Cate and Levi’s stuffies and wall art are global sensations but totally made in T.O.
The holiday wish lists whispered in your ear by the little (and not so little) ones in your life are probably already implanted in your brain.
I know. The word "Furby" was discreetly leaked upon my last visit with the nieces and nephews.
After looking up what Furby is (a talking gremlinesque stuffed animal compatible with iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches), I had to - given my line of work - dig a little deeper.
So far, no Furby sweatshop headlines or leaded nose recalls. But its maker, Hasbro, has lots of dirt on its hands. This time last year, the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights issued a report entitled Holidays By Hasbro: Transformers From Hell (globallabourrights.org).
What did they find at the suppler's factory, Jet Fair, in China? Well, in peak season (think pre-Christmas), workers toiled 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for 17 cents per Transformer. They slept in rat- and bedbug-infested dorms.
These conditions were on a par with those uncovered in a 2008 IGLHR report on a Hasbro Bratz doll factory and a 2012 report on VTech, the maker of electronic learning toys - and, gasp, my home phone!
On the bright side, a new report, Trouble In Toyland, by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, finds only one kids' toy that exceeds new lead limits and none that violate current phthalate regs. Of course, it notes it tested only three dozen toys.
I still get a steady stream of recall alerts from Health Canada warning about lead and cadmium in children's rings, hair clips and pendants. Sign up for your own email alerts at healthycanadians.gc.ca.
If you're tired of the whole mess and want to support some good Canadian-made brands, you're in luck - they still exist. Which brands should you keep your eye out for? For soft and snuggly stuff, hunt down some Cate and Levi, the international sensations still totally made in Toronto and widely available at spots like Baby on the Hip and Ecoexistence.
They do puppets, stuffed animals and now blankets, clothes and wall art (hello, upcycled wool moose head) using reclaimed wool and cotton (cateandlevi.com).
In the games room department, Perth-based Family Pastimes offers up cool cooperative board games on stuff like mountaineering, apple-picking and house-building (familypastimes.com) at stores like Grassroots. T.O.-based Anouk's Ark (anouksark.com) has awesome Endangered Species puzzles and memory games (a big hit with my sister's kids), available at the AGO shop.
Crafty kids will seriously dig a Glitter Pie Art Studio In A Box (glitterpieart.com), which you can find at Mastermind and Scholar's Choice.
For a "True North strong and free" tabletop hockey game, check out Quebec-made Bojeux (bojeux.com). I'd say kiss Tonka goodbye and switch to Sprig's reclaimed wood/recycled plastic, paint-free, battery-free kid-powered toys, but the thing is, these trucks, boats and helis aren't all made in Canada any more. Some are made in China and Mexico, so check the box. Not the case for Thorpe Toys' classic Ontario-carved wooden toys (thorpetoys.com).
You can make it super-easy for yourself by checking out the store, 100 Mile Child, which almost exclusively stocks Canadian-made toys including activity kits, arts and crafts, dress-up costumes, games, puzzles, soft toys, you name it (the100milechild.ca).
Or stop by your neighbourhood indie toy store and ask what they've got that's made more locally. Scooter Girl, for instance, has Canadian-made teethers, costumes, clothes, Bojeux stuff and Roylco's Straws & Connectors collection (made in Canada and the U.S.). Treasure Island also has Canadian-made natural lip balm making kits, trivia games, Glitter Pie, Roylco and more.
Not all Canadian lines are crafted from recycled, organic, vegetable-dyed components, but your chances are significantly better that no one's sleeping in bedbug-ridden dorms and working seven days a week to make them.
You can, of course, widen your net to include toys made in the U.S. to score sustainable finds like Green Toys (made from 100 per cent recycled plastic milk jugs free of BPA, phthalates, vinyl - greentoys.com), Clementine Art Supplies (clementineart.com) and Piggy Paint kids' nail polish (piggypaint.com).
That's not to say that other imported toys are all of concern. Lots of good green companies are churning out responsible fun, like awesome Thai-made, rubberwood-based and veggie-dyed Plan Toys or any of the fair trade kid-friendly picks at Ten Thousand Villages. And hopefully, Santa willing, you'll spread enough one-of-a-kind joy so everyone forgets the whole Furby thing.