from etsy to harrods

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As an independent toy developer, I am a little bit distrustful of department stores and other big retailers. And as a social entrepreneur, I have always preferred to partner with independent retailers. I was never interested in becoming a businessperson. I made my choice early on to go into the field of education, where I have worked for the 15 years of my professional life thus far.

But throughout this time, and starting much earlier, I've maintained an interest in well designed and open-ended toys, and a complementary interest in arts and crafts. I've been making toys in some form or another for the better part of my life. Most of that was just mucking around. Sometimes I would follow simple instructions in a craft book to make some kind of novel gadget. But more often, I would take inspiration from something else, either modding my existing toys or coming up with something entirely on my own.

Occasionally, I would hit upon something kind of interesting, and would pursue it. As an adult, I have stumbled onto a few of these kind of designs.. toys with potential. I kept making them and refining them slightly each time. As I started building up a collection of sets, I decided it would be cool to try to sell them--if for no other reason than to clear out space in my workshop. Around that time, I became aware of which I likened to an online craft sale. I had a rudimentary website at the time, but no way of making a shopping cart or anything like that, so it was a nice match. My Twig blocks were an immediate success and I sold out far quicker than I could make them.

As I've written about elsewhere, one thing led to another, and soon I received an email from the President of Fat Brain Toys, inquiring about whether I would be interested in licensing the design. What a rush! I was a bit hesitant, but I was confident that I had more ideas than opportunities like this, so I took the plunge. I'm so glad I did. Twig was a hit, and won a number of awards during its first couple of years on the market.

Recently, Fat Brain has started selling Twig in Europe, and I was thrilled to find out that it had been recognized by another awards program—the Slow Toy Awards. I was especially excited about this one because of the cool philosophy behind the Slow Toy Awards. It's very much in keeping with my own design philosophy. The other exciting thing about the program was that it was being sponsored by Harrods. This humble design which started as an arts and crafts project was being publicly recognized at one of the most famous (and high end) department stores in the world. So, I thought it would be worthwhile to momentarily set aside my distrust for department stores and post a little post to reflect back on just how far the design has come. I'm grateful to the good folks at Fat Brain Toys for their early recognition of Twig's potential, and for taking the product to these heights.

Matthew Hiebert 2014-01-03