The beautiful wooden toys and loose parts from ecological Spanish toy brand Grapat hold a very special place in our hearts at Teia Education & Play! We are delighted to bring you this touching interview with co-founder Casiana Monczar about the inspiration, story and sustainability values of this wonderful brand.
Family-run brand Joguines Grapat was founded in Catalonia, Spain by husband and wife team Casiana & Jordi. Grapat, which means “handful” in Catalan, create Waldorf inspired toys that encourage “play without instructions” and favour free, autonomous and small world play. Their handmade and sustainable wooden toys and mandala pieces are unique, with quirky and colourful designs that attract not only children!
What was your motivation for moving away from the City to lead a more modest life in the Spanish countryside?
We hadn’t felt comfortable in the city for a long time. Our oldest daughter had to start school and we couldn’t find a place for her in the schools we wanted. We even visited schools in Germany! After a couple of years of moving in search of this ideal school, we inherited a house in the Alt Empordà, in the north of Catalunya, in the little town where Jordi was born, and we decided to move there.
For the first year, Jordi was working in Barcelona, and I felt very alone accompanying our children and living quite alone with them. In that point we decided that either we all live together, the four of us, or we must move back to Barcelona. And that’s when Grapat stopped being an idea in our hearts and started to become a project.
What inspired you to found Grapat?
Grapat became a project when we moved to the countryside, but we always say that the idea started years before, when Lola was born. We decided not to offer her any toy, or no toy understood as such, but everyday elements that, in theory, belonged to the adult world. She used to play with old books to create doll houses, kitchen utensils, handkerchiefs, fabrics, and scarves…
When some toy got into our home, we let her interact with it, and 10 minutes after, when she was no longer interested, we put the toy in a big box called “purgatory”. If she didn’t ask for this toy, we gifted it to other kids. I think this was when Grapat started. We didn’t believe the toys were necessary for her, and we believed that the objects she (and probably all the kids) need are the ones that are present in her real life, these elements that connect them with their real environment.
We truly believe in unstructured pieces or elements, with the only condition that they offer what children need. If they would need things to pull, so we as adults need to offer objects to satisfy this need – wheels for example.
The Grapat workshop sounds like a very special place, could you tell us more about it?
Our workshop is a very special place for us. Actually, we moved more than 6 times in 6 years, but wherever it is, it’s still a special place. We were working in our home the first 3 years. We dyed the pieces where Jordi’s grandmother hung the tomatoes to make sauce or “pa amb tomata” (traditional Catalan bread with tomato) and did the finishes where she used to have donkeys.
When we first moved to a new bigger place, I felt afraid about “losing” our soul. But in fact, we feel that the place is not enough to lose anything, our soul (and everyone else) accompanies all of us wherever we go.
We know you work very hard on the sustainability of your production, could you tell us about some of your processes in making Grapat toys?
This is a very interesting point, because we didn’t think about sustainability as a “mission” in our project. We really are sustainable because it is our way of life. We had never felt comfortable explaining how sustainable we are, because this is not a marketing value but a real way of life. What is very important for us, is that sustainability is not only about the wood, that comes from controlled forests – and of course we are PEFC certified – or about using GOTS certificate fabrics… for us the concept is much more global.
Sustainability means accepting the slow process even though productively it is not optimal; it means to work on a schedule that favours flexible working hours so that our team members can take care of their kids; it means that we accept our supplier’s prices without negotiating them; it means respect for the other companies; it means respect for other creators and their ideas; it means respect for the time the pieces need to dry, which is not the same in summer as in winter.
For us sustainability is a big idea that means respect, from the tree to the children, going through our team of workers, their needs, the stores that take care of us, the distributors, suppliers… Respect for everyone and everything. Sustainability is also to produce pieces that last for years…
What other efforts do you make for a better environment and future for our children?
Our work is to improve in this direction every day. Every step we add makes us stop and think if it’s aligned with our purpose. For example, increasing the grammage of the packaging to make it more durable, or removing the plastic for the labelling. We firmly believe that the land that sustains us needs us to use less, and this is the direction we follow when making decisions in our production chain.
