JUNKO all began when I was making a junk model car from a juice carton with my kids and we didn’t have anything to make working wheels with… if only!
I’m a graphic designer and I love making stuff, so it seemed fairly natural to start thinking about a solution to the wheels - by sketching, taking long baths etc. To start with, I wasn’t thinking it would become a product, but as time went on, with the plastic crisis and society producing more junk than we know what to do with it seemed like helping kids make working toys out of junk might just be about be right for our times.
There were a few puzzles to solve. I wanted the wheels to be able to attach to all shapes and types of junk, boxes, bottles, cartons which can be bendy, flat and curved. I wanted the wheels to be easily reusable and I also wanted them to have power but not use a motor or batteries. That way the kit is mechanical, and kids can see and experiment with how it works and of course it's more eco-friendly.
With some potential solutions the next step was to start testing. I had to learn some CAD skills to start designing parts. We then took the plunge and bought a 3D printer. I don't know how people did any of this without a 3D printer, they can be a bit of pain when they go wrong, but on the whole they're flipping amazing. So, two years later we’re launching JUNKO. It’s been a massive learning journey, we have literally bag-loads of prototypes (3D printed in eco-friendly PLA made from cornstarch you'll be pleased to hear). We tried, we failed, we tried again until eventually we had a system which is as flexible junk-wise as I think it can be. It's still junk modelling, still messy creative and fun, just better!
In addition to the frame and wheels we’ve developed some re-usable fixings called J-Fixes which can connect all kinds of junk together quickly and use less tape, glue and with hopefully fewer tears! (How many kids' junk models end up in frustration as the yogurt pots fall off with the sellotape or glue giving way for the umpteenth time?). Sticky tape and glue both tend to involve single-use plastics so we were keen to avoid them. Have a look in our make section to see examples of how they can be used..
JUNKO launched to market a year ago and what a year it's been. We know sustainable toys are still a niche, hopefully one day they will be the norm! Many parents resign themselves to the sea of plastic toys their kids get, it's hard to fight it! The good news is that awareness is growing of the need for ethical/responsible shopping and we love that plastic-free and refill shops are starting to appear on high streets. For our part we focussed on making an original, quality, European made product, made from recycled material which should hopefully give years of fun. Obviously that makes it more expensive than toys which are mass produced far away in unregulated factories and are then transported thousands of miles to europe and end up in landfill waste all too soon.
The joy of JUNKO is that it's not a pre-defined toy kit, or a kit where you just attach one junk item to complete the toy. Rather, it becomes part of pretty much any size junk model allowing kids the freedom and creativity to make whatever they want. JUNKO can integrate into existing play and toys. We hope it's a new way of thinking for creative kids and parents...for instance don’t buy a plastic car for your favourite doll, make one, then make another better one! Make vehicles for your favourite action figures. JUNKO even has bobbles so you can attach your figures from that really famous plastic brick company. Make a doll's house, a castle, a speed boat... it's all possible with JUNKO, junk and imagination.
True to our eco-friendly ethos the kits are made in the UK & EU from recycled plastic. More companies could and should be doing this, I hope they will as there are tonnes of plastic waiting to be reused. (I read the other day if we recycled everything we could, that would apparently meet 75% of our annual UK plastic requirement!) We've intentionally avoided bioplastics as we believe the land used for growing the crops used for bioplastics could be better used for food or reforestation to help fight climate change.
Of course, we also made sure JUNKO is packaged without the use of plastic, it is just held in 100% recyclable card tubes.
We're trying spread the message of JUNKO... We want to get as many children away from screens (not completely of course!) and learning design and construction and craft skills and making fantastic junk creations as we can. We have to compete with astronomical marketing spends of the big toy manufacturers, many of whom are not really taking being green as seriously as you would hope. So if you enjoy JUNKO please tell your friends.
Joe & Paul from Vegtrug for all the useful contacts, business and product launching advice. Andy Booth at KFIE for sorting out all the production - 3D models, tooling and manufacturing... everything! Legal eagle Adrian Sewell at Tandem Patents who also introduced me to Andy. Von Asis for his wonderful drawing skills and patience to get everything right. Dmitry at ArtScience for the amazing web build. And all the friends and family who have given valuable opinions and encouragement. A stranger thanks to the authoress Elisabeth Beresford for her 'Wombles' books - how bang on they've proved to be with ingenious re-use, upcycling and caring for the environment messages... we love her! And of course Beth my wife for willingly taking the plunge and helping with all the ideas, organisation and endless model testing.
I hope many young creators will enjoy stretching their brains and using their creativity to make awesome junk toys and taking those skills into their adult lives.