Sunday, November 29, 2009

Toys, Toys, Toys - A Shopper's Guide to Australian Toy Stores

Today's Post is brought to you by guest Sarah Emma_in_Oz. A huge thank you to letting us re-post this article here. I hope every one enjoys it as much as we did.

First the bad news - there is no one stop shop which sells a wide array of beautifully crafted,
educationally and developmentally appropriate, reasonably priced, ethically made, non-toxic toys. Well, not that I've found.

But the good news - there are a heap of neat Australian toy stores which you can order from online, in the comfort of your own home.

This is going to be a massively long post so I shall begin with some definitions of terms and background explanations of what I was looking for. Yes, I spent that much time researching it that I feel the need to define terms.

What I was Looking For

I don't like plastic toys. I don't like them for a whole heap of reasons, beginning with the fact that they are hideously ugly, moving on to the often cheap quality, their tendency to break, the fact that they are often made in sweatshops, and ending up with them often being toxic. Oh, also , bad for the environment, often developmentally inappropriate, are often designed to inculcate violent or sexist behaviour, and with ridiculous amounts of branding so your child can be groomed as a consumer. As you can see, some strong feelings there.

Though I should note that Pearl owns a ton of plastic toys, despite my feelings. Cos they are so
ubiquitous. It's so hard to find anything else.

Let me go through those one by one.

1, Plastic toys are hideously ugly. Having Pearl has made me realise that I may actually suffer from one of those disorders in which you are overwhelmed by bright colours and loud noises. I find the bright colours of plastic toys literally give me a headache. I can't be around them without actually, literally, getting a head ache.

The batteries have been removed from all of Pearl's electronic toys because I cannot handle that noise. I don't care if she bangs on pots and pans or her drum but the sound of cheap synthesisers playing You are My Sunshine does my head in.

2, Plastic toys are low quality. Not all, of course but there is a whole array of cheap toys actually
designed by companies to be things that parents buy for their kids to shut them up. (See: Eric Clark, The Real Toy Story, 2007).

3, Plastic toys often break. Because the type of plastic used when you want to make as much profit as possible is cheap and it breaks quickly. And even quality plastic goes funny over time and then it kind of snaps.

4, Plastic toys are made in sweatshops. 80% of toys available in America are made in China, and I assume the figures are similar here. It is extremely likely that they are made in sweat shops. (See: Eric Clark, The Real Toy Story, 2007 and Susan Gregory Thomas, Buy Baby Buy, 2007).

Of course this is the case for all toys, not just plastic ones.

5, Plastic toys are toxic for children. Plastics contain dioxins and often phthalates.
( The Healthy Toys site has been checking toys off the shelves in America for heavy metals and they have had very disturbing results.

6, Plastic toys are toxic for the environment. (

7, Plastic toys are developmentally inappropriate. More accurately, many commercially available toys, many of which are made from plastic. I assert that kids need are really simple traditional toys like dolls, blocks, push and pull toys. Not electronic stuff that beeps.

8, Plastic toys are designed to encourage violent or sexist behaviour. Again, more accurately,
commercially available toys, many of which are plastic, are often designed in this way. Bratz and Barbie are ridiculously sexualised; toy guns and action figures are ridiculously violent. (See: Eric Clark, The Real Toy Story, 2007 and Carl Honore, Under Pressure, 2007).

9, Plastic toys are designed to groom children as consumers. Toys are linked to TV shows which are often indistinguishable from half hour long ads. These branded toys are collectables, not stand alones. There is always one more that needs to be collected. (Susan Gregory Thomas, Buy Baby Buy, 2007)

This is what prompted me to compile my handy-dandy list of toy shops which sell non-plastic toys.

Definition of Terms

Australian-made - There is a very limited toy manufacturing base in Australia.
While there are some wonderful toy makers in Australia, most of them do not produce in sufficient quantities to supply other retailers, and because of the labour intensive, handcrafted nature of their work the toys are expensive.

Most Australian-made toys are made in what I am here calling micro-businesses. Businesses so small they are in fact someone's garage or living room in which they carve or stitch. (I kind of like buying from this kind of company. I know the money is going to actual people. And then those people pay taxes and the money comes back to me in the form of roads, and hospitals, and libraries.)

