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Maker We Love: Tree Hopper Toys

Discover the wooden playthings that will teach your kids the hipster ABCs and so much more.

They say everything old is new again – that’s particularly true of the imaginative goods made by Tree Hopper Toys. Crafted by hand in the Midwest from sustainable hardwood – yep, the old-fashioned way – the playthings could have sprung from your grandfather’s toy chest. Yet, founder Eric Siegel has found a way to make them infinitely modern.

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Imagine ABC blocks redone hipster style, with “M” for moustache and “U” for unicorn. And wooden teethers shaped like pizza slices. And matching games featuring bold graphics of iconic worldwide landmarks. The list goes on.

We’re so glad to now be selling the toys and sharing their magic with families for the holidays. Find out more what makes them special in this Q&A with Eric, who talks about how his business came to be and what inspires it.

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Unison: You are bringing back the joy in traditional games and toys. Why was it important to you to start a company like Treehopper Toys?

Eric: It’s a fun, exciting, non-stop education. Every day we learn more about making things and working as a small team to make toys for thousands of families to enjoy. It’s SO fun to see kids (and especially my own) having fun with something we created!

Unison: How long have you been doing this and what did you do prior?

Eric: I’ve been doing Tree Hopper for almost six years, and prior to that I studied art and design and worked as a picture framer in Chicago as well as doing graphic design on the side.

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Unison: Tell us about your craftsmanship — everything from the choice of wood to process.

Eric: Everything we make has some handmade element, and we use a variety of materials, based on what is best suited for a particular product.  Many of our parts are made for us, and then we do all of the printing, assembly and finishing in house.

Unison: What is your studio like and how does it serve to inspire you?

Eric: We just moved into a shiny new shop/office/warehouse/studio this summer. It’s basically just big open spaces, sectioned off for printing, woodworking, etc. Our previous space was half the size of our new one, so having room to spread out has been really nice!

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Unison: Your toys have gotten a lot of buzz. What are some fan favorites?

Eric: We have a variety depending on the market, but in general the Match Stacks, Whoa-Bots, and Hipster ABCs are our top sellers.

Unison: The Hipster ABC Blocks have a cult following. How did you come up with the idea?

Eric: There are SO many educational ABC blocks and matching sets, books, etc., but they all have the same vocabulary. I just wanted to do a random fun assortment of things I like, and when I looked at the whole collection and tried to figure out the common theme, it mostly seemed to be hipster stuff, so I just went with it!

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Unison: How do you come up with new toy and game ideas?

Eric: Really just by playing and messing around in the shop. We don’t try to reinvent the wheel — we just put our own personal spin on educational and play concepts that have been around for ages.

Unison: Any kids in your life that test-drive your creations and ideas? Do you have any little helpers?

Eric: Yes. I have a 4 year old and 5 1/2 year old, both boys, with another boy due any day now! I also have a TON of nieces and nephews that help test things out.

Unison: Do you also create products for adults? If so, what?

Eric: I actually just launched a side project called Product Public (www.productpublic.com), which is a catch all for all of the non-kid related objects I want to make.  We just launched a series of wall clocks, and will soon be adding a variety of durable goods and gifts for the home.

Unison: What do you think is the future of toys and games for kids? How would you like to play a role in it?

Eric: Obviously iPads and video games are becoming more and more popular, but I think there will always be a place for traditional tactile toys and games. As a parent of young kids, I definitely try to strike a balance between tech and tradition, because both have their benefits and limitations.

Thanks, Eric! And for all of you toy and design fans out there, shop the Tree Hopper Toys collection at unisonhome.com