What are you most proud of in founding Grapat?
We are proud of knowing that thousands of kids are playing freely around the world. We believe that if we manage to help to develop a happy childhood, we’ll have happy humans in the future, and that will only be achieved if it is a childhood connected to their inner desires. This is only possible if they are free and we, as adults, respect their desires. I always say that I am at the service of childhood. I have them always in front of me, I see them, I care for them, they are the focus, we work for them. And then I speak to adults to explain what we believe in to make the world a bit better.
Which are your favourite Grapat toys?
What do you think children and adults alike love so much about Grapat toys?
I think the kids can feel free through our materials, I think they feel they were respected when someone in a little town from Catalunya created this for them. Probably not consciously, but I think they know that we understand their needs. The adults feel aligned with us, maybe because we explain that adults deserve to play too. I think that they love us because of our honesty.
Grapat is just what it shows: imperfect, vulnerable, young, fresh, caring. And this is felt by others, and we have a big community with people behind us from a long time ago. I speak with them on Instagram, I always have time to answer, because we care for them.
What are your own children’s favourite ways to play with Grapat toys?
For many years they used to make huge creations at home, especially Small World play that took up the entire living room and couldn’t be touched for weeks, not even to clean ☺ They also painted the pieces with their own patterns and some of their ideas became reality afterwards. Now, they are a bit older and probably prefer other things, but as we don’t have screens at home, they still play and play all day.
Where do you draw inspiration for your new products?
My inspiration comes from simple things, I see a new figure shape in a doorknob, in a peanut, in a potato, in a piece broken off a shell, in my son’s tooth that fell out. I have a huge box (sometimes more than one) with some absurd pieces like this (to prevent the potato from rotting in this box, I work in modelling clay or beeswax ☺).
I am obsessed with very little things, with recipients, with the unstructured shapes, because I think the pieces in themselves are only an excuse, the children will play with anything they have.
Why did you decide not to buy your children toys made from commercial materials?
After 12 years being a mother, I found myself being flexible and attentive to the needs of my children.
What I always had clear is that the material that I offer my children must give very little information, so that they are the ones who generate it, and transform it into what they need.
I prefer plastic glasses over a wooden telephone, for example.
When our oldest daughter turned 8, she needed to feel reflected in a doll that “is her” (as she told us) and not “my baby”. The Lotties were the first structured toy that came into my house.
I think it is not an easy path, it’s easier to buy what you find in the shop. Otherwise, the experience they have through tools, wooden pieces, carabiners, ropes, cardboard boxes, handkerchiefs, giant fabrics, sticks of different sizes, etc. is much more difficult for the families to manage, to keep tidy and organised, but in my opinion, this is a period of time in our life, and the effort was worth it!
What is your favourite season and why? Does it influence your product design?
I love Autumn, and yes, in Autumn is when the ideas come out from these boxes full of stupid things, and start being on my table. Fortunately, the annual schedule of the toy world is aligned with my own rhythm. In Autumn I find the pieces that inspired me, and little by little they become real. Winter is the moment when the earth goes inside, and so do I, and a big reflection process starts growing, but only inside me.
Then in spring is when the ideas are born, exactly as animals, and Summer is when they need to be materialized “outside”, showed to my team and technically developed to make them possible. In some way the summer vibes make me feel that these ideas start being part of all of us at Grapat, they aren’t mine anymore. And around October, when my team is working on them, I feel empty and ready to go again to these boxes full of potatoes and peanuts to find more new ideas ☺
Another very important point is that in Spring I go to “hunt colours”. There is nothing more inspiring than the very first days of Spring, between the time the strawberries end and the almond trees bloom, there is something so beautiful in nature that “lights a spark in me” and my body already knows that the time is coming to observe nature hunting for colours.
We hope you enjoyed this interview with Casiana from Grapat! Read more about the brand and shop the full Grapat toys collection here.