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Toy story: Alvar’s Upcycled Toys

Most of the toys out there are the opposite of sustainable, so we decided to take on the challenge and extend our good for the dog and good for the planet product development philosophy into toys too.

Here, Alvar Pet’s Designer Valentina sheds light into the toy design process!

The design brief

To start this project and venture into non-edible products, we set ourselves some rules and requirements, that would lead the design process:

  • Needs-based and functional
  • Safe for dogs
  • Durable
  • As much recycled material as possible
  • Local or near-by production

→ As small of a carbon paw print as possible. ✔️🐾

Linear vs. circular design

Our main expertise is in nutrition, where there is only the packaging waste at the end of the lifecycle (which we try to keep as low impact and as highly recyclable as possible). The product itself is eaten by the dog and in most cases there is very little product waste.

We make our dog food more sustainable by choosing more sustainable ingredients, recipes, manufacturing processes and compensating all emissions created during the process.

Alvar’s dog food’s lifecycle

Venturing into non-edible products means that, if we really want to design something truly sustainable, we must also consider what happens after the toy comes to the end of its use.

Many so-called “green” (or rather greenwashed) products focus on only one small part of the supply chain, for example using organic cotton instead of regular cotton. The rest of the chain, plus overconsumption and excess waste, stays the same. Thus not much changes in the bigger picture.

Alvar’s Upcycled toy’s lifecycle

If we really want things to change, the goal has to be to implement a circular lifecycle, where any waste at the end of a product’s life isn’t thrown away but rather recycled or upcycled.

Think about what we do with Alvar food recipes: we take nutritious sidestreams from the human food industry and instead of throwing them into the trash, we use it to make dog food.

To do the same with our toys, we source waste materials, design the products to be produced in a zero-waste process, as well as offer guidance on sustainable consumption, care and repair.

Finding a partner

The bar was set high for finding a credible local partner, who would be able to cater to our criteria. Almost all toys sold in pet stores are produced in Asia without any oversight on working conditions and very little insight into the supply chain and material origins.

Instead of partnering with an established pet toy manufacturer, we decided to collaborate with Globe Hope, the Finnish pioneer in sustainable fashion. Globe Hope create every single one of their products from existing materials, by using leftovers, waste and recycling or upcycling things. So inspiring – and the perfect fit for us 💚

Prototyping & testing

Early into the planning, we decided to create two different types of toys to best serve the entertainment needs of different dog personalities: a cuddling and an activation toy. Globe Hope had some initial ideas for the latter, and I (Valentina) used that as a starting point to prototyping. I have a lot of experience in working with leftover textiles, thanks to my @wastelesswonders project.

All in all there were 5 versions of prototypes. Already in the prototypes we used as much recycled and waste materials as possible. Our team’s old jeans found a second life as toy protos and many other pieces of fabric, webbing and thread were sourced from second-hand shops.

Toy testers Brina & Alvar

Alvar’s Upcycled Toy Crafty

A frisbee-like first version evolved into a flexible, multi-functional toy that has a freely moving rope instead of a fixed strap. The toy can be cinched into a ball with a long rope handle, making it fun and easy to throw.

Early designs also featured little pockets to hide treats, but concerns about keeping them clean lead to those being abandoned and replaced by little flaps, where treats can be hidden when the toy is closed, but easily accessed for cleaning when the toy is open.

To sum up: Crafty doubles-triples for tugging, throwing, hiding treats – a multitasker of a toy.

Alvar’s first Upcycled Toy: Crafty

Alvar’s Upcycled Toy Cuddly

We decided it would be fun to create a plush toy that resembles some ingredient familiar from our recipes. The shape also had to be simple enough to sew efficiently and sturdy enough to withhold rougher playtime.

After trials and tweaking, the carrot was perfected and ready for production. Its body can be sewn from a single piece of fabric, and the “leafy green” bit firmly planted in to stay put.

This was definitely one of the most beloved toy prototypes at the office: our dogs love to pull on the little ropes coming out from the top.

