“It’s time to make toys more responsibly now, not in five or ten years’ time,” is the strong message to come from Peter Rope, the brains behind the eco-friendly arts and crafts construction toy brand, Junko.
With the issues around the impact of single use plastics on the world around us growing ever prevalent in the consumer consciousness, Rope – the sole creator of the construction toy line, Junko – and his launch into the toy industry couldn’t be more timely.
First introduced at this year’s London Toy Fair, Junko – an arts and crafts building kit that encourages children to turn their everyday waste items such as plastic milk bottles into toy vehicles and play-sets – has already found retail space at Cornwall’s The Eden Project.
At ToyNews, we think this is just the start for the Junko journey, so decide it’s time we got to know the toy inventor and his Junko product a little better…
How did you get into toy designing and how did you wind up in the toy industry?
Weirdly it all began a few years ago when I managed to have a little heart attack (my wife thought I was just attention seeking at the time) which meant I spent a month at home with our kids – which was a nice treat. I co-owned a little creative agency in London at the time, which kept me away from home way too much. During that period, we were making a junk model car and came up short when we got to the wheels…I thought hmmm, there’s an idea in there.
Luckily my life assurance paid out enough to fund starting the business. So, thanks to my dodgy genes, about nine months later I packed up the day job and became a toy designer. I’d trained as a graphic designer, I like making stuff, fixing cars etc so I had a ragtag bunch of acquired skills which helped me. It took two years to develop the product – I’m pretty sure a proper engineer would have done it way faster!
What has your journey in the toy industry been like so far?
Very exciting and rather expensive. Luckily I piled in blind, not really knowing just what a huge task lay ahead – R&D, prototyping, patents, design for manufacture, tooling, packaging, packing, accounting, pricing, marketing, PR… Toy Fair 2019 was massive for us and a brilliant introduction where we thankfully met a great mixture of people, retailers, bloggers, media… who really liked that we’re trying do something creative, re-using junk and making Junko in an eco-friendly way… that was the first time we felt like part of the industry.
Do you think there is enough to encourage newcomers to the industry?
I can’t say I ever felt encouraged from the outside, but the more people we meet who are involved in the industry, the more welcoming it seems. In particular we met a few really lovely smaller companies, again at Toy Fair, who are also making more responsible toys. Entering any industry these days is extremely challenging and it’s all the more daunting when you first visit Toy Fair and see the money and clout the big players have. I do like what Mojo Nation are doing to help inventors get to market.
What is the message behind Junko, where did this idea come from?
I always struggle to get a single message out of Junko. I think the main one is that junk is only a label we have for things we have no further use for, but if you use your imagination you can reuse and reinvent it – then it’s no longer junk. The benefits of thinking like are that it’s an exciting thing to do, most kids really enjoy it and it gets them problem solving and thinking about the environment. We hope it’s a scalable idea to take into adult life so kids grow up better than my generation.
I hope parents will get that there’s a secondary message, which we share with all eco-friendly products, consumers can influence manufacturers to change if they choose to spend their money on responsible products. It’s time to make toys more responsibly… now… not five or 10 years in the future.
The drive to go and make Junko came when I saw how many throw-away plastic toys our kids ended up with. It’s quite shocking. Of course most of us are guilty of buying too much because we can, it’s so easy. I do feel hope when I see things like the ‘refill / plastic free’ shops that are popping up, an old fashioned idea which has become relevant again, a bit like making toys from junk and cast-offs.
What plans have you got for the JUNKO brand?
Our ambition, like every toy maker, is to become a household name. Then we can influence more people. I heard of one retailer who said they were ‘sick of eco-toys,’ I’m sure they’re not alone – I can see how preachy eco-friendly stuff can be a bit of turn-off to some. We’d like Junko to help turn that opinion around – to be known as a really good construction toy which is eco-friendly.
What’s the next step for you guys?
We’re just embarking on a series of online advertising campaigns. They allow us to target more customers who are actively eco-friendly and most likely to purchase, and also educators as Junko is going down well with STEM workshops, kids clubs etc. We’re looking to build a group of passionate, early-adopters to help spread the word. We know price is an issue for some so we’re launching cheaper kits and pocket money add-ons which will help kids make even better toys.
You’re trapped in a lift with one other person – what do you do to pass the time?