargon, figured out what tests were needed, paid for chemical analysis, creating test apparatus, conducting the tests and creating a mountain of paperwork.
It’s not surprising given all of that time, effort and expense, that a huge amount of wooden toys being sold are not CE marked. So why bother you might ask?
As well as the fact that it is a legal requirement I want to prove that my toys are completely safe. The thought of selling potentially dangerous toys to babies and small children is not one I care to entertain.
Although the self certification process is complex and needs to be completed for each new toy or change in design, it gives me total confidence in the safety of my toys. That for me as a mother and a toy maker is the most important thing.
If you are looking to CE mark your toys please visit the Handmade Toy Collective’s website for further help and guidance.
As a craftsperson I have total control over how my products are made. I collect most of the wood myself and the rest comes from the trusted Brian. I also spent a lot of time researching the most ethically and sustainably produced finishes to use on them.
However, I can’t make everything myself. I always envisioned my toys being presented in fabric bags because they’re long lasting and practical. A cardboard box is discarded as soon as it’s opened and isn’t really of much further use. Whereas, cotton bags are great for storing and transporting toys and when they get dirty you can just chuck them in the washing machine. Unfortunately, I’m absolutely hopeless with fabric. I needed some help. That was when Jo Salter from Where Does It Come From? came to my rescue.
Jo founded her business in 2013 after becoming concerned that the clothes she was buying for herself and her family were not being created ethically, and that she may indirectly have been helping to sustain cruel labour practices and contributing to the world’s pollution problems.
This motivated her to seek a way of providing an ethical alternative for garments people needed to buy. Finding like minded people to partner with such as Moral Fibre Fabrics enabled her to produce her first ranges of traceable clothes.
Through her ethical connections in India, Jo enabled me to have my bags ethically and sustainably made by hand. Even the Love HeartWood logo is screen printed by hand.
Having them made in this way means they’re 300 times more expensive than having them made in China. However, it’s important to me that they’re made in as sustainable way as possible and that the people making them are paid a living wage. For me, and I hope for you, this knowledge is worth the extra monetary cost.
So you can trace Love HeartWood bags right back to the field the cotton grew in. View their life story here and find out who made your bag.
Zoe from Camira’s marketing team contacted me at the end of March.
“Camira is a textile mill based in Huddersfield and for us spinning tops represent a link back to the traditional craft of weaving. I’d like to see if it is feasible to create spinning tops for use as a giveaway at an exhibition we are attending in Chicago at the beginning of June. Could they also be painted to a specific colour scheme? I would need them by mid may in order to meet my shipping deadline. Please advise if this is something you could help with. “
I replied saying it was all entirely possible. I also suggested they might like the company name engraved onto each top. She agreed and supplied me with an idea of the colour palette they’d like to match their showroom. “
Camira are a global textile innovator who design and manufacture upholstery fabrics for commercial offices, hospitality, government, institutional interiors, healthcare, cinema and auditoria. They’re an independent UK textile company and very proud of their history and sustainable philosophy.
In 2015 they were recognised for outstanding achievements in continuous environmental improvement and best in class performance with our second successive Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development. They’re pioneering a sustainable textile industry through environmental product design, supply chain integrity, resource efficiency, people development and CSR. So I’m very proud they chose me to make their unique, sustainable giveaways.
NeoCon is the largest commercial interiors show in North America. The three-day event attracts nearly 50,000 design professionals and showcases more than 700 leading companies. Camira were there celebrating two new fabrics Zap and Armadillo. These were originally created by Danish American designer Jens Risom, a pioneer of mid-century modern design, now reimagined by Camira.
I slightly altered the design of the tops to better fit with Camira’s showroom style, completed the order in good time and dispatched it in plastic free, recyclable packaging. I also emailed Zoe a photo and little video showing the making and engraving of their tops.
“Placing an order with Love Heartwood was extremely simple. Due to the custom made option, I was able to specify paint colours and branding required for the tops.”
