Where our toys come from…

If you would rather not think about it, feel free to move on to another happier post.  This one isn’t meant to be a downer and I’m by no means an expert on the matter.  I own my fair share of made in China clothes and toys.  I get excited when I find a shirt on sale at Old Navy for $.97.  But when I pause and think, as my sister reminded me the day I bought that shirt, about the conditions of where that shirt was made and how much someone got paid to make it.  The reality is they were probably less than ideal and their wages were likely next to nothing.  I know one could argue that it’s just the way the world works but when you stop and think about it, it isn’t very wonderful.

During the gift-giving time of year that is soon to come, I think more about this issue than I do the rest of the year.  It doesn’t take a genious to figure out that it costs more money to buy something made in America than something made in China.  There are complicated, involved and overwhelming details that give reason to that fact.

Last year we tried to make a shift to simpler, more handmade gifts.  I shopped garage sales and thrift stores and discovered the lovely land of Etsy.  Instead of filling stockings with toys from the dollar store that were cheap, plastic, junky things that would end up in our trash in a few days, we bought small books from a used book store and I sewed up some simple projects for each of the kids.

I also tracked down a couple things we were looking for on Craigslist that were almost new – the kids never knew they’d been played with already and if they had I’m not sure they would even care.

As I sat with Rylee this week and looked for baby dolls for Audrey for Christmas online, she said “Why aren’t we looking at the plastic ones like my old baby?”.  I decided to broach the topic with her and we had a long talk about how (and where) some toys are made and that some are made by children her age in countries where most people are poor and no one takes a stand to make sure everyone is treated fairly while they work.

There are gads of newspaper articles and forums online and groups that lobby for human rights.  In reading them, here is one quote from a Washington Post article:

In the city of Dongguan in southern Guangdong province, where Wal-Mart suppliers are concentrated, a 27-year-old worker who gave her name as Miss Qin complained that she can rarely afford meat with her $75-per-month wages at Kaida Toy Co. “Every day we eat vegetables, mostly we eat vegetables,” she said, leaning over a plate of fried carrots in a dingy restaurant.

Qin helps make plastic toy trains for Wal-Mart, but says she cannot afford to buy toys for her 9-year-old son. “In four years, they haven’t increased the salary,” she said.

It is so much easier to turn a blind eye to this that it is to give it a second thought.

I would have rather not talked about that with my 6 1/2  year old but I really believe that she is old enough to understand.  I want to do my best to raise children who dare to ask questions, who are willing to do things differently even if it’s not the status quo and who have the courage to stand up for justice whether it’s cool or not.

So little conversations like these, in my own opinion, help us live that out with our kids.

Rylee helped me choose a lovely hand crafted, locally made baby doll for Audrey for Christmas.  It is unique and beautiful in it’s own handmade kind of way.  It was obviously more expensive than a baby doll from Target.  But it will be her only gift this year, instead of several cheaper things that would end up broken or given away in a month or two.

There are still some things I’ll buy from Amazon and of course we’ll pick up some Legos for the boys but in general, we’re working hard to buy local, handmade items even though that means less bang for the buck.  I’ll put together my favorite kid gifts for the year in case you are interested in any ideas…



It’s definitely easier to not think about these things. It is a very sad reality. Really makes you think though…

Kristin McKinnon

I am very interested in your favorite kid gifts! This is an interesting topic that I’d love to discuss more with you. I just took back a birthday present of Elise’s to Costco because it was plastic and falling apart after 20 minutes out of the package (Fisher-Price too). Love the idea of buying gifts that last, that kids enjoy more, and especially that support the right things. Sigh. How to do that. That worker’s comments in the magazine article are sad.


Bravo!! One thing my girls love to do this time of year when the sun goes to sleep early and it rains a lot, is sit in the dining room with me and paint Christmas ornaments . They get on grandma’s tree, and ours, and maybe their friends’, but it is just fun to hang out together like that.