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Written by Tiny Loves Slow — Meet the Maker

september 27 2017

Written by Tiny Loves Slow — Meet the Maker

Sometimes you can just smell the love that goes into a handmade toy. That’s how I felt when I first saw the beautiful watercolor animals made by Femke Brouwer for her collection, Maple Forest Toys. As soon as I started chatting to Femke, I understood that each and every one of her animals is created with a specific personality and purpose in mind. So grab a cuppa, sit down and enjoy reading about Femke’s journey, a literal one from New York to Amsterdam and a creative one, from a child psychologist to successful businesswoman and maker of beautiful things. 

1. Tell us a little bit about you, your family and where you live?

I’m 35, living in Amsterdam with my husband Steven van Wel, daughter Pien (5) and son Mees (3). I run an office from home where all the magic happens. I used to be a child psychologist and before moving to New York I worked with Child Services for 3.5 years. We moved to New York because of my husband’s company. My daughter was five months old, my son was born there. After settling in I quickly started working as a teacher to kids for a Dutch school. As well as this, I started searching for new meanings to focus my talents on. I’ve always wanted to shed more light on my creative side and the inspiring atmosphere in New York and taking care of my children quickly stirred me towards Maple Forest. At first, my mind went wild with all the possibilities and looking back this was probably the first tough hurdle: where to start?

2. Tell us more about the creation of your business?

I’ve always considered play to be the best teacher to kids there is, discovering the world around you, learning symbols, math, language and social interactions. Your child starts with a toy before it moves on to the adult world. Waldorf and Montessori have always been important key elements in how I try to raise my kids. Waldorf toys are typically close to nature in how they are made and what they look like. Although my toys don’t resemble Waldorf in a traditional sense, they are very much inspired upon.

3. What inspired you to focus your designs on watercolor and forest animals?

I’ve always loved the whimsical element in watercolor. Somehow I wanted this to be incorporated into my design. I can draw, but the watercolor design is not a huge talent. I found an artist in Chicago, Niki Stage, to work with me to make my vision come to life. It was a trying task because of the 3D element in the pattern. She stuck with me though and the end result is just beautiful. You can see more of Niki’s work here  The plushies are the foundation I wanted to put down first before embarking on other products. The focus though has always been creating products that spark imagination and foster healthy attachments. The plushies and the lovey can truly become friends with whom together you safely discover the world with. A lot of new products are already a work in progress. Currently, I’m working on rhyme cards that go with the plushies to help toddlers with certain emotions like fear or anger. Hopefully, when both my kids go to school, I can realize my dream of writing a children’s book about them.

4. You have a family, how do you juggle your time between your home and the business?

Juggling time between the kids, home and work is difficult. Especially when you have your own company. Your brain never shuts down – what the next step has to be or where you find the time to realize it all. As well as making the dolls, I have to keep up with the administration, preparing for markets and make sure my online presence is up to date. The whole marketing aspect of creating a brand out of your product and getting it to the people has been the second greatest hurdle. It’s not something that comes naturally to me so it has come with frustrations from time to time. My husband has been a great help in everything. In the four years we lived in New York I stood by his side to grow his company. When I started to push forward with mine, he naturally did the same. Through the week, taking care of the kids is 50-50. He brings the kids to school and for two days in the week picks them up as well. He does the groceries and we split cooking meals during the week. On the weekends, he does a lot of cleaning. We have a rule; when the kids are home we are WITH the kids and try to set all other things aside until we have put them to bed. We both work a lot at night.  When this isn’t possible one of us takes over to let the other one finish. It’s a work in progress but we are getting better at it.

5. What do you love most about running your own business?

What I love most about running my own business are the challenges. The whole process really took me out of my comfort zone. I’ve learned so much! When something that only lived in your mind comes to life, it’s a magical experience and very satisfying. What makes me happy is the feedback I get. When my products inspire, make a difference and create happy faces, I’ve done what I set out to do.