“The wooden spinning tops looked great and the paint colours were chosen to match the colour scheme used within our showroom launch. The order process was very simple and the tops arrived very well packed and on time.”
“The exhibition was a huge success and the showroom looked lovely. It’s the fine detail, like the little spinning tops that make all the difference!”
Zoe Milnes Exhibitions and Events Manager Camira Fabrics
If you’d like a custom order please get in touch. Use the contact form or email email@example.com to start the conversation.
When I decided to see if people were prepared to part with money for my wood turning back in the Autumn of 2017 the last thing on my mind was ‘my mission’ or a ‘values statement.’ However, as I’ve developed the business I’ve faced choices and realised that my way isn’t everyone’s way of doing things. So I thought I’d share with you what’s important to me. Because that’s what buying from a crafts person is all about isn’t it? That personal interaction and individual point of view.
Natural materials are so much healthier and calming than synthetic ones. I believe we can connect with the natural environment through wooden products. That’s why I work with British woods like Ash, Silver Birch, Yew and Oak. I want people to feel the wood beneath their fingers, not a layer of acrylic lacquer. That’s why I don’t use the standard finishing products which are variations of plastic. My products are finished with natural hemp oil or a plant based wax oil which allows the wood to retain it’s essential character.
My design is inspired by the natural world too. I create tactile, organic shapes which feel comforting and calming. I want my products to act as a form of tactile mindfulness to help you feel ‘present’ in Daily Life.
My approach is very down to earth. I’m a great admirer of the Art and Crafts Movement and their ideas of truth to materials and form. I try to follow these ideals by championing wood and not hiding it beneath finishes that make it look like another material.
The most important thing for me when making a product is how it functions. Looks, although important are secondary. If it doesn’t work well and feel good when you’re using it then it’s not a good product in my book . In a world of cheap mass produced goods a well functioning product is rarity, especially as it’s looks that sell.
Wood turning is a wonderful craft. I’m following in the footsteps of the wood turners before me who took pride in their skills and the quality of their work. So it’s important to me to create products with character. They don’t come off a production line with a built in life span. Each one is created from quality natural materials, designed to last and contains a unique story.
I’m on a mission to improve my skills and understanding of my materials. I love experimenting and trying new techniques. My motivation for this, apart from my fascination with my craft, is my love of problem solving. It’s wonderful to listen to a customer’s needs and apply my skills to create the solution.
As well as learning for myself, I want to share my knowledge with others to increase respect for Nature and raise awareness of the benefits of natural, handmade products.
I choose suppliers that have a positive impact and behave responsibly. We’re lucky in the developed world that we have a choice. We can avoid cheap, disposable products made in factories without the minimum wage. Products with no history or identity. Instead, we can choose ethical products. Products that benefit the lives of the people who make them. As consumers we can do good and feel good about it. We can know about where our ‘stuff’ comes from and learn it’s fascinating story, thereby enriching our lives.
All of the materials I use are cruelty free and vegan friendly.
It’s in the name isn’t it ? Love HeartWood. My business means so much more to me than a means of generating an income. It’s a way to work from home and be there for my kids at the end of the school day. I also believe that by following my dream I’m being a good role model for them.
Through my quiet passion and sharing my values I hope to inspire people with a love and respect for animals, Nature and other people. Not at all what I was thinking when I had an open house to show off my wooden pieces for my friends back in 2017 but if you listen to your heart it’s amazing where it can take you.
“Follow your dreams and use your natural-born talents and skills to make this a better world for tomorrow.” Paul Watson
Those of you that follow this blog will know I wrote about the Be The Change Awards back in March when I found out I’d been selected as a finalist. To go back and read my first post click here.
I decided to enter because competitions and awards are a great way to gain recognition and exposure, especially for a tiny business like mine. To enter there is often an entry fee however not in this case. It was completely free to enter. All I had to do was submit a video explaining my background, what obstacles I’ve faced, what motivates me and what my biggest achievements have been. As well as outlining my goals and bigger mission. Not easy in under 3 minutes!