Cuddly saw daylight 3 months later than planned, due to the nature of working with recycled materials. The sourcing process can be time-consuming and tricky. But finally, and just in time for Valentine’s Day… Meet Cuddly. 💖🥕

This season’s harvest 💚🥕

Material selection

After we were set on the design and had thoroughly tested our toy prototypes, we went back to Globe Hope to pick out the final materials for our toys. Here’s what we landed on:

Crafty is made of…

  • The body’s shell is used denim. Jeans collected from the Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto – Turku area recycling center are now reborn as dog toys!
  • Climbing ropes: did you know they have an expiry date? When it can no longer guaranteed that they would be safe to catch a fall without breaking, ropes go to waste. Not anymore they do: we rescue Helsingin Kiipeilykeskus’s waste.
  • Globe Hope’s material archives already had leftover polyester straps for holding the rope as well as felted recycled fibres for the filling.

Cuddly is made of…

  • For the carrot’s body, we picked a bright orange deadstock workwear fabric, that had been waiting in Globe Hope’s storage to be used.*
  • For the carrot “green” tops, Globe Hope found out that the toy manufacturer’s neighbour is a rope factory! They were happy to find use for their cut-offs, reducing material transport distances to almost zero.
  • Both toys are filled with cut scraps** created during the toy production process.

* What’s deadstock? Deadstock means that these particular rolls of fabric were ordered in excess from a workwear manufacturer and were in the end not needed to make the pieces of clothing they were intended to become. These extra fabrics are often thrown away. 

** What are cut scraps? Usually, when manufacturing e.g. clothes, 10–35% of the fabric rolls are wasted in the manufacturing process. It’s simply because most clothes – and our toys – are not made up from basic rectangles that can be neatly arranged on the fabric. Instead they have some pretty weird shapes that generate leftovers. Those leftovers go inside our toys, making their manufacturing as close to zero-waste as possible.

Picking materials at Globe Hope

Who makes my toys?

Alvar’s upcycled toys are produced in by Rutiks Oü in Loksa, Estonia. It is a small size factory with a team of 5-9 people. Globe Hope has been working with them since 2008.

Our tips to make Alvar’s Upcycled Toys last loooong

Part of sustainable consumption is also learning to value the products you buy by caring for them and repairing small damages instead of throwing the whole product away.

Even though our toys are made from waste and almost no new resources have been used to create them, it’s great to keep them out of the waste for as long as possible. 💚

Here’s how:

  • Mend small holes or untied knots by following the instructions on the hang tags of the toys. All you need is a needle, a thread and your hands.
  • Follow the care instructions and only wash the surface of the toy. Tumble drying and bleaching do a lot of damage to any textiles, so avoid these to extend the life of toys.
  • If your dog gets tired of a toy but it is still in great condition, give it to a friend, re-sell it or donate it to animal shelters or other pet-related charity.
  • If the toy finally reaches the end of its life, make sure to recycle it correctly. Many places nowadays offer textile collection points, where broken and damaged textile products are properly recycled or for example shredded and reused for car seat filling and other stuffing purposes.

Get your paws on Alvar’s Upcycled Toys 👇

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Alvar’s tips for a safe Christmas

Kaapo dog with Christmas gifts and tree.
“*Sniff sniff* I can smell something yummy in the oven, *sniff sniff* hmm is it roast pork, let me put on my sweetest puppy eye stare so I can get some!” – Kaapo

We can’t be the only ones who experience these puppy eyes 👆🏼 during Christmas? Not all Christmas treats are good for dogs, and that’s why we’ve put together a list to ensure you and your furry friend get the best and safest Christmas together. ❤️

If your pup has been extra good this year – how about getting one of Alvar’s Christmas Bundles to put under the tree?

Here are Alvars tips for a safe Christmas with your furry friend:

🦴 Avoid giving your dog bones from the Christmas roast and put the frying fat and fatty table scraps far away from your dog’s reach. The bones can get stuck in their system and the fats can irritate their tummy.

🍫 Nuts, raisins, chocolate and anything baked with yeast are a no-go for dogs. The same applies to alcohol and anything with xylitol. All in all: avoid snack sharing with your pup.

