Feet lightly pattering on the stairs. Excited gasps, and the crinkle of wrapping paper on the ground. These memories feel so far away, yet also incredibly close as they weave nostalgia across our minds. With every year that goes by, it gets easier to forget how important my toys were to me as a child. On a birthday or holiday, my brothers and I added a treasured item to our collection, each contributing an important storyline to the narratives we were writing about in some now-forgotten world. As I enter a period of my life where I’ll soon be giving gifts to my friends’ children, I’m thinking about what toys I’ll introduce to their kids and the imaginary worlds they’ll create.
Luke Barber also grew up with a love for toys. As a kid, Luke’s attention was directed at anything that had a wheel, any tiny vehicle that he could roll from one end of a room to the other. So it’s no surprise the toys he designs for Luke’s Toy Factory are a range of environmentally-friendly trucks. Luke develops the truck concepts and then makes a 3D version for feedback from his target audience – kids.
When Luke’s father, Jim Barber, first bought the printer, he was attempting to launch his toy company. Just out of college, Luke came up with the idea for their fire truck, stepping into the role of designer. With the addition of Mitch and Evan Achiron, another father-son pair, as well as a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $15,473 in 2014, history was writing itself for their little team.
Why toys? The elder Barber remembers when RC2 Corporation had to recall 1.5 million Thomas the Tank Engine toys in 2007, after finding out that the red and yellow paint applied by the manufacturer in China contained lead. “I felt kind of betrayed by the toy companies,” he told Westfair Communications. And he wanted to do better, from right here in the U.S.
That decision was perhaps a risk at a time when China dominated 85 percent of global toy production — a dominance which has remained, based on their whopping $14.9 billion intake in 2020. However, it was a risk that the team was more than willing to take in the name of developing safe and quality products.
To this day, all their partners, suppliers, and materials are sourced within the U.S. With their mold maker in Massachusetts and their injection molder less than an hour’s drive away in Connecticut, American-made is more than a label for Luke’s Toy Factory; it allows for the highest levels of quality control surrounding the manufacturing process. And the company clearly practices what it preaches; aligned with its original mission, not a trace of paint or glue can be found on the trucks. Colors are mixed in during molding if they are added at all. Indeed, it’s a pleasant surprise to so clearly see the alluring shades of organic materials on the colorless natural line of trucks, in contrast with the brighter classics and hybrids.
At a toy’s heart, however, it has to offer something more than safety. Intended for ages three and up, the trucks are perfect for toddlers in that awkward stage of needing something more stimulating than baby toys, but without pieces that are too small or complicated. Because each truck functions as a 3D puzzle, with large parts that can be removed and swapped between models, they are perfect for developing problem-solving and motor skills. They effortlessly lend themselves to the kind of imaginative play that I loved so much growing up. As James Barber explained to WTNH: “What sound does a firetruck make? Well, you have to make that yourself. How does it go? Where does it go? What do you do with it? You have to make up the scenario.”
The final ingredient in this recipe for the perfect toy is that the trucks are sustainable. The use of “maple sawdust, walnut shells, flax fiber and other end of life organic materials” taken straight from parts of the Midwest enables each toy to be made with 30 percent less plastic. This means these materials will contribute to children’s joy, without contributing to carbon emissions after being incinerated.
While incorporating these materials doesn’t make the final product fully recyclable, it does result in increased durability and the capability of withstanding even the most energetic of kids. Plus, the company is currently exploring the possibility of introducing a sugarcane-based substance, so all-natural could be right around the corner.
The team is so dedicated to making a positive environmental impact that their efforts extend to packaging: corrugated cardboard and paperboard, soy ink print, and recycled newspaper for packing material all add up to a shipping experience free of plastic. As Luke told Bio-Based News, “[w]e view this not just as changing the status quo, but hopefully starting an industry-wide revolution in how toys are made.” Let the revolution continue.