Fair Trade - Fair trade is an approach that aims to help producers in developing countries and promote sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of a higher price to producers as well as social and environmental standards in areas related to the production of a wide variety of goods.

I have noted where stores stock fair trade goods, but I have not explored whether they meet the
standards of the FairTrade Labeling Organisations International (FINE) or whether they are using the term loosely.

Organic - Organic toys are made from natural materials, without pesticides or toxins. The term organic can be woolly - to be sure you are getting an organic product you need to check whether it has been certified. I have noted where stores stock organic toys, but I have not explored whether they are certified as organic.

Greenish - A lot of toys aren’t organic (which has a strict meaning). But some companies do greenish things - like some reuse packaging, make donations to charities, stock toys made from recycled materials.

Places to Shop

Well if you want to avoid plastic, obviously not mainstream toy stores or places like Target or Toys R Us (though I am informed that the local Toys R Us now has a row of wooden toys).

Unfortunately, op shops and fairs offer a pretty limited selection in my experience. They tend to look like chuck out day from the McDonalds happy meal detrius farm. Sometimes you strike it lucky. Though of course you can't tell as you look at them whether they are safe or not.

Once you get home you can check on the Australian Product Safety website to see if the products have been recalled. And you can look at HealthyToys to see if they happen to have been tested for chemical levels. HealthyToys is a consumer group which tests toys off the shelf in America - about a third of them have measurable levels of chemicals like lead, bromine, arsenic, cadmium, mercury and chlorine.

Where you are much more likely to find something nice is online craft fairs like Etsy.
( You can get wooden toys and homemade cloth stuffed toys from Etsy. Very pretty stuff, and the money you spend goes to actual people rather than faceless corporations.

You may also want to consider a toy library. I paid $65 to join a library. I can then get out three toys at a time for a year, including big ticket items like toy cars and slides which I could not afford on my own.

You only use the toys for as long as they are developmentally appropriate and then they go back to the library for some other child - very green and economical too.

Or you can consider a toy shop. This is a list - no doubt partial - of places that sell what I am calling non-plastic toys. They are either made in Australia or they are free trade or organic or in some way not the generally available plastic toys.

Australia Online

Australian-made goods of various sorts, including soft toys (Australian animals and teddies), and jigsaw puzzles. Most places stocking Australian-made toys have outrageous prices, but these are fairly reasonable.


They say: 'All Bentsticks toys are original designs that are handcrafted with pride from recycled Australian timbers. Their smooth safe finish is achieved with environmentally friendly natural products i.e. They are "chewable".'

These are seriously the most beautiful wooden toys I've ever seen. The doll's treehouse isn't just a toy, it's a work of art with a trapdoor, a slippery slide, a rope ladder, and a rope pulley. In fact, I'm going to ask them if they want to exhibit at the Aussiecon 4 art show becuase this is just amazing.

It's a micro business.

Seriously I have to reiterate that the work is stunningly beautiful.

This site mostly features organic clothes, lotions and notions, but there is a small range of organic baby toys and soft toys - some made in Australia.

Develop Your Kids

They have an excellent search engine (though no information on the greenness of the toys). They have a good range educational toys

Down to Earth Organics
They have a small range of teethers, soft and wooden toys. The products are organic but not made in Australia. The site mostly emphasises items like clothes, bottles, etc. Definitely only for the littlies.

Dragonfly Toys
I really like this store. They have a really good range of books, toys, games, puzzles, for babies to older children. And, what is more, excellent service. I wrote in, asking about where the stock came from and got a really detailed response The majority of the products are made in Europe - primarily Germany, but also some other countries such as Sweden, Poland, Holland etc. All of these European companies have long traditions of producing beautifully crafted wooden toys and they have strong ethical and environmental policies.

There is a range of toys made in the USA from recycled plastic milk bottles. And also a stock of fair trade items made in Nepal, India, Africa and other countries. These are made by small co-operatives and they help to provide employment and an income to the craftspeople.Â

As the owner points out, quality toys cost more but last longer and are so much more beautiful.

