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Aloha woman stresses sustainable, U.S.-made toys with home business
Sweet natured and unassuming, Lindsay Wills is the last person to browbeat others about how they should live or spend their money. That said, the Aloha mother of four takes the topic of children's toys rather seriously.
On her long journey through motherhood, Wills, 35, became gradually wearied by the proliferation of toys and games that a) promote violence and aggression while discouraging creativity; b) are made with toxic materials through unsustainable means; and c) eventually end up in the landfill, where they languish and emit poisons for thousands of years.
While pursuing degrees in health sciences and community health education at Portland State University, the Beaverton High School graduate decided to do something about it: She developed her own organic toy business.
Operated out of her house since 2009, Naturally Playful focuses on toys, games, books and other products made - where possible - with renewable, organic materials that are free of toxins and made to hand down to subsequent generations.
Wills' products are either made in the United States or elsewhere through certified fair trade practices. For the unfamiliar, 'fair trade' is an organized, market-based philosophy and approach that promotes sustainability and improved labor and trading conditions in developing countries.
'Most games out there tend to be violent, loud and overstimulating to kids,' she says from her living room with her 5-year-old son Theo by her side. 'They're made with very unsafe materials and maybe even bad labor practices.
"And the overstimulation," she adds. "A lot of the kids on this street don't even know how to play a game where you don't have to have guns and shooting. My kids are outside a lot. They definitely need to play. With (school) recess gone down to, like, 20 minutes a day, they don't learn how to play.'
Back to basics
Naturally Playful's offerings include toy animals, building blocks and play sets all made of wood, as well as toy trains, planes and recycled toy cars. For musically inclined tots she has drums, shakers and flutes, all made through fair trade practices. Games and kits from Naturally Playful include down-to-earth variations of classics such as 'America Opoly,' her best seller, 'Fairy Opoly,' 'Illustory,' and 'Farm,' an earth-friendly variation on Lincoln Logs.
Through her website, www.naturallyplayful.net , Wills also sells organic art supplies and body-care products for children as well as sports equipment and games.
Lest a more mainstream-minded individual question Wills' off-the-beaten-path approach to toys, games and sales practices as somehow subversive, keep in mind her devotion to products made as close to home as possible.
'People always say, 'I want to buy stuff made in the U.S.A.,'' she says. 'I usually buy anything made in the U.S. or made elsewhere (such as Canada or Egypt) through fair trade. I try to always stick with it. It's hard. I do a lot of searching.'
Most important to Wills, however, is the health and welfare of children, both now and in the future.
'Even if my kids aren't playing with (chemically based toys), when they're manufactured or when they're going to the landfill, they're gonna affect the children's air and water,' she says. 'It's definitely a throwaway society.'
True to herself
Aloha resident Jill Luethe, Wills' sister and frequent customer, says she appreciates her sibling's mission and sees the difference in how her own children, Bailey, Lucy and Wyatt, interact with toys and games from Naturally Playful.
'We love the toys Lindsay sells, and we own the majority of them,' she says. 'I know when I am buying them, they are safe and not contaminated with lead paint. I know they are not made by a child my children's age, and I know they will last. They are all quiet - besides one hammer toy - and when my children play with them, I can see their imagination rolling.'
Furthermore, Luethe supports Wills' business pursuits as a fitting extension of her principles and personality.
'Lindsay would probably only have a job if it was something she believed in,' Luethe says. 'Lindsay is doing something that she not only has passion in but, that she makes her life motto.'
As high a standard as Wills sets for the products she markets and sells, she tries not to be heavy handed with her own children, who range from 5 to 16 years old.
'We do have a Wii,' she confesses. 'They're limited to two half-hour sessions a week. We have a TV and video games, but they're very scheduled and regulated.'
Still, she's learned to accept good-natured grief from her parents and other friends and family members who share her full passion regarding commerce, children and the environment.
Not even her dad's favorite label - or her own inconsistencies - throws Wills off course.
'I'm not a hippie,' she says with a laugh. 'I own leather clothes, eat meat and drive a minivan. I mean, what could be worse for the environment than having five kids?'
A different way of baking
In addition to her Naturally Playful toy and game business, Lindsay Wills has operated the similarly themed Starting from Scratch bakery from her home since 2007.
Inspired by food allergies suffered by her and her relatives' children, Wills, 35, creates allergy friendly baked good and treats.
She's considered opening an actual retail shop, but for now is keeping the operation homespun.
'Right now it's just word of mouth - family friends and co-workers,' she says.
The organic, allergy free nature of her treats don't seem to throw off too many neophytes thus far.
'Texture is the main thing. They say the texture is different,' she says. 'Everyone eats my stuff all the time. It's all I ever serve.'