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After Her PhD at Harvard, How This Mum Started a Multi-Crore Sustainable Toy Business

After Her PhD at Harvard, How This Mum Started a Multi-Crore Sustainable Toy Business

Meeta Sharma Gupta started a sustainable toy brand ‘Shumee’ in Delhi after she did not find suitable toys in India that focus on developing children’s cognitive and motor skills. Today, she gets over 8,000 orders a month and employs over 100 artisans.

It’s a usual Tuesday morning and Aarthi Chandrasekaran, a mother to twins is busy getting her day started. Amidst the countless chores that she has to see to in the wee hours of the morning, Aarthi has a tough task at hand — keeping her twins distracted as she gets breakfast ready!

Luckily for her, the twins have taken a fascination with the colourful clutch ball that she recently purchased from a sustainable toy brand, Shumee. “My twins love the colours,” she says, going on to add that the unique design of the ball makes it easy to grasp. “It’s their favourite toy by far.”

Aarthi is one of the many mothers who can heave a sigh of relief and take a break in the midst of a chaotic day. And making this possible is a sustainable and safe toy brand founded by a mother. Meeta Sharma Gupta launched Shumee in 2016 as an attempt towards helping kids develop their cognitive and motor skills while they played.

“None of this was planned,” says Meeta in conversation with The Better India, as she recounts her journey from the portals of Harvard University to Delhi where she launched the brand.

Meeta with the range of toys she has curated as part of Shumee
Meeta with the range of toys she has curated as part of Shumee, Picture source: Meeta

‘My quest for safe toys’

Post completing a BTech from IIT Delhi, Meeta went on to pursue her PhD at Harvard University. Though the now 45-year-old had a lucrative career awaiting her, she says she felt the need to move closer to family, and so in 2012, she returned to her hometown in Delhi.

As a young mother, Meeta was constantly on the lookout for toys she could buy for her kids but felt at a loss. This was because she was looking for toys that were designed sustainably and in ways that could help develop her younger kid’s cognitive skills just like the ones her older kid had grown up playing with, in the US.

The push walker is a paediatrician approved device that helps develop the child's gross motor skills
The push walker is a paediatrician-approved device that helps develop the child’s gross motor skills, Picture source: Meeta

“The toys here were either made from plastic or had small parts that rendered them unsafe for little kids. On the trips that I continued to make to the US, where I was working with IBM, I started bringing back toys.”

It was during this time that Meeta realised if she couldn’t source the right toys in India, why not create them?

She says the prospect excited her. “Even though I did not have the technical training to design toys, I wanted to come up with a brand that would produce toys of good quality and at affordable prices.”

And that’s exactly how Shumee was born.

The brand is the result of a mother’s quest to give kids innovative outlets to channel their creativity with its range of toys that help develop a child’s cognitive and motor skills.

Holistic growth through toys

Elaborating on the range of bestsellers at Shumee, Meeta says there are several, each catering to a different age group.

“The rattles for babies are made out of neem wood and the colours are done with cloth fabric. They double as teethers too. Meanwhile, for toddlers, we have paediatrician-approved push walkers made out of neem, which help to develop the child’s motor skills. It has little drums on it making it fun for the child.”

One of the most fascinating toys, however, is the 5-in-1 activity triangle. The triangle-shaped toy has abacus-coloured beads which help in colour recognition and counting, alphabets that help with uppercase and lowercase association, a clock on one side that helps with time recognition, gears for fine motor development, and a blackboard to scribble.

Puzzles and games help the child with colour recognition, alphabet association and general knowledge
Puzzles and games help the child with colour recognition, alphabet association and general knowledge, Picture source: Meeta

In addition to this, kids can choose from a range of numerous puzzles and board games, which are based on traditional stories, but have a twist in the way they are represented.

“For instance, you may recall the story of the thirsty crow from the Jataka tales. We’ve brought it back in the form of a game with wooden crows and handcrafted beads that symbolise the water. It’s a one-of-a-kind game wherein we have tried to match the play elements in the artistic form.”

The toys at Shumee are safe and made out of different kinds of plant wood — neem, mango, and birch being the most popular options. Birch ply is used for sturdier toys such as the rocking horse, enabling it to be passed from one generation to the next.

“Due to their quality, people often think these toys are imported,” says Meeta, who feels this is great as it is exactly the standard she had set out to create. She adds that the colours are certified non-toxic paints and all the materials are certified by American, European and Indian standards. “We also have an in-house lab to check the physical parameters of the toys such as the choking hazards and tensile strength.”

Shumee’s toys are enjoyed by mothers in the United States, United Kingdom, UAE, Singapore and India, and see over 8,000 orders a month. They are associated with over 100 artisans in clusters across India who make the toys.

However, Meeta says, a challenge throughout has been to perpetuate the message of skill-building through toys. “It is tough to find a middle ground between manufacturing toys that promote skill building while continuing to retail at competitive prices. But it has been a wonderful journey.”

Through the years, Meeta has not only focused on building a sustainable toy brand but also a community of mothers for whom the platform is a safe space. Through blogs, articles and sessions, mothers are helped with understanding how to engage with their kids in a myriad of activities that do not involve screens, and how playing can be made fun.

From a simple idea to a multi-crore brand, Shumee has grown in leaps and bounds. As Meeta witnesses the community scaling while more toys and games are added to the ever-growing list, she emphasises, “Play is a child’s superpower. There are wonders that can happen with the right toys.”

Edited by Pranita Bhat

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