Sharon Keilthy is the woman behind Jiminy.ie, Ireland’s first eco-specialist toy company. We chat to her about the small changes everyone can make to become more sustainable
We talk to the owner of Jiminy.ie about what she’s learned, that entrepreneurial spirit and how other people teach her the most about her business.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I started Jiminy.ie eco-toys because I wanted to make it easier for people to do the right thing for our planet. I found myself walking out of toy stores empty-handed and I wasn’t willing to buy the plastic-wrapped-in-plastic, shipped 10,000km from China, anymore. But it was really hard work finding plastic-free, locally-made toys. I figured, other people must feel the same way, Let’s see if we can give them some good options! Jiminy is Ireland’s first eco-specialist toy company. We distribute to shops as well as retailing directly ourselves. Our vision is a genuinely-eco section in every toystore!
Every industry needs to become sustainable, and the toys industry is at the very beginning of that journey. Globally, 90% of toys are made from virgin plastic. It’d take 1 billion trees to absorb the CO2 that releases. To make things worse, over 80% of them are made in China and other far-away places. Transporting them all the way here adds 20% to the carbon footprint. And most plastic toys are mixed-materials so not recyclable. I decided to be a small part of changing all this – by offering retailers and consumers eco options for toys. I also want to show that fun, educational, beautiful, and affordable toys can be both plastic-free and locally-made.
What’s the hardest thing about running your own business?
I miss the ‘wise heads’ from my previous job (at an American multi-national consultancy). Being able to walk-in to a very knowledgeable person and say: “Here’s what I’m doing, what do you suggest?” And I miss planning, prioritising, and making difficult decisions as a team. It can be lonely at the top of your own business. This is my second time starting a business, last time was 20 years ago, but these ‘hardest things’ haven’t changed.
Do you think social media is a help or a hindrance?
I have to say, I really enjoy it. There’s a lovely community of people in Ireland who are active on social media and really try to support each other. There are people I know via Instagram, whom I’ve never met in person, but who are genuinely friends. And a majority of our online sales come from it.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Growing up I never imagined myself being an entrepreneur! I thought of myself as too bookish and shy. But I remember taking part in a Young Entrepreneurs competition at school and being really inspired about it. And when I left college in 2001, within a year I just had an idea I couldn’t not-pursue. It was the same with Jiminy.ie – I just had to try it. And even within my previous job at the multi-national, I was seen as very entrepreneurial. So I guess it’s just something that’s in me.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
When you have a business idea, do your utmost to make it fail as quickly as possible. Test it, be tough on it. If it survives, it’s a good use of your time to continue with it. If it fails, be glad your time wasn’t wasted on it. My friend JD told me that and I think of it every week.
What have you learned?
- That the business you start isn’t often the business you end up with. Once I get going with something, I often find the people I thought would want it don’t. But another group do! Or what they want is different to what I expected. I try to listen and adapt, and I love when customers tell us the truth so we can learn.
- That if you keep asking, as a buyer, you have a lot of power to change the world. Especially as a business buyer. Every month for nearly a year I’ve been very politely and positively writing to the makers of our craft Bioglitter to ask if they could supply it in packaging more sustainable than virgin plastic. Every month they’ve said: “No but we’re working on it.” Finally last month the answer was: “Yes, we’re switching to a plant-based biodegradable container instead!” Hurrah!
If could go back and do it all again would you change anything?
We are 1 year in and it’s been a year of experiments to help us learn… and we’ve learned so much. So no, I wouldn’t change anything, I’m very happy with where we’re at and excited about the next year.
What are your plans for the future?
Our vision is an eco-friendly section in every toystore. We are supplying 29 retailers around Ireland right now and we want to multiply that by 10. And hopefully, grow our presence in the UK. We’ve also got some re-use initiatives – like our national kids’ party re-use scheme RainbowRentals.ie. I’d love us to do more to promote re-use, including starting to offer carefully-curated pre-loved toys.
Why is sustainability important to you?
I have a 5-year-old daughter. She’s full of joy and excitement about life! I want to be part of keeping our planet safe and beautiful for her and her generation. And I believe scientists when they say we need to change how we’re living and quickly. They’re our best thinkers, they’ve done their best thinking, we should listen and act on what they say.
What would you love to see happen with sustainability in the future?
I look forward to a near future where ‘sustainable’ is easy and the new normal. Imagine you walk-in to a regular pharmacy or supermarket to buy a toothbrush and all the options on the shelf are biodegradable, including the big-brand ones. You choose the size, colour, and brand/type you want, but don’t have to worry about how sustainable each one is. I know we as a society can do this because I see it happening already with small things like paper straws. Even just 1-2 years ago plastic was the norm, now they’re nearly all paper. And this is what Jiminy.ie does for toys. You can relax and buy what you need or want because everything we have is sustainable – and we plan to be part of spreading this to all toyshops.
And of course there are big changes our society needs to make that we as individuals can help drive. There’s a simple-and-interesting list at drawdown.org.
The top to-do’s are
- Careful disposal of fridges and other equipment with refrigerants (yes we replaced CFCs with HFCs which don’t harm the ozone layer, but they do warm the atmosphere up to 9,000 times more than CO2)
- Switching from coal/peat/oil to wind/solar energy; stopping peat cutting. Peat is 50% carbon and globally stores twice as much carbon as forests
- Protecting and planting trees
- Reducing food waste
- Eating more plants fewer animals; and making agriculture more sustainable.
There are some good initiatives here worth supporting, including Friends of the Earth Ireland, your local Tidy Towns Committee, Climate Case Ireland, Citizens Climate Lobby and/or Extinction Rebellion. And of course, we have more power than we think, as shoppers, as voters. Ask for what you want, in a helpful and positive way, and eventually things will change.
What’s your favourite piece?
I get a lot of energy from the people I get to talk with. The 8-year-old customers who are so well-informed about our environment (and only 10 years away from having a vote)give me so much hope. The shop owners who want to go plastic-free. The adults who thank me for what I’m trying to do for our environment. The guys at An Post and at our warehouse who choose to be helpful and kind. And I’m loving working with the wonderful Sheelin of TheKind.co sustainable lifestyle store on our joint pop-up on Fade Street, Dublin 2.
It’s called the Conscious Christmas Store and it’s open till the end of December. It’s so fun to have a shop, I’m learning so much, and, having done short-term events for a year, it’s such a luxury not having to take everything apart every few days – just turn out the lights, lock the door, and leave. Absolute joy!
Jiminy.ie will be taking over Hen’s Teeth on Fade Street, together with sustainable lifestyle store The Kind, until the end of December – making it easier than ever to shop with a clear conscience this festive season.