💐 Christmas decorations and flowers are lovely, but for example poinsettias, holly, mistletoe, tinsel, string, ribbons as well as other festive decorations and plants are not something you should let your dog chew on.

🗣 The Christmas stress, noise, family gatherings and many delicious smells can be stressful for some dogs. They might need more down time, a walk or time alone. You know your dog and their needs the best, so ensure a comfortable and safe surrounding for your pup.

🕯 Last but not least: watch your Christmas candles.. Fire and dog fur are not a good combination.

Instead of sharing your Christmas treats with your dog, treat your dog with some delicious dog snacks: check our Christmas offerings below for inspiration!

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Knit your own Alvar Sweater & Beanie

Drumrolls, please

We have paired up with Finnish knitwear designer Sari Nordlund to bring to life a pattern for making your own doggie, or as we call it, the Alvar Sweater for dogs. It of course comes with a matching chunky Alvar Beanie for us hoomans to keep warm as well.

Kaapo (left) wearing size 5 and Kuura (right) wearing size 3.

The sweater comes in 5 sizes and is beginner-friendly so all levels of knitting are welcome to join. The patterns are available to download for free from our blog until mid-November.

Why knitting? You make dog food, right?

Our mission is to minimise the CO2 pawprint and bring environmentally friendly solutions to dog owners. When planning our end of year campaigns earlier this year we put our heads together and thought about how we could bring sustainable dog living to our pupstomers outside of the food bowl as well. Instead of buying a mass-produced dog sweater of poor quality for your dog to keep warm in the upcoming cold & dark winter months, we encourage you to consider a more sustainable (and in our opinion: a way more better looking than store-bought) approach to keep your pup warm.

Sari and her dog Eetu (wearing size 4).

Who is Sari and why specifically this designer?

When we started this project, it was obvious that we wanted to bring this idea to life with someone who matches our brand as well as values and approach to sustainability. We immediately thought of Sari Nordlund – a knitwear designer who lives by the sea in Finland and spends most of her time knitting (despite vowing never again to touch needles and yarn after failed attempts at knitting in her childhood) and loves good quality coffee, knitting cables, dogs and cats (not necessarily in that order).

Yikes, I love the idea but I don’t know how to knit 😱

Worry not – when bringing the designs to life we wanted to make the pattern unique yet beginner friendly. The only techniques you need to complete this are:

  • Knitting right stitches
  • Knitting purl stitches
  • Increases
  • Decreases

…and technique videos of all these will be posted and saved in our Instagram Stories as a highlight.

The sweater comes in 5 sizes. You can choose whether you challenge yourself with do the charted pattern or knit the body of the sweater with only plain stitches to make it even more easily approachable. Want an even more beginner-friendly option? Then just choose to knit the coziest and chunkiest Alvar Beanie to keep warm on your dog walks!

Still got questions about the pattern? Shoot Sari a message on Instagram and she will sort you out 💚

Many dogs don’t necessarily need clothing even during the winter, but if your dog has little hair or is easily cold, a layer of clothing can be a nice addition.

Partnering with Tukuwool for the yarn

We chose to partner up with Finnish Tukuwool, whose yarns are made from pure 100 % Finnish wool (a blend of Finnsheep and Finnsheep-Texel crossbreed.) Tukuwool was born from the love for wool. Also from the passion to create something new and unique.

“I want to constantly develop Tukuwool and its production to be more sustainable by keeping the production close and avoiding long freights and thus minimising the carbon print of the production” says Tiina, the owner of Tukuwool

The yarn we have chosen for the pattern is the Tukuwool DK – You can order your yarn online (or check with your local yarn shop)!

However, if you have similar weight yarn at home – feel free to use up that or check for leftover yarns at your local recycling centre 🧶♻️

So what are you waiting for? Get knitting!

The pattern is available to download from our blog for free until mid-November. You can join our 4-week long #alvarknitalong and share some tips & tricks and ask questions – or start the knitting whenever suits you.

We would love to see your work in progress (and dog pictures never hurt anybody…) – share your knitting progress on socials with the hashtags #alvarsweater #alvarbeanie #alvarknitalong

Happy knitting, we can’t wait to see your creations!

🤎 The Alvar team & Sari