Early Rider
Wooden bikes!

Earth Tribe
They state that their principles are fair trade, embodying:
Concern for people and their environment
Ethical and effective workplaces
Fair prices for products
Equal employment opportunities for both genders
Transparency and accountability in business practices
Advocacy and education about Fair Trade
Capacity building (sharing skills to allow producers to become self reliant)
No Child labour

They stock soft and wooden toys, including the world's coolest wooden pull-along Stegasaurus.

Eco Toys
This is one of my favourite sites because of the excellent service, including giving me a partial refund when the ear fell off a wooden toy dog's ear (and even though I could not provide a picture because I glued it back on before I emailed them).

You can select a small range Australian toys or organic toys. They have a pretty good selection of
educational toys, musical instruments, soft toys, dolls, pretend play, building, baby toys, games,
puzzles, and wooden toys.

Entropy Toys

I like this store. It's an online general toy store. You can search for Australian made toys, for eco friendly and educational toys, also special needs toys.

They say: 'All of the products we stock are about getting children active - either their bodies or brains. No fads, no gimmicks, no batteries and no plastic throwaways. We stock quality wooden and educational toys, games, sports and activity equipment; and craft and craft kits.'

They include PDFs on child development and play.

Fair Go Trading
The store motto is: 'Fair trade for a fair go!' They stock multicultural dolls, musical intruments, and puppets. An excellent feature is that each item is tagged with information telling you where it is from and what made of.

Fairground Child

They offer toys that are:
  • Fair trade
  • Organic
  • Sustainable
  • Multicultural

though not made in Australia

The goods are reasonably priced and there's a really good range - includes balls, clothes, art supplies, educational games, multicultural books as well as soft toys and wooden toys.

Generation Wonder
Organic and free trade, a very socially aware place to shop. They stock a reasonable selection of games, puzzles, soft toys, dolls and four wooden cars (four!). You can actually search for items priced under $15 which is pretty good value for this kind of shopping. Best of all, each item comes with a description of where it comes from and what it is made of.

Specialising in organic food, they also have an interesting range of craft supplies.

Grassroots Eco Store
They sell a range of eco-products including toys. I particularly like that each product is marked to show if it is recycled, organic, Australian made, free trade, sustainable, or non toxic. Accurate and accessible information! Yes!

Honeybee Toys
This is one of my favourite toy stores. It’s certainly one of the biggest.
They say: ‘Welcome to Honeybee Toys online toy store where you will find Australia's largest range of natural wooden toys, organic and handcrafted toys for imaginative and creative play. We honour children and our earth - bringing you a unique range of eco toys that are educational, fun, beautiful, ethically made and eco friendly. We stock the highest quality European toys, reputable brands and Australian designed toys.’
There’s a really good range of toys, and toys for a range of ages, not just babies!

Indigo Inspirations

This is a micro-business. My thanks to the owner for providing such detailed information on where the toys came from when I wrote to them.

They stock Steiner toys made from natural materials. This includes Waldorf dolls, wool felt, craft kits, wooden toys and games.

Just Wood Toys

These are lovely toys and puzzles. Mostly imported, some puzzles made in Australia. I do like the tactile pleasure of wood.

The Kid Store

I find the by-line off putting: 'For fashion conscious toddlers'. How many of those can there be?

But it does stock a fairly wide range of goods, including some in natural materials. It does not say where they come from.

Koala Express

A small range of expensive, Australian-made Australian animals as stuffed toys.

Koala Soft Toys
Stuffed toy koalas, made in Australia from synthetic materials - just like the mainstream ones only more expensive!

They say: 'Lark aims to make products that are not only beautiful and well-made, but also socially and environmentally responsible.'
I like it!
It has clothes, gifts for adults, also for kids and babies including craft and baking kits. The kits! Too cute! And the vintage Ladybird style rucksacks! Oh, so gorgeous in a retro-hip way!

Learning House
They stock educational toys. I like that you can search by age, brand or type but where is the information on individual items? It does include sections on organic and free trade toys.