The awards ceremony was held at the Museum of Brands on Friday the 26th of April. All 12 category winners were announced by Sian Conway and Jo Salter and there was much drinking and networking in between.
Sian and Jo explained their reasons for founding the awards which, funnily enough, were the exact reasons I entered. To give a platform to independent, ethical & sustainable brands who are working towards Sustainable Development Goals and creating positive impact in inspiring and world-changing ways. To attract enough sponsorship to allow entries for free was extremely tough but they felt it was important to provide access to all, no mater how small. It’s been hard work so thank you Sian and Jo for your dedication and passion.
I’m not a great networker, especially if I arrive alone and know absolutely no-one in the room. Even the word ‘network’ puts me off, it’s so impersonal, making me think of faceless corporate suits throwing business cards at everyone they meet. However, once I took the plunge and started talking to people I discovered some wonderful stories and inspiring brands.
I made a point of trying to meet everyone who was a finalist in the Babies and Children category. I particularly enjoyed talking mentors and marketing with Miriam from Nurture Collective . The winner Happy Pineapple, is an eco friendly publishing company. The dedication and completeness of their approach is inspiring and has given me loads of ideas to make Love HeartWood more sustainable, behind the scenes, as it were.
I arrived at the event with a slight imposter syndrome and feeling very much a single unit. I left feeling inspired and part of something bigger and bolder than myself.
This year is only the beginning for the Be The Change Awards. Jo and Sian have big dreams. So to find out more about this year’s changemakers and their stories follow the Be The Change Awards Facebook Page over the next few weeks. Then stand by for an exciting announcement about plans for 2020. I can’t wait.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
I am amazed and delighted to announce that I’ve been shortlisted for the 2019 Be The Change Awards!
The Be The Change Awards are an up and coming new initiative for the social impact sector, recognising ethical & sustainable brands with a powerful impact story to tell.
Around the world independent, ethical & sustainable brands are having a positive impact on communities, people and the planet. The awards will recognise, celebrate and raise the profile of those brands who are working towards sustainable development goals and creating positive impact in inspiring and world-changing ways.
There are 12 different categories each judged by experts in their field. Love HeartWood is one of 5 finalists in the Babies and Children category. This category is being judged by Holly Daffurn Editor of Natural Mumma Magazine. It’s a wonderful magazine that Love Heartwood was featured in last year so I’m really hoping I get to meet her. My submission had to be a 3 minute video telling my story. Speaking to the camera was daunting but distilling my story, motivation and goals was a really helpful exercise in clarity. The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony in London on Friday 26th April at the Museum of Brands.
All the Finalists have been put through to the People’s Choice Awards. This is an opportunity for you to find out about all the finalists and vote for your favourite (hopefully me!) There is a Be The Change Awards YouTube channel containing all the Finalist’s entry videos. The votes will be based on how many likes a video gets, so please go and have a watch and vote for your favourite (links below). This event is all about raising the profile of some of the most inspiring, impact driven brands so please share the videos with your friends. Voting will close at 12 pm GMT on the 12th April.
Unfortunately YouTube have currently suspended the Be The Change Awards channel. While the appeal is in progress you cannot view the videos. The Awards organisers, who haven’t been informed why the channel is suspended, are working to remove the suspension as soon as possible. Follow the Be The Change Awards Facebook page for the latest info.
I hadn’t been posting on Instagram for long when I stumbled upon the #MarchMeetTheMaker challenge. I wished I was taking part. So here I am, a year on and here comes the #MarchMeetTheMaker challenge again. This time I’m ready. I downloaded the prompts sheets and planned my 31 posts, one for each day of the month. I’ve tried to make them as visually pleasing and interesting as possible and I hope you enjoy following them. If you don’t know what I’m talking about though here’s a bit of an explanation.
