Sensory play is a type of activity that stimulates a child’s senses. Such play materials focus on stimulating touch, sight, and hearing. I’ll be honest, even as an adult who’s fidgety, some of these playthings actually appeal to me too, like pop-it toys and clay, which can be moulded into miniature sculptures.
Over the past year, I’ve seen plenty of stores on Instagram and Shopee selling such toys for children, such as messyplaydontcare and handsonbox.my. The items often comprise homemade Play-Doh, slime, sand, and rice.
Alison, who founded OurPlayDiary (OPD), isn’t too phased by the competition in the market.
“When I started making this 9 years ago, people were sceptical,” she told Vulcan Post. They questioned Alison on why she would allow her kids to play with rice in such a messy manner.
“But look at the market now,” she stated. “There is so much time and effort put into creating a perfect play tray. There is actually competition in this market, I watched it happen!”
Though she didn’t quit her geophysicist job to start OPD, the positive feedback and appreciation she’s received for her play materials are what Alison credits as the factors that have kept her going.
Alison was a committed geophysicist for 9 years, up until the day before she delivered her first child, a son. “I did enjoy my job, I went on offshore trips on vessels, and worked at construction sites, and the SMART Tunnel was one of them,” Alison shared.
“It was an amazing workplace and I do miss it a lot, my superior held a space for me for many years after I’d left, but my priorities had changed.”
Simultaneously, OPD began on Alison’s personal Instagram account as a way to record her children’s play. She DIYed every toy for her son after discovering that the activity could help toddlers learn about various sensory textures in nature. It was something her son was having a hard time with.
“In his baby years, he had a hard time putting his feet in the sand as he did not enjoy sand between his toes. Going to the beach was a nightmare,” Alison recalled. But the frequent exposure to various sensory textures helped. By age 3, he overcame this issue and could enjoyed digging into the sand.
Living in Singapore at the time, Alison decided to join a Kids’ Art Festival to showcase and sell her homemade playthings. There, her PlayDough sold out quickly.
Alison realised that perhaps she could start a business around her craft. Returning to Malaysia, she created a proper Instagram account for OPD in December 2018.
“It was a nervous slow start, but I couldn’t believe when someone placed an order, I will always remember her. I hand-delivered it too,” Alison chimed.
Playthings made fresh
As parents are usually cautious about the materials used in products handled by their children, OPD transparently discloses its processes and ingredients used in its sensory materials. For example, OPD’s slime is made with basic ingredients of regular school glue and saline solution (used to clean contact lenses).
“It’s made exactly as shown on our IGTV. No secrets,” stated Alison.
Ingredients are sourced from specialty stores, which is why they can cost between RM15 to RM182. Any edible, raw materials that don’t get used up for the playthings are cooked and consumed by her family so there’s minimal wastage involved.
OPD’s Shopee page also states that all products are made-to-order, which I found noteworthy because such care for an item’s freshness tends to fall under F&B category, as food perishes.
But looking through the products sold on OPD, you’ll find that most items are made with food-based ingredients, like Play Potion, Sensory Pasta, Rice, and Salt.
Because it’s made-to-order, it is expected that OPD’s playthings would have a limited shelf life as well. To lengthen it, Alison advises playing with the materials with clean hands and a clean surface.
“And storing it back into our jars after play ensures a lifespan of 3 to 6 months, or more,” she added. “Here’s an OPD secret: you can revive dry PlayDough by adding a few drops of water at a time and giving it a good knead, making it good as new.”
Alison also shared her two cents with parents who may be concerned about the mess after playing with the sensory materials.
There might be a mess to clean after Play that can be a deterrent, but cleaning up is a learning process, get [the kids] involved. They will learn reactions, the boundaries and how to manage them, and the mess will be significantly lesser.Alison Joseph, founder of OurPlayDiary
Profiting isn’t the priority for now
Although Alison did not disclose the figures for how much capital went into OPD, she did share that the business was bootstrapped. In terms of OPD’s sales, she reported that it has levelled out over the past 12 months, with her PlayDough, Sensory Pasta, and Rice being the business’s best sellers.
“We have been growing OPD organically for the past few years. Our profits are subjective and are not the driver for education and new product developments,” said Alison.
For now, becoming profitable isn’t a goal for Alison yet as she’s hoping to grow a community of parents who are in support of the sensory play method. “Having actually sold thousands of units, I do see the business and potential within the marketplace. We will rebrand and have an eye on profits soon,” she added.
And to achieve profitability, the entrepreneur is hoping to receive more bulk orders.
Having already delivered her play materials nationwide, she’s eyeing an opportunity to expand OPD to more SEA countries, New Zealand, and the US in 2022.
In the meantime, Alison teased that a website is underway to carry OPD’s premium play materials. “The dream is to open the most colourful physical store that kids and parents can touch, feel, and choose their favourites,” Alison hoped.
- You can learn more about OurPlayDiary here.
- You can read more about other Malaysian startups we’ve written here.
Featured Image Credit: Alison Joseph, founder of OurPlayDiary