We all want the best for our children, yet what is considered as best is something we all parents and adults often debate about. When it comes to toys, the options are limitless. You are bound to find yourself completely overwhelmed with choices. It's very normal that any child will be over-the-moon when seeing the flashiest, shiniest and often times the most expensive item on a toy shelf, while wooden toys at the bottom or corner of the shelf gets pushed passed. However, as responsible adults, we need to consider these wooden toys even though they come across as minimal and simple with less to nothing in packaging.
If you're thinking why, let me tell you- firstly wooden toys never go out of style. They are also enjoyed for generations and are still going strong, unlike plastic high-tech devices that emerge but eventually drift away. Meet Shamin, the brains behind Pom's Island. They are the wooden toy makers who specialize in open ended wooden toys for children. With a growing number of followers to the brand, we wanted to know more about the brand and its products.
How would you introduce yourself? Who are you, where do you live and what do you do?
I’m Shamin and my current role is full time mom to an almost 3 year old ‘Pom’. I am a Mechatronic Engineer by profession and also used to teach A level Physics before I temporarily put my career on hold. We are from Colombo and currently reside in Ratmalana. Now I make magical wooden toys.
Q Tell us, what made you start Pom’s Island, what do you like about it?
When my son was around 6 months, my husband and I were on the lookout for some quality open-ended, wooden toys which weren’t easily available here in SL. We were both very much against using technology to keep our baby occupied and we were anti-screen time, at least till he was around 20 months old. As I enjoyed DIY activities I made some of these wooden toys for my son. And I thought, hey if it was so hard for me to find such toys in SL and if other parents like it, why not make it available for them too. And that’s how it began. Initially, we were only making the rainbow stackers and blocks but later moved on to peg dolls, matryoshka (nesting dolls) and now we’ve even started with play furniture.
What I love about my job is that I can be 100% me and create as I wish. My customers have been kind enough to let me take the lead with designs. And I feel I’m honestly in my element when I’m making these toys.
Q What’s the process like when making these wooden toys? how do you go about designing your toys?
It starts off as an idea and then a sketch (many sketches actually) and usually when I get an idea I’m super pumped and excited about it until we make the toy. In the case of our layers of the ocean stacker, there was a lot of research involved so a lot of learning for me in the process about the topic, and then my favourite and least favourite part is painting. Favourite cos I get to see the idea finally come to life and least favourite as I’m afraid I might mess it up in the process. Then it’s a matter of putting it out there and seeing the response it gets.. and thankfully so far we’ve been getting a good response for our original designs.
Q What is your favourite creation so far?
I feel like I’d be betraying my creations if I say I have a favourite. But the layers of the ocean stacker was an extra labour of love so it’s a little higher up on the list. It was created with so much love and lots of research, and even though it takes the longest to make, the reviews from parents who’ve purchased it makes it so worthwhile.
Q What are the benefits of wooden toys for children?
The most important benefit I would say is the imaginative aspect these wooden toys bring to the table. Open ended play is the most incredible thing you can do for your child. For instance, our large rainbow stacker, though it looks beautiful as a playroom display piece, has many uses. It can be used as a tunnel for cars, a cot for little dolls, used for ball runs, to make a cake tower, for colour recognition, a self-correcting puzzle, etc. I can go on and on. As adults, this is a difficult aspect for us to understand sometimes because we’re so used to the straight forward path. But give it to a child and you’ll see the magic they create with their imagination and an open-ended wooden toy.
There are many more benefits as well, like not contributing to plastic waste. Toys that don’t require batteries (aka more peace in the house). Aesthetically pleasing toys instead of loud, shiny, plastic toys. And the durability of the toy, wooden toys generally last longer than their plastic counterparts.
Q What about the safety and up keep of these wooden toys? Will there be any hazards?
So I am extra particular when it comes to the safety of our toys. A common misconception is that all wood is good, but that isn’t the case. Especially when it comes to little kids who have the tendency to put everything in their mouth. We stay away from teak and mahogany as it’s got harmful extractives and ideally if it’s a toy that’s meant as a teether, it should be made of oak, beech or maple. All of which aren’t freely available in SL (hence the hefty price tag for our toys)
We also steer clear of toys with small parts, as they pose a choking hazard. I spent a great deal of time (and money) on certified non-toxic paints and sealants. Even though I’ve noticed some parents don’t give it much thought in Sri Lanka, it’s a very important point to consider when buying wooden toys if the paint and sealant is safe.
Q How is the maintenance and durability for these toys?
So far I’ve not got any complaints but seeing as it’s a toy that doesn’t require batteries and uses ones imaginations, I’ve only been hearing good things about it from parents. As with all things, we should teach children to use things with care and hence prolong the life of their toys.
Q What is the hardest part about running a small, handmade business?
It would have to be keeping up with the orders. It’s a bit of a task managing to create/ make the item, photograph it, make it look cute for photos, market it online, answer queries, and then make, package and ship it and you can only rest once the item has reached its new owner and they’re satisfied.
Q How do you juggle motherhood and a career?
As this started off sort of as a hobby I never felt the need to juggle the two initially. It was more like my escape. Come nap-time I would start working on the orders. However when the number of orders peaked last May, which was when we started selling internationally, it took up a lot of my time and I started feeling guilty that I was maybe neglecting my son. So I switched to working late nights, and sometimes it went as late as 4am. I noticed recently this has impacted my health and I’ve had to put some healthy boundaries in place so that I am able to run this business properly. Being a good mom is my top priority and so I’ve had to cut down on the orders we take each month. Who knows, maybe it's time to expand and get someone to help out.
Q Tell us about your customer base and how one can purchase these toys?
So it was mostly parents of toddlers but now it’s expanded. As our product range got bigger our customer based increased accordingly. When we started our custom portrait peg dolls, most of them were ordered for boyfriends/girlfriends, we got pet peg dolls for animal lovers, wedding cake topper peg dolls for newlyweds. From educational toys it actually went into more seasons and how I could expand the business to bring joy to more people.
Currently, we sell locally via instagram (@poms_island) and sell internationally on Etsy (PomsIslandLK) If you’ve got a custom request, just send us a message and we’ll take it from there.
Q What is next for poms island?
We’ve had quite a bit of interest to offer our products to some retail outlets, both here and overseas, but due to lack of help I’ve not been able to work on that. So hopefully this year we’ll be able to fulfill that in the coming months.