The Vintage Toy Box is offering one Inner West Mum an amazing Christmas Hamper of retro toys! Including Ludo, Kitty Wampus, Barnstormer, Tail-Less Donkey, Travelling Bus, Ridley’s Balloon Modelling Kit!
The Vintage Toy Box specialises in fun & funky, vintage & retro inspired toys and games for children of all ages, (including us big kids!). We focus on traditional play and old school values, inspiring children to learn through their own creativity and imagination. We stock a wide range of unique vintage & retro inspired toys and games, wooden toys, educational toys, craft items and play sets that all kids will love. I recently caught up with Saskia Sharp, owner of The Vintage Toy Box.
Tell us about yourself
I’ve worked in IT and as a Corporate IT trainer for 16 years and 8 years ago I moved to Sydney from the UK. I met my husband, Nick, in that role. I used to travel all over Australia delivering training to companies and it was a highly stressful corporate environment. I often felt that I wanted to reclaim my inner child by owning a toyshop.
Then 2.5 years ago I fell very ill and ended up in hospital for nearly 3 months with sepsis (blood poisoning), from a basic medical procedure. This lead to kidney failure, liver failure, collapsed lungs, and an operation, and it took quite a long time to recover. I had to leave my job and my health has not been 100% ever since. Nick had to leave work too at that point to become my full time carer.
After many years of ‘toying’ with the idea of owning a toy shop selling beautiful things and vintage-retro items, Nick suggested I set up the toyshop to bring the passion back into my life again. I realised pretty quickly that the time was right, and the shop was born. I had time on my hands all of a sudden to step back in time and build the business I’d always dreamed of having.
It worked and it brought me out of a deep dark hole and the magic returned. We then tried for a baby though IVF, and were very lucky and blessed to have fallen pregnant the first time. Falling pregnant in September after being so very sick in January that year helped my recovery and it really makes you aware of the beauty of life. We now have a wonderful son, Dylan, who is 16 months old.
Why is it that a toyshop inspired you?
I had a definite need for fun and happiness. Toys give me a lot of joy and you can immerse yourself in it just like through the eyes of a child. It injected a lot of joy into our lives as we tested the toys and asked our friends’ children to do the same.
Every toy and game we choose has a retro-vintage feel or look to it, to take us all back to old school values and charm. We aim to take you on a trip back in time, down memory lane. Your kids will love our products, and you will love watching them play. Let their imaginations run wild, whilst your childhood memories return, as we take you on a nostalgic trip to the days of yesteryear.
Why retro inspired toys?
My Grandfather used to be a primary school teacher, an artist, a violinmaker, and a gem setter, and on the side he liked to dabble in antiques. My passion for all things old comes from when I was little and my Grandad used to teach me how to spot a valuable antique, in amongst the jumble. My love of old toys stemmed from this, and I started building my own collection of early Matchbox and Dinky cars, trawling through car boot sales and antique shops to find the gems. However when I left the UK my collection was left behind, and lost to the years – we don’t talk about that!
When I emigrated from the UK to Australia 8 years ago, I found that one of the things I missed the most was the history. I craved Europe, with its chequered colour of past, and the years of history embedded in every item, handed down from generation to generation.
I became increasingly homesick for Europe after the birth of our first son, and started looking for toys for him that satisfied my nostalgia for not only the items I had in my own childhood, but also the toys that my parents had in theirs, and my grandparents had in theirs. I became increasingly disheartened at the availability of good quality, traditional toys here in Australia, and found myself trying to import items from Europe at a high price, and often with little success.
Since realising my dream, I now take great delight in trawling the web, to find the best items from across the globe, to take Australian children back to traditional values, with old school retro toys, vintage games and traditional wooden toys for toddlers, pre-schoolers and older kids. We aim to provide a wonderful selection of traditional play items in our shop from across the world, to inspire little ones and fuel their imagination.
What were the first steps you took to develop the business?
We took baby steps initially and did lots of investigation on the Internet. I started researching the things that I wanted and tested the market with a small eBay shop first. Once we worked out how to run a business utilising my Degree in Business, we learnt about the selling process, postage and getting the prices right, and setting up a commerce website. We then started sourcing in Europe. I asked Mum in the UK and a friend who lives in Italy to make contact with the suppliers. We mainly source from European based suppliers as their products are quite unique to Australia and we have a new range of toys arriving in early 2016.
What is your all time favourite toy? Why?
Old Dinky Cars are my favourite – they are the original diecast cars, paving the way for the early Matchbox cars. I love their more rounded design and they fit better in a small hand. I love the old style, it reminds by of the Art Deco era. I also think they smell wonderful from the type of rubber they used! I also like the old die cast trains and I personally find boys’ toys are of more appeal – they just hold more interest for me!
Where do you find inspiration?
I like foraging in antique shops when we go away for the weekend, as there is often a tiny antique shop nearby. There will generally be something that will pop up that will catch my eye that is old yet not necessarily a toy. It may bring back a memory of playing with a particular toy so I get excited to start researching where I can find it to add to the range. Rozelle markets are a little treasure trove and every Saturday and Sunday we drop in to see whether something will inspire us.
We spend a lot of our time sourcing a fantastic range of educational, innovative and award winning toys that will capture the imagination of kids and adults alike, and I spend way too much time on Instagram and Pinterest during the wee small hours! We are always on the lookout for new Brands, to keep the store fresh and exciting. We are like a bottomless toy box – you never know what delights you will find!
The Vintage Toy Box is an online shop, any plans to open a physical shop?
It is my dream to open a bricks and mortar store! Nick has a business called Motique that offers old-fashioned gifts & games for gentlemen including old style razors, cufflinks, multi-tools and parlour games, for example. We would love to combine my toyshop with his gifts for men with a coffee shop in the middle. We are looking at venues in the Inner West, and Enmore is of interest. Just hoping the rents comes down soon so watch this space!
Your favourite places in the IW? What do you love about IW?
Rozelle Markets is one of my favourite places. We also love walking around Callan Park or going down to Balmain Wharf. When I’m feeling homesick Hunters Hill reminds me of England and Nick also likes to fish there. I love Glebe and Newtown for their funky vibe when I want to feel younger than I am. The Inner West is lovely and green, so close to the city and the Bay Run, and there is water all around. There are lots of friendly families and it is a great place to bring up children.
Advice to mums wishing to open a shop/ business?
Just do it! You can have so much self-doubt tossing it around in your head. It’s like having a baby – there’s never a right time to do it and you will be surprised at how proud you feel at every little achievement. It gets you excited every morning even if you aren’t having a great day. Even if it’s a small thing like ticking something off your task list or a comment you get from someone, you can have a massive sense of achievement. You can say to yourself “I did that, I achieved that”. A business is similar to a child in that you are pouring your heart and your soul into it; nurturing it, and can feel very proud of it.
How do you juggle the time between family and business?
I start work at 8pm at night, after my son’s gone to bed and finish whenever I can. I believe it’s important to keep balance when spending time with children and I’m very conscious about not spending too much time in front of Dylan being distracted. Our whole ethos with The Vintage Toy Box is around traditional values and family time. It’s so difficult though and I have to be aware when I’m spending too much time on the phone or the laptop, and I have to remind myself to snap back into him and being in the moment. He is after all my primary tester!
Get to know some more local business mums:
Getting to know… Boobs On The Run!
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Getting to know…Salon Tallow
Getting to know…Milkman Australia