Around five years ago, Brothers Chris and Will Haughey sought out to establish a for-profit company in Honduras that bolstered sustainability, local economy and the quality of life for the community. Hailing from a family with a history in woodworking, the duo eventually noticed that Honduras was the perfect place to sustainably harvest tropical hardwoods. Over the next several years, they both left lucrative jobs to create a classic wooden toy company, Tegu, which sources and produces its toy parts in Honduras. For each Tegu wooden toy set that consumers purchase they can choose to sponsor a Honduran child to attend school for a day or plant trees. Tegu’s massive replanting and educational initiatives have already seen some 34,500 trees planted in Honduras and paid for 3,300 days of schooling. The company’s Mobility line also recently scooped up a Dr. Toy Best Green Toy gold award. Scooter spoke with Will Haughey to learn more about the company and how it makes its toys.
How did Tegu begin?
It all began with a personal connection: before starting Tegu, my brother Chris had been a consultant with The Boston Consulting Group, using his engineering background and Spanish fluency to help clients in Latin America. After a business meeting in Honduras, Chris reconnected with some old friends who had begun a boys’ home in the capital city Tegucigalpa. He was struck by the depth and degree of poverty, particularly in Tegucigalpa, whose municipal trash dump served as home to about 200 children, scavenging recyclables and bits of discarded food. Unemployment was and is severe in Honduras, far worse than we’ve ever experienced here in the USA, even during the Great Depression. Chris was beginning to noodle with the idea of starting a business, using Honduras’ natural resources, to create jobs and build something great. He quickly gravitated to wood and timber, a resource he believed held significant opportunity. So here was this country with the potential for a vast renewable resource of tropical hardwoods, and a large, untapped pool of talent. He put two and two together, and, after brainstorming with me, we came up with the idea of starting a wood products-based company. Today, each tree that we harvest is replaced at least 100 times over with newly planted saplings. Customers can also donate trees or school days directly on our site. We’ve planted almost 35,000 trees to date and we support a school that gets those kids out of the trash dump.
What sort of research goes in to your designs?
Unscripted block play is foundational in the classical pedagogies, from Montessori to Waldorf, because they develop children’s creativity and abstract reasoning through interaction with concrete materials. Studies show that children who build more complex block structures also score higher in mathematical reasoning. We wanted to bring the classic wooden block into the 21st century, so we began simply by observing children of all ages playing with blocks and discovered that the blocks served as storytelling devices. Children naturally used them to construct mini worlds in which they play out real life experiences and make-believe ones. After developing the prototype of the magnetic wooden blocks, we knew we had hit upon something truly special. Children were fascinated with Tegu. They built with greater speed, confidence and concentration. Unscripted play, holistic development and moments of discovery thus became the foundation of our own pedagogy and the principles that guide as we develop new toys.
What’s it like creating products that engage people of all ages?
When people ask us what the target age group is, we tell them it’s for ages zero to 99 because they honestly delight people of all ages. I have friends who have Tegu blocks as desk accessories (they’re beautiful and great for procrastinating), and grandparents who love to get on the floor and build with their grandchildren. They’re the kind of toys that you buy for your kids, play with yourself and then cherish for years until grandchildren make an appearance on the scene.
Do employees’ families give you new ideas, advice and test Tegu products?
All the time! We have many moms on Team Tegu and their kids are constantly weighing in on these matters—what they like, what’s frustrating, what we should make next. One thing is for sure—the Tegu kids are a lucky bunch.
What’s the hardest part about being a sustainable and foreign-operating company in today’s market?
When people are used to buying cheap toys made in China that have a six month utility, it can be tough convincing parents that it’s worthwhile to invest in a toy that’s designed to grow with a child for years and makes a positive impact on the planet. Replanting the rainforest, using natural materials, paying living wages in Honduras—we’re committed to these issues but they do not come cheaply.
Follow Benjamin-Emile Le Hay via RSS.