Meet the Team: Eric & Albert
Huge thanks to Jo Le Page for taking the time to organise an interview with Rebecca from Eric & Albert!
Eric & Albert is a wooden toy brand that create beautiful figures that inspire open-ended imaginative play.
Did you start Eric & Albert, Rebecca? How/when did Eric and Albert crafts start out?
My husband Martin and I started Eric and Albert’s in Oct 2017. Inspired by our Grandads, Eric (Rebecca’s Grandad) and Albert (Martin’s grandad), we had been crafting as a hobby for nearly a decade together as a hobby and pastime. After we had our son Dylan we finally took the plunge to turn our passion into a new way of life for our little family with the aim of getting a better balance with life and work.
Did you have a history in woodwork or designing?
We had very different previous careers and are entirely self taught, although, we have crafted for many years together and have been avid woodworking hobbyists. Formerly, Martin had a career as an IT consultant and I (Rebecca) was a marine biologist.
How do you manage production? Workshops etc?
As predominantly only a husband and wife team our business has grown so wonderfully and almost faster than we can keep up. Martin works in the workshop full time cutting and shaping the toys and I now work four days in the workshop doing shaping and finishing work and I do the majority of painting work with some support one day a week. We then undertake all the admin, tagging, packing, marketing, social media, communications in house too juggled around life.
We juggle both direct and trade orders alongside each other by allowing about 60:40% of time to trade and direct sales respectively. Our workshop spaces are basically just our home! Our wood workshop for the past nearly 3 years is our single garage – it started as just a portion of the garage and has slowly taken over the entire space. We use our spare bedroom as our stock/ packing room and our painting studio is our dining room! The last 2.5 years have been a very steep learning curve and we work very long hours juggling life and work. In all honesty we’re far from reaching that better balance of life and work that we were striving for! But we’re getting there slowly and it is worth every minute. We really love what we do and are so proud of each and every little creature we create. We can’t believe the response from all our wonderful fans to date and thanks to all the wonderful and loyal customers we are now desperate to expand and get more hands on deck!
We have so many plans for new products but are limited by capacity at the moment as for the past two years it has been mainly just myself and Martin trying to keep pace with demand. Some of our new product ranges in the pipeline that we hope to release in the next two years will include dinosaurs; pets and some more people figurines.
We started our little venture alongside our full time careers whilst parenting and have started it from nothing with no investment/ loans behind us. As a result from the wonderful support from our friends, family and customers (both direct and our retailers) it has grown far quicker than we ever anticipated. It has been very hard work juggling business and life and we’ve been working crazy hours for the last 2.5 years, but we’ve been amazed at the demand and are so grateful to all the support from our customers. As a result we’re now currently starting the process of relocating with the aim of acquiring a larger workshop whilst simultaneously building our team to be able to undertake a greater pace of manufacturing.
What is your inspiration?
As my previous career was in conservation and we have both always been real eco warriors immersing ourselves in nature, the outdoors and are true wildlife/ animal lovers – all of these have been our direct inspiration for bringing the natural world to life through play. Our inspiration for having a more traditional craftsmanship business was from our crafty Grandfathers and the real motivation for taking the leap of faith was our son, with the aim of creating a more family orientated, gentle and present lifestyle.
Where did the name Eric and Albert come from?
Both of us (Rebecca and Martin) were heavily influenced as children by our crafty and creative late Grandad’s. My (Rebecca’s) Grandad – Eric was a wonderful painter and loved tinkering away in the shed on a latest project. As children we always got involved and had little jobs and parts to play. He was my first and ongoing art teacher throughout life always there for advice and support and encouragement. Martin’s grandad – Albert was forever making toys and games and tinkering away on models and projects getting him involved from a young age and passing on the creative gene. Ultimately their creativity inspired our appetite for always crafting and creating throughout adulthood and once we had our son, Dylan, we decided that we wanted a change of pace from our fast track careers in IT and conservation that were forever calling us away from our family unit. And so our little brand of Eric and Albert toys was born!
What are you currently working on? And what is new for Eric and Albert (if you can say)?
As we are rather limited in our physical capacity we have had to limit new releases more as we’ve progressed and we try hard to hold ourselves back, which we find incredibly difficult! We aim to release a few new products each quarter/season to help build our existing collection. We have recently just launched some new farm and woodland animals which might already have been seen by some of the readers (alpaca, duck family, new chickens, mole and squirrel along with a couple of exclusive Easter products just for us) and in May/June we will release a handful of new ocean and safari/ wild animals for summer. We are also working on something a little different in the background for display purposes – so watch this space!
What other work or any charities is Eric and Albert involved in?
We have been approached by a few of the fav UK nature conservation charities and are in early discussions about some future projects we will be working on together – but it’s a little early to say any more.
What would you like customers to know about you?
Our environmental ethos
Our biggest priority has always been to have an authentic, natural and sustainable product. We have always loved wooden toys but when becoming parents at the time we were a little disappointed at the limitations surrounding the availability of sustainable UK made toys. We wanted to encourage a natural and non-consumerist home and ensuring a low carbon footprint has always been important to us whenever making any purchases in life. We like to support local and handmade but found this a difficult option when it came to the toy market in the UK. Given our backgrounds, sustainability naturally became central to our business. We have both always had an ecological focus in everything we do: from our lifestyle, to our interests and recreational time, to our careers. I’ve spent 15 years studying and working in marine conservation and so we’re very conscious of the impacts our everyday lives have upon our fauna and flora. So many of our everyday practices and approaches are quite damaging and can quite easily be replaced by alternatives. It’s all about attitude and habit. Our love for the environment and our eco conscious approach continued as we become parents and one of our main discoveries of new parenthood was that there was very little available in the way of eco wooden toys made locally. There are a few bigger brands but as they were all abroad we felt there was a gap in the market for a UK brand where we could reduce our carbon footprint as well as ensuring eco practices.
Being eco-friendly can quite often be quite a fashionable tag to add to a product these days but to really have sustainable practices at a heart of a business it must filter through to every aspect of what you do, it’s not as simple as just where you source your wood. Here at Eric and Albert’s our wood supplier is not only sustainable, but grown in Britain too to reduce the carbon footprint. We plan well in advance so as to place less orders reducing the transportation needs and in turn reducing pollution/emissions. We also give a lot of thought about the species of wood we choose to use – how fast growing it is, whether it’s native and how widely available etc. We also consider the waste elements using sawdust in the garden and compost whilst any scrap that can no longer be used for anything else is used as fuel on our log-burner. We also gift any excess sawdust and wood to our local children outdoor groups (sawdust for compost loos and scrap wood for fires) . Other sustainable practices that we have ensured within our business are that any packaging from any other resources we make sure we recycle and any of our own packaging, tags and flyers we ensure we use companies using recycled paper and card and eco friendly inks; we use natural plant based vegan stains to finish our products; paper packaging tape; only use natural twines and cords and don’t use any plastic based products.
Thanks Rebecca for taking the time to tell us more about Eric & Elbert! You can shop the amazing wooden toy collection here – https://www.babipur.co.uk/eric_and_alberts