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March 1, 2021

Maker of the Month: So Handmade

We love curating a fun selection of clever and functional kids’ toys on our site and our March Maker of the Month has a brilliant approach to designing and making them. Meet Sarah Omura of So Handmade, an upstate New York-based maker who sews and screenprints toys for children that encourage imaginative play on the go—without screens. Read on to get to know Sara and learn more about her process!

You’re a textile designer, seamstress, and mother of small children. How have these roles combined since starting So Homemade?

I think So Handmade wouldn’t have come about without the alignment of all these factors! Having young kids at home, I needed an outlet for my own creativity—designing functional products with my kids in mind allowed me to combine all of these roles perfectly. I made my first product, my car roll, for my son—he was a toddler and wanted to bring his toy cars with him wherever we went. He was always losing them, or I would find them at the bottom of pockets or bags.

I decided that there had to be a better way to store them to bring along with us, so I started designing this car roll. I wanted something he could also play his cars on when we were out to eat or at Grandma’s house. This was the product that initiated the trajectory of my business today and is still one of my bestsellers.

 

All of So Handmade’s toys encourage imaginative play. What is your process like for designing a new toy concept?

I get lots of ideas from customers, especially at craft events. I love chatting with moms who tell me what their kids enjoy and what challenges they have in finding open-ended and imaginative toys for their kids.

I usually think about these ideas for a while before starting to design, and often wake up in the middle of the night with ideas. I start with the construction of a new product. For example, with my car playmat, I knew I wanted to have bigger pockets to fit larger toy cars, so I started with the size that the pockets would have to be. Then I wanted a playmat design that would fold over the pocket to stop the cars falling out. Once I had the basic shape, I sewed some prototypes and tested them out with toy cars (and I decided to add a bridge for extra enjoyment). Once I had the basic shapes of the fabric pieces I would need, I then put pen to paper to design what would be printed on them. I then screen print the final design onto the fabric and sew a prototype to test it out—if it’s successful, then I will make a larger production run.

Sarah Omura of So Handmade in her studio with her childSarah Omura of So Handmade in her studio with her child

Sarah Omura of  So Handmade sitting  at a table with her child and playingSarah Omura of  So Handmade sitting  at a table with her child and playing
“Having toys specifically for play-on-the-go offers kids ways to use their imaginations and creativity away from screens, which helps them notice the world around them.”
Sarah Omura  of So Handmade holding up one of her playmatsSarah Omura  of So Handmade holding up one of her playmats

Two children playing with So Handmade playmats whlie sitting on the floorTwo children playing with So Handmade playmats whlie sitting on the floor

An So Handmade crayon pouch on a wooden kids' table  wiith crayons An So Handmade crayon pouch on a wooden kids' table  wiith crayons

We love how important sustainability is to your brand! Why does this matter to you and how does this ethos factor into the products you design?

I became very conscious of sustainability when I lived and worked in a rural part of Namibia, Southern Africa for six years before coming to the states. I originally went as a volunteer to work with local craft groups to help them design and produce crafts to sell to the burgeoning tourism industry. In this very dry area of the world, I saw firsthand the devastating effects that deforestation and climate change were having on the people and the environment.

When I launched So Handmade, this was one of the most important building blocks for how I wanted the business to grow.

I am very conscious of the environment when I am designing my products—in the materials I use (I try to use organic wherever I can), but also in how I design and screenprint my products. I position the pieces for printing in a way that minimizes fabric waste, and I save all my scraps and partner with other makers to use these scraps for cushion filling and even dog collars.

Far too many toys are made from unrecycled plastic using wasteful and harmful manufacturing practices. I feel that choosing to purchase toys made from eco-friendly materials that last is a step towards living a more sustainable lifestyle.

 

So many of your products are made to be portable! What are the benefits of having toys specifically for play on-the-go?

As I mentioned, my son always wanted to bring his cars everywhere we went. He also would never sit still, which would make eating out or traveling a complete nightmare! I couldn’t find many toys that catered to busy kids like him, and that were specifically made for portability. My playmats can help busy kids focus and engage with something while in a small space, or while out and about. I believe my products benefit the children who play with them as well as the parents who can relax while their children play happily.

Having toys specifically for play-on-the-go offers kids ways to use their imaginations and creativity away from screens, which helps them notice the world around them and engage in open-ended play. Screens can be very lonely and isolating, but by having a playmat the family can join in and create stories and memories together. 

 


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