The pandemic has taught us many things but perhaps the biggest positive learning has been the increased global focus on the concept of sustainability. For it to really work in the long run, sustainability must necessarily touch all aspects of life. Addressing it from childhood itself, is homegrown sustainable toys venture Kidstack, founded by Simran Lekhi in 2020. She joins Sunday Guardian for a chat about her e-commerce brand. Excerpts from an edited interview:
Q. Why did you decide to enter this field?
A. I pursued B.Com (Hons) from Delhi University, and an MBA from the ICFAI Business School in Hyderabad. I have worked in the investment banking sector and in my family owned business of manufacturing auto components, where I was in the finance department. Though I have a background in business and finance, I also had other interests. I became a parenting blogger in 2019 by starting my own blog and contributing regularly to DailyO.
In 2020, however, I made the jump and began my own start-up called Kidstack. We began sales in March 2021, and have witnessed steady growth since then. We are also available pan-India.
As a mother to two young children and a parenting blogger, I was deeply concerned about the extensive use of plastic toys by Indian families, which are known globally to have harmful effects. Further, it is a known fact that plastic toys are not used for long by kids. Once discarded, they either end up in landfills or are dumped in the ocean. This thought really struck me and I decided to educate and create awareness amongst Indian parents about this.
Through my research, I discovered some great Indian brands manufacturing world class toys which were safe and plastic-free yet barely known. This prompted me to create Kidstack, an e-commerce portal for discovering non-toxic toys that are made in India.
Q. Do you feel it is necessary to be passionate about sustainability to become a true advocate?
A. Yes, I do believe that. Over the last couple of years, I have independently and relentlessly reviewed and recommended several Indian toy brands on Instagram. I’m also currently training as a Certified Play Therapist at the National Association of Play Therapy in India.
I am happy that in a short span of time, parents have begun reaching out to me for my curated list of non-toxic and sustainable toys.
I’m quite passionate about this subject, as I believe our children should be playing with better, safer, Indian toys rather than cheap low-quality ones. I am keen on creating awareness and recently put up my recommended toys list. My website now lists over 500 products by over 30 brands which are plastic-free and sustainable.
With Kidstack, I have made a go-to brand for plastic-free, sustainable toys and games made in India. I have ensured all brands listed on the website are tried and tested, and verified for their quality.
Q. What type of products can one find on your website?
A. We support play with toys and games that are made from natural materials, involve no batteries and is fuelled by a child’s imagination! I am a huge fan of open-ended, Waldorf-inspired play.
I think playtime encourages children to express and communicate, which leads to their emotional, physical and mental development. So it is important to provide them with the right kind of toys. Open-ended toys that can be played with in several ways and across several ages are the best options.
Q. How do you stand apart from your competitors?
A. Kidstack is the only brand that personally curates your child’s next toy, birthday gift or return gift. Each child is different and I recommend products after discussing personalities and interests with parents.
All of our toy reviews are completely honest, as I have personally done a background check on the products. I reject brands and products I don’t believe in. I also work closely with brand owners to make their products more eco-friendly. For example – showing them how to reduce plastic in their packaging.
Q. Has it been difficult for you to break into a market where plastic toys rule?
A. Of course! Plastic toys are cheap, easily available and allow parents to ‘give in’ to their child’s demand. There is very little awareness of the fact that when a child puts a plastic toy in his/her mouth, they are exposed to extremely harmful chemicals. I often ask parents, “If you don’t give your child food in plastic plates, then why do you still give them plastic toys?”
There is also this myth that wooden/organic/natural toys are expensive. This is true for imported products, however at Kidstack, we support local artisans and made in India products which are better priced.
Q. Which are the most popular products sold on your platform and why do you think they are popular?
A. Our most popular products include non-toxic paints and crayons, personalized activity books, pretend play make-up sets, wooden tea sets, wooden acrobat balancers, rainbow stacker series, build a community sets and organic playdough.
Each of these advocates open-ended and free play. They are made of natural materials which enhance the look and feel of the product. They are also made with high quality materials and child-safe paint.
Q. How do your toys teach life skills?
A. I believe that excelling in academics is not the only way to become successful. Social interaction, creativity, and the ability to think out of the box, goes a long way in shaping us as humans. If these things are taught in a structured way, they can be boring. However toys can making learning more fun and interactive. I’m also a strong believer in starting early, and the toys I select for Kidstack reflect that. A kitchen set involves kids in household chores, a dollhouse set makes them more compassionate, a toolkit shows them how to solve problems. Cars and road tracks helps them in understanding directions.
Q. What has been your biggest reward?
A. When your work is recognized, appreciated, and spoken widely of. It is not about making a profitable business, but about the impact of my work. I want parents to understand that play has many benefits. It is largely unknown that through play a child can learn more about themselves and their world. It can be therapeutic, reduce stress, and reinforce critical thinking.
I want Indian parents to adopt the concept of independent play. My go-to mantra before buying products is this – “Is the child playing with the toy or is the toy playing with the child?” At Kidstack, we stay away from toys where the child is simply holding a remote or pressing buttons and all the work is done by the toy.
Several parents come up to me and say, “Our child doesn’t play with toys”. At the same time, parents have shown interest in purchasing too many products at one time and I’ve told them to take it easy. The key is to buy fewer products that perform better and hold the child’s interest for a longer period of time.
The interviewer pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com. She can be reached on email@example.com.