We spoke to Hannah Ablett the designer at Fairyknowz who produces the unique Poplins and Taglins. Hannah answers our questions about her experience of handmade toy making and CE marking.
How did you first find out about CE marking and what did you do in response?
I first found out about CE marking in early 2012, I was making children’s clothes at the time and while researching new regulations regarding my line of work on my local Trading Standards website I came across a section on toys regulations, of course this was of no real interest at the time although some of it must of stayed at the back of my mind.
Within friend and business networks I knew people who made toys and would talk about CE Marking, by summer 2012 I had done my research and joined a Facebook group for CE Marking which is where I picked up nearly everything I needed to get things in motion.
What advice would you offer to makers that are new in the process of CE marking their own toy design?
I would start right at the basics, use common sense, I have a kind of check list for every new variation of my Poplin, even now.
Would you buy the finished toy for your child, is it made to a high standard, do you think it’s safe, does anything come off or is likely to come off during play/washing? Only if the answers were all yes would I think about CE marking a design.
I even have a mini risk assessment I do in my head before I even think about making a new design as well as after I’ve made a prototype.
CE marking isn’t really all that scary or expensive, know your stuff, do your research until you’re sick of reading about it, talk to others who have been doing the process for a while….you can learn an awful lot from them but most of all stand your ground if you know you are right and can back it up with evidence. Ask yourself over and over again…would I give this toy my child?
How have you made changes or adapted your design over time because of the requirements for CE compliance? What happens when you have a new design idea and how do you make sure it complies?
I have a basic Poplin toy design that has stayed the same from the beginning, I know it works and is compliant, therefore all subsequent new designs follow the same or very similar rules, I suppose they’re just adaptions of the original. If I add wings to the basic design, for example a bumble Bee Poplin then I will test the new Poplin design for compliance but then other designs with the same fabric/construction i.e. a fairy Poplin won’t need testing in the future because the basic design hasn’t changed. My youngest daughter’s bed is full of Poplin designs she’s saved after they’ve been tested for CE Compliance….she can’t bare to see them stored in a box.
As a small business you have to look at how cost effective your designs are as well as the safety and compliance too. It doesn’t make financial sense to have millions of totally different toy designs. I’m also a stickler for detail and construction. If I have a big toy order I might have help with cutting and stuffing but I’m still the only one who sews and constructs the toys, that way I know everyone is made the same with the same stitching on the same machine, it brings constancy and peace of mind.
What do you think are the most important aspects of being a toy maker?
To me the most important part of my job is making something that’s not only special but safe too. I love my job and I suppose to get through all the admin and red tape you have to love what you do, it gives me a real buzz when someone talks about one of my toys. I love it when someone will talk about the quality of them and it makes me proud.
I actually love CE Marking and risk assessing my toys as I think every parent has the right to buy a toy and know it’s safe without even thinking about it. CE Marking makes sure that everyone is working to the same standards and I think consistency is important. I don’t like paying the lab testing bills for fabrics or trying to pull toys apart and definitely not setting fire to a poplin but understand that it’s just part of the business I’m in.
How do you fit working around family routines?
When I first started people thought I was boring, I’d turn down coffee catch ups, shopping trips etc, I think secretly they wondered what I actually did sat on my bum at home all day. But just over two and a half years later people have accepted that my business is real.
I run my business around my family and that’s as simple as it gets. I run my own business so I can be there for my family so that has to come first within reason. My working day starts after the children go to school and more or less finishes when I go on my afternoon school run.
That however does not include the getting up at 6am to do some work before the kids get up or the stuffing legs/sewing bums up in front of the telly after they’ve gone to sleep.
I’m realistic, I run a business and things need to be done, quite often to deadlines, however my family are very important to me and after all they’re why I don’t go out to work for someone else.
Is there anything you wished you’d know about CE Marking earlier, EN71 regulations or making your own designs and products?
I wish I hadn’t been so scared, I think the more I thought about it in the beginning the more complicated and scary it all seemed.
I wish I had thought about it through business eyes from the start rather than from my heart, then I would of seen that burning a toy in the long run wasn’t a waste it was an investment….in fact that’s how you need to look at this entire process, it’s an investment, for your future, for your business and for you….and it keeps CHILDREN safe!
What do you enjoy most about what you make?
The satisfaction, the comments, the buzz when you see a child playing with your toy that’s been dragged around the floor and loved to bits….only it’s not in bits because it’s been well made and tested and designed with children in mind.
I love the way people collect Poplins and once they’ve bought one they always come back for more…it makes my job worthwhile.
Where is the best place to find out about your products and business?
I have a Facebook page www.facebook.com/fairyknowzpoplins and a website www.fairyknow.co.uk My Facebook page is where you find sneak previews and exclusive news, the place where adoptions take place first, often meaning new Poplins don’t make it even to my website.