Little Sparrow
This site is visually appealing but I can't seem to find the section on their philosophy. It brands itself as natural, but I can't see the basis on which the stock is chosen. I recognise some of the toys as imported. They have a very stylish looking selection of toys, dolls, craft items (including quality pens, paint etc) and books.

Hand made, really funky soft toys. It's lovely to see some non-Steiner stuffed toys with a more stylish aesthetic.


They say: ‘Mellimoomoo specialises in unique and aesthetically beautiful toys and gifts that will inspire your children's imagination - while being gentle on the earth and its workers. We only stock ethically created products. Our designers, artisans and boutique producers are committed to fair trade working practices and are conscious of their impact on the environment. We oppose child labour and any form of worker exploitation.’
Organic, not really expensive, lovely quality, baby and kids toys. Also, a small range of vintage originals, clothes, arts and crafts, accessories for bedrooms and so on.

I like the descriptions of the products which tell you where they are from. Some are Australian made.

Mini Eco

Stocks a range of organic products, including soft toys, bpa-free rattles, wooden toys, toys for bigger kids, non-toxic craft supplies, cards and invitations, and organic lollies.

Mudd Kids

Most of the stock is children’s clothing, but there is also a collection of wooden toys, soft toys, books, pencils and cloth blocks . All the goods are organic and fair trade.

Multipowered Products

This is mostly a store for wind and solar powered tools and devices, and it includes a really really nifty section of solar powered toys. I imagine this fills a real gap in the toy market - it’s hard to see the modern child being endlessly satisfied with a rubber band powered wooden boat (though, maybe? what do I know?). This way they can have their whirly toys and there’s an educational and environmental upside.

They also have cool kits for making hydrolic lifts and solar powered robots and so on. I am actually all excited about getting one of these for Pearl (in about seven years time).

The Natural Newborn

As you may have guessed from the name, they sell organic toys for littlies. Cuddly toys, wooden toys, rattles and teethers.

Nature Play Australia

They stock a pretty extensive range of locally made, eco-friendly, wooden toys or dolls, dolls houses, farm toy, nature craft, wooden cars, trucks, and play stands. Also a range of sustainably made toys and games from around the world but in particular from Europe, Germany, and New Zealand including art supplies, certified organic babywear & baby toys, fair trade products, craft and Steiner Waldorf books, silks and lots more.

I like this site though it is not always easy to tell where something comes from and whether it is fair trade.


They stock educational toys. They are often plastic toys, and there is no information on where they are from. But... interesting toys.


They have a small but good range of fair trade games, balls, wooden toys and soft toys. It was particularly good to see the soccer balls as outdoor and active play toys are really hard to find.

Peanut Gallery

They say: ‘Our aim is to provide a broad selection of unique and traditional toys for kids aged birth to 8 that will be cherished by children and their parents alike. At a time when children are increasingly reliant on electronic devices and media for entertainment, we believe providing children with the right age-appropriate products, will foster their creativity, encourage use of their imaginations and build confidence in their own abilities.’

Peanut Gallery stocks wooden toys, educational products, dolls, pretend play equipment, musical instruments, toys for bath time, dress up clothes, games and books. You can search by age or by brand.
Unfortunately the product descriptions do not include information on where the toys are from or what they are made of. They don’t seem to stock Australian made or free trade toys. Random clicking shows toys from Germany, Poland, and the USA.

No plastic which is always a plus.

Rosie Pose

They say: ‘Rosie Pose is not just another online children’s boutique, we have a range of popular labels which you will recognize and love but we invite you to have a good browse as we specialise in Australian Made products and support small businesses here in Australia.’

The have stock for babies and kids to eight. The site is a pain to search but does have stylish though pricey items, including a range of organic toys and clothes.

Rudy and the Dodo

I find a by-line like ‘terribly fabulous stuff for little individuals’ profoundly annoying. It might as well say ‘stuff you can buy to make your child avatar look cool’.

And yet I am torn, because, in point of fact, they stock the kind of whimsical, funky stuff that I love. Randomly choosing the recommendations for three year olds, I see ‘I love Paris’ Eiffel Tower blocks which look pretty neat. Also Babushka doll hair clips, and a wooden Elephant game.