#MarchMeetTheMaker is a 31 day Instagram Challenge, set by Joanne Hawker (and solely Joanne!) that runs throughout March every year. But it’s more than just a challenge, it’s a creative community that comes together to show people what they can do. It’s about building each other up, making new connections, telling your small business story, growing your confidence (and Instagram following) and most importantly, it’s about putting yourself out there.
The challenge was created
in 2016 by Joanne herself. At the time, she was in bit of a creative rut
with Instagram and couldn’t find a way to pull herself out of it.
Feeling determined, she went in search of challenge aimed at small
creative businesses but couldn’t find one. Feeling inspired, she went
ahead and created a 31 day challenge which aims to show the different
aspects of her business and asked her creative, small business friends
to take part. And that’s how #MarchMeetTheMaker was born. Little did she
know that it would take off and gain 25,000 posts in 2016, a further
80,000 posts in 2017 and 165,000 posts in 2018!
It’s Fairtrade Fortnight at the moment so I’d like to share with you how and why Love HeartWood trades fairly.
I often use the word ethical to describe my business and what that boils down to for me is being fair. I need to source a lot of things from wood and finishes all the way through to gift bags, strings and labels. My suppliers fit with my values: natural, ethical and honest. Their products are not the cheapest but I know my purchase is having a positive impact. I believe my customers also share these values and are prepared to pay that little bit more for a far more superior, fairly made product.
I’d like to share a few of my choices with you to show you what I mean.
The Acorn Jewellery Collection
When I was looking for a cord to create my Wooden Acorn Pendant I could have gone with a cheap leather cord from China. That would have meant I didn’t know what conditions it was made under and how much the workers were paid. Instead I chose to support Ines Jewelry Finding, a small business much like my own based in Santarem, Portugal. Their cork is sustainable, handmade, vegan and top quality. The air miles are also a lot lower than from China.
The Blue Sky Toy Collection
During my research on wooden toys I noted they’re coated with bright, cheerful paints. One of the constituent parts of a paint is the binder. The binder imparts properties such as gloss, durability, flexibility, and toughness. Most binders are synthetic resins such as acrylics, vinyl-acrylics, vinyl acetate/ethylene (VAE), polyurethanes, polyesters, melamine resins, epoxy, silanes or siloxanes. In other words paint is plastic. I wasn’t happy about coating my beautiful natural toys in plastic so I had to look for an alternative. I eventually chose Lakeland Paints. Their website proudly states: “After 6 years of product development, Ian West and John Ashworth created the world’s first complete range of odourless, solvent free, non-toxic decorative paints. Launched in 1989, to this day we stay true to our promise. All of our organic paints and varnishes are hand crafted and colour matched at our factory in the Lune Valley, North Lancashire.”
I love the company’s passion for what they do. Their plant based wood washes give my toys a unique look, allowing the beauty of the wood to show through. Because they are a niche product their prices are higher however the benefits are worth it for me.
Ethical Gift Bags
Many of my gifts come in a printed, cotton drawstring bag. I have to confess when I started my business I ordered these from China and they cost 1p each. When it was time to reorder I decided I needed to know where my bags were coming from and how they’d been made. That was when I discovered Where Does It Come From?
Where Does It Come From? make its own brand of gorgeous, ethical clothes and accessories that are fully traceable. Jo from Where Does It Come From? helped to have my bags handwoven and constructed from ‘khadi’ cotton (a sustainable process) in a Co-operative in Bangladesh. The photo at the top of the page shows one being sewn. Soon I will receive a traceable code I’ll share with my customers to see where their bag came from. These handmade, ethical bags are fairly made and cost more in monetary terms than the 1p bags from China. But because I know they’re handmade by people receiving a fair wage, under fair conditions makes them meaningful to me and therefore valuable.
It’s important to me to support small, handmade businesses, like myself. Their eco credentials are paramount. Buying fair trade adds so much to my products. It reinforces my values and shows I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. Yes, it does cost more but the result is a truly handmade, ethical, sustainable product. I believe that’s a gift really worth giving.