INTERVIEWS

5 Questions with Alicia from Little Citizens Boutique

When we think of Little Citizens Boutique, we think of colour and fun, of imaginative and creative play. Of a shop that understands the importance of play and offers tools set to last and last. And we think of a mama who has travelled the world and ended far from her South American roots, who brings so much passion to her collection. It was a pleasure to ask our five questions and learn more about Alicia and her shop!

mother daughter at the beach

creative shop family mother father daughter

irish coast mum daughter

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself, where you live and about your family.

I am the proud mum of the sweetest seven year old, Zulema, who is named after my Argentine grandmother. She got the brains in the family and is constantly giving my husband Jon-Barrie and I really sound business advice! We are both self-employed and founders of companies, which means there is a lot of uncertainty as well as excitement in our life.

Jon-Barrie is a filmmaker, he spends a lot of time researching new ideas and flying around the world bringing teams together. Travel has been a huge influence on us both. We met in Argentina many moons ago and moved to London and New York before we settled in Northern Ireland. We live in a very beautiful place, surrounded by woods and sea; the kind of place that makes you believe in fairies. The climate is definitely 40 shades of grey most days, but when the sun shines the feeling of joy is overwhelming.

freedom imagination child water mother

shop family imagination free children

boy play superhero imagination

2. Tell us a little bit about your shop and how you came to create your store.

I started thinking about Little Citizens when Zulema was born. My heritage is a mix; my mum is Venezuelan and my dad Argentina, plus we moved around a lot. Add to that the fact that my daughter is also half Irish/British. Lots of questions were circling in my head, principally: how do we raise this little baby to be a citizen of the world? Exposing her to the best ideas on the planet became so important to me and I started to think of toys as tools that help develop little ones.

The idea of curating a collection of the best ideas in toys and play became so compelling. It felt like something the world needed. Surely there were more people like me who care about multiculturalism and cultures across borders? Since we launched nearly five years ago we have been so pleased to connect with like-natured parents and overwhelmed with the gratitude and community around us.

Families want to create a space in which to think about and enjoy the magic of childhood. Parenting brings up lots of questions about play and education so we built Little Citizens into a store but also a blog, where we research and report on childhood trends. We think of ourselves a like a little Think Tank trying to help steer the conversation about childhood towards raising a strong, problem-solving and open-minded society of little citizens of the world.

It turns out that we play less and less these days, yet never has it been so important. Today we’re constantly interrupted by our screens and so keen to achieve. We get our children into a million and one classes, anxious for them to pass the many tests and to know exactly what they want to do as adults.

The world will be a very different place when they grow up. So preparing them for the future is all about helping them to develop their creativity, their ability to think on their own two feet and to become great collaborators, working in teams. Through our research we discovered that the secret to well-balanced kids and eventually adults is so much simpler than we imagine: Open-Ended Play. When we encourage open play, we have to fight through the boredom barrier that helps us build our Executive Function – a psychological term for resiliency. Turns out it is also the best measure for success in the future. There is a lot to be said for letting your kids be bored; on the other side of that pain point is good old-fashioned play.

toddler imaginary play walks

baby play piano toyshop

toy wooden fruit veg

3. What is important to you when choosing your brands?

We may be in retail but we have principles. In regard to consumption we believe that Less is More – why buy many tatty items when one will last? We apply this thought in terms of wear, playability and supporting independent makers. So there are a few key questions we ask ourselves before we buy new items in:

1- PLAYABILITY Will they play with it more than once?
2- DURABILITY Will it stand the test of time?
3- FLEXIBILITY Does it appeal to different age groups?
4- MODIFIABILITY Can it be played with in more ways than one?
5- LOVEABILITY Does it make your heart go boom, boom, boom?

We hope to encourage parents to have fewer, but better, toys and to support fair trade and the independent designers who put their heart into their work. It’s so satisfying to know that we’re a part of a chain that helps creatives make a living.

In general our toys have a delicate and creative approach to child development. We really believe that if you expose your children to lots of ways at looking at the world, they will come to celebrate plurality and grow up with an open heart and an open mind.

It is bonkers to think of how loud and obnoxious some baby toys are. Babies are new to the world and their senses are being bombarded. Or, how predominant the licensing of popular characters is. Just because there is a Minion logo it doesn’t mean you can sell pencils that don’t sharpen. It’s just not right! You need things to work. Gentle open-ended play goes a long way to coaxing a child out into the world. Plus, when you expose little ones to beautiful things you inherently teach them to look after them. Lastly, we really love to escape into the world of an illustrator; it’s like living and breathing art. Imagination at it’s best.

girl fun play creative toyshop

baby ball tree runner toy

handful toy cut wooden food

4. What is your current favourite product in your collection?

I love everything in the store really. The Art Supplies by Djeco are such great quality, really satisfying felt tips and art kits. I have my eye set on one of these Embroidery Sets for myself, to enjoy when the Christmas rush is over and I can have some time to relax in an armchair. Our Book Selection is on fire at the minute. It’s full of suggestions from our amazing customers; lesser-known, compelling stories that offer great role models, unique stories from around the world and the most talented illustrators and storytellers. And finally, one of my favourite things in the store at the moment is our Pre-filled Christmas Stockings, monogrammed especially for new little ones. There are literally hours of play in each one.

happy toddler birthday hat

founder toy shop creative play

5. What do you love most about your job?

The thing I love most is how we’re creating a community. The feedback we get is amazing, helping parents and grandparents navigate the obstacles of raising kids. It means people don’t feel so alone and together we can celebrate the highs and lows of parenting. It is also so wonderful to help introduce independent designers to young families. Our hope is to change the monoculture of Disney and big corporate brands that underestimate our children’s imagination.

We’re hoping to make diversity, originality and imagination the most important thing for future little citizens of the world. To create an engine for creativity in all matters of childhood and we’re just getting started, with own toys in development and events planned offline, we hope you’ll join our little toy revolution!

Little Citizens Boutique is a long-term, valued member of our shopping portal. Visit their profile to find out more!


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