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Sunday, 25 June 2017

Meet fair trade and eco toy brand Best Years

Co-founded by Liz and Gaynor, Best Years is a wonderful fair trade and eco toy brand.  I spoke with Gaynor to learn more about how the business started and the pivot they made from a toy company supplying the giant high street stores, to one that partners with social enterprises, ensuring ethics is at the very heart of their business.
Q. Tell us a bit about Best Years

Best Years was set up way back in 2001. Liz and I met when we were buyers at Disney and liked working together so much that we decided to do it on a full-time basis

Q. What makes your toys different?

When we first started we specialised in supplying toys to the big high street retailers such as Next, New Look and Mothercare. However when the recession hit in 2008/9 and all the shops demanded better prices we realised that we had to make a fundamental decision about the direction we wanted to take the business.

Most toy manufacturers just resourced to cheaper Chinese factories to meet the demands of the multiples but ethically this was not something we were prepared to do. We, therefore, decided to focus our efforts on our distinctive knitted range of toys. We lost over 70% of our customers but gained some fabulous producers as partners and by focussing on supplying Independent retailers with distinctive and ethical toys the business is now larger and more successful than it was before the recession.

Integral to the whole move from volume manufacturer to working with hand made producers was our partnership with Pebble. Pebble had a vision to create skilled employment for people in rural Bangladesh so that they did not have to leave their homes and villages to seek work in the factories in Dhaka.

They were our first partner, we were their first wholesaler and we have grown together so that Pebble now provides fair trade employment to 6000 people across Bangladesh. Visiting Bangladesh and making friends with the people who have put together such a remarkable organisation has been the absolute highlight of our business and a real priviledge.

Q. Prior to this partnership, did you know that fair working practices was going to be at the heart of your business or did it develop from your work with Pebble?

No, our business was a normal manufacturer when we started. It's only as the business progressed that we saw what was done in the name of commerce, and conversely what could be achieved through ethical production that we moved to being a company with ethics at the core of all our product decisions.

Not all of our production partners are fair trade, but our key parameter is “would we let our own children work here”. We visit all but the very smallest of our Peruvian partners to ensure that they all conform to this very simple requirement. It’s a difficult concept to put in a procedure manual but it's central to who we decide to partner with

Q. Was the partnership with Pebble easy to establish?

We first started to work with them before they had even begun producing their first range. They had been making toys on an own brand basis for larger retailers but wanted to produce their own designs and have all the year round manufacture rather than being at the whim of a buyer. They needed a partner who would stock their toys and create a market for them, and we were completely smitten with their business model, their ethics and their toys! It has been a fantastically productive partnership. 

Q. What has been your biggest achievement that you’re most proud of?

Opening schools in conjunction with Pebble. Drowning is the single biggest cause of death for kids under 5 years old in Bangladesh. Although the concept of a childhood without constant supervision sounds great to us here in the UK where we are surrounded by kids who won’t move too far from their electronic devices, it comes with it own dangers. Kids wander off and can fall in a ditch and drown in 3inches of water which is what happen far too often.

Working with Pebble we have funded 2 pre-schools so that while the ladies crochet the Pebble toys their children are being cared for and given the start of an education. There is nothing that we have done which has made us more proud than these schools

For more information or to shop Best Year's fair trade range of toys CLICK HERE

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