What I like absolutely the most are the craft and baking kits. Not eco-friendly, not organic, not fair traded, not made in Australia, and yet so stylish and fun-looking that I want to buy one straight away for some child of my acquaintance.

Sam’s Crafts

This is an Australian micro-business making wooden push-pull toys, blocks, ride on toys, cradles, etc. The prices are really quite good and the who-are-we section is endearing with its pictures of their workroom.


Fair trade goods, including toys for babies, novelties, dolls, and wooden toys. Really pretty stuff.

Special Friends

A micro business making fairly expensive but pretty cuddly Waldorf dolls.

Spiral Garden

A very hippy site, with Steiner toys. They stock dolls, craft, Debresk Swedish wooden vehicles, and some dolls hand made in Australia. Pricey.

Thinking Toys

The focus of this shop is on puzzles suitable for teens, educational toys, and wooden toys. The emphasis on teens is nice as almost none of the other stores carry goods for this age group.

They say: ‘We only supply toys and games that are environmentally friendly and safe (for age 3+). Most of our toys are made from plantation rubberwood (Hevea brasilensis) which is harvested at the end of its life and is now used for toys and furniture instead of being burned. It has very low shrinkage and warping qualities so it is ideal for use in toys, especially in the Australian climate.’

Tittle Tattle

Tittle Tattle is one of those stores that stock ‘unusual, quirky , fun & fabulous’ toys. One can’t help but think they are intended for the mother who likes to shop.

Nonetheless, cough, nice stuff, especially the puppets and theatres. They also stock educational games, puzzles, toys for infants, musical instruments, dolls, and wooden toys.

Their stock is imported and not organic. But not plastic.


Todae has all kinds of eco-products, including a small range of toys. I was particularly struck by the solar powered cars and toy houses and the water powered clock which are unusual and fun.

It is relatively easy to find organic dolls, but finding green options for children who prefer other forms of play is a lot harder.

The Toy Bug

They have a pretty big range - many educational toys, some made from natural materials. There are activity, books, building toys, games, puzzles, wooden toys, soft toys, musical instruments and pretend toys.

There’s no information on where they come from.

Tree Frog Toys

First off, a big shout out to Tree Frog Toys for sending me a really detailed email when I wrote to them about where their stock comes from.

They stock:

• Baby Toys - Safe, natural wooden toys and organic toys for baby
• Creative Toys - Eco friendly art and craft supplies for children of all ages
• Educational Toys - Wooden puzzles and preschool toys for curious kids
• Inspiring Toys - Wonderful wooden toys for imaginative and pretend play
• Green Toys - Eco toys, from wooden toys to innovative green toys for modern kids
• Wooden Toys - Heirloom quality, environmentally friendly wooden toys
• Fair Trade Toys - Eco friendly toys produced ethically under Fair trade conditions

Waldorf Dolls

This is a micro business. Dolls, nature tables and some craft products are made by hand in Western Australia. I’ve got to say these are seriously pricey dolls. The odds of me being happy with paying $150 for a rag doll? Not high.

Windmill Educational Toys

Windmill supplies educational toys and equipment, playground equipment, kindergarten equipment and supplies, quality toys, books and crafts for kids. The stock includes specialty items like teaching aids, furniture and toys for special needs children.

Astonishingly, this is a chain! More than one store! They have a really huge range. The downside is some plastic toys, not terribly green and it does not say where they come from but they appear to be imported.

Wood Puzzles

Hand made, Australian made jigsaws, toys, games, educational toys and children’s furniture.

World Wildlife Fund

They have a small range soft toys and puppets. Proceeds to a good cause.

Some other sites you might want to consider are ones that review handmade craft and green sites. Meta-sites, effectively.

Indie Art and Design

A weblog featuring products made by independent Australian artists, designers and craftspeople. Here you will find signposts to many wonderful items, which are not easily found through search engines alone.
You can search for toys (with emphasis on funky soft toys).

Made It

Hand made stuff made in Australia, includes a section on soft toys, reasonably priced and all from micro businesses.


This site reviews Australian hand made toy producers (and other sites).

Growing Up Green

Another overview site - beautiful graphics.