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Image / Self / Parenthood

#IWD21: Sharon Keilthy is on a mission to promote sustainable play


by Eoin Higgins
08th Mar 2021
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It’s been a difficult year for Irish business. This International Women’s Day 2021, we’re shining a light on the businesswomen in Ireland that we admire. Jiminy Eco Toys is a sustainably playful alternative to not-so-fantastic plastic.


What is your name, and what is your business?
Sharon Keilthy from Jiminy Eco Toys

How long have you been in business and what is your mission?
Since November 2018, and we’re out to make toys sustainable. As a mum I was sick of the plastic wrapped in plastic, shipped 22,000km from China that is 90% of kids’ toys. Making all that plastic from petroleum, and transporting them so far, releases so much CO2, we’d have to plant over 1 billion trees to absorb it. We need everyone to give each toy the longest life possible, to buy less and buy to last, and to buy carbon-neutral and plastic-free toys – but that’s not easy at the moment. We’re out to make that so easy it becomes the new normal for toys. We’re named after Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s conscience from the Disney movie.

Of what part of your business are you most proud?
Transparency. We are ruthlessly transparent about what we’re trying to do, why, and how each product matches that. We have about 25 standard questions we answer about every toy on our website – where it was made, what it was made from, what it’s packaged in, what the packaging is from the maker to us, whether it’s recyclable/compostable/vegan/organic/plastic-free etc.

Who are your heroes? 
I’ve read a few books by Richard Branson and really admire his brave, defiant, “make big improvement” entrepreneurship. But I also really admire all the people making what seem at first like smaller changes very persistently – planting trees, cleaning beaches, talking in schools, coaching kids’ sports teams, coaching an entrepreneur, starting a business from their bedroom, joining a climate strike, proactively including someone marginalised, checking-in on neighbours … I see that every small contribution to “better” has a ripple effect that can be big.

 

How have you found the last six months?
A total roller-coaster. But overall I’m just feeling lucky my friends and family are all okay (mentally and physically). As part of our mission we sell direct to the public, but we also sell wholesale to shops. When the first lock-down happened, we had just finished exhibiting at the London Toy Fair, the Birmingham Spring Fair, and Showcase in the RDS – at massive cost and effort. We were just sending the first orders from shops we’d met there, when they all had to close. But then suddenly we were one of a very few online toy stores in Ireland that were small enough to keep dispatching (our warehouse is run by a lady and her husband; bigger warehouses had to social distance – set-up pods/shifts and slow down).

We offer a giftwrap service so we sent so many birthday and Easter gifts directly to kids, giftwrapped with notes from their aunties/uncles/friends/grandparents/godparents who couldn’t visit them.

What keeps you positive?
It’s so heartening to get an email from a delighted customer, who appreciates our mission or our service. We have a wonderful community of supporters on social media, which is very energising. And as an eco-activist business, it’s exciting to be recognised as one of Ireland’s favourite toystores, and to be supplying more and more shops – giving more and more people eco-friendly options for toys they didn’t have before!

What new perspective did you gain over the last year?
Plans are helpful but they’re just plans, you can’t control everything, just do your best and what will be will be. It’s a lesson I’ve learned before but forgotten, until this year.

Best/worst moment from 2020?
Best: The exhilaration of seeing orders coming in and knowing from that, that individuals and shops support our eco mission and want to be part of it.
Worst: Back in April 2020, working hard, having an only child off school, and not seeing friends, left me isolated and stressed. I couldn’t sleep and I felt pretty awful.

Another Irish business you want to shine a spotlight on?
My friend and interior designer Kim Gray has just launched Kim Gray General Store, for minimalist, sustainable homewares and daily living. It’s gorgeous!

Anything else you would like to let us know?
We’re on a mission to make toys sustainable, in Ireland and globally. That’s a big ambition, thanks everyone in advance for their support!