Charity has always been an integral part of the toy industry. 2020 reminded us of that as “unprecedented” became an everyday phrase and companies that once only produced toys began to create N95 masks and hand sanitizer. For Shore Buddies, giving back is a core value of the company, which continues to do so in a way that changes the meaning of the word “charitable.”
“I really, truly believe that businesses should exist to improve the world,” says Malte Niebelschuetz, founder of Shore Buddies. The company is the first that is dedicated to creating plush toys out of recycled plastic bottles — six per each toy — and that’s just at the surface.
“For us, when establishing the brand Shore Buddies, [it was important to] really have an educational purpose to it in order to teach kids at a young age that plastic really is bad for the environment,” Niebelschuetz explains.
The truth is that plastic is a silent killer. It destroys ecosystems in a way that animals and the environment cannot avoid. In recent years, many people —and many companies — have discovered how plastic wreaks damage to the Earth. Toy companies are now working toward creating products that utilize recycled materials or remove the need for plastic entirely. Shore Buddies takes it a step further with characters that teach kids about the importance of conservation. The company has a mission to give back to those who are saving animals impacted by plastic pollution.
GIVING BACK FOR A POSITIVE IMPACT
Shore Buddies donates $1 from each plush sale to organizations — including the San Diego Coast Keeper, Ocean Connectors, the San Diego Humane Society, and the Sea Turtle Care Center — that work toward conservation and rehabilitating animals that are harmed in the oceans.
The COVID-19 pandemic did not stop sea creatures from facing danger, but it did decrease the revenue for the organizations saving them. Shore Buddies chose to donate 100% of its online proceeds at the beginning of the pandemic to such groups. As it donates money, Shore Buddies also educates kids so that they have the tools they need to understand everyday environmental issues and how to solve them.
Niebelschuetz explains that this donation is expected by consumers. He says the majority of those who buy their products do so for two reasons: Shore Buddies teaches kids how to create real change in the future, and parents know that their dollars are going somewhere that can create a positive impact on the world at this moment.
CREATING A RECYCLED PLUSH
In 2010, Niebelschuetz moved from Germany to San Diego, where he was shocked to realize that for an ocean-minded community, most people had a casual attitude toward recycling plastic. He recalled thinking that California was the center of the “green revolution,” yet even restaurants that were directly on the water would offer customers single-use plastic without a second thought. This was one of the reasons that he was inspired to help educate kids on the harmful effects of plastic, but the idea for the Shore Buddies plush came one day while he was searching the internet.
He came across an article about how Patagonia makes jackets almost entirely out of recycled plastic. While thinking about this, he shut his laptop and the first thing he saw was a stuffed animal.
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and the next step was literally to Google search how to make a custom stuffed animal,” Niebelschuetz says. From there, he developed a prototype and found a factory willing to innovate the way plush is made. The big vision met with the right people, and the characters of Shore Buddies came to life.
Each of the original plush characters is made from six recycled bottles. The bottles are broken down into pellets, which are made into yarn that, in turn, becomes the soft outside of the plush and the stuffing inside.
Currently, Shore Buddies sells its items mostly on its own website, which gives it the ability to stay in touch with its customers and further innovate the way kids learn about plastic pollution.
TEACHING THROUGH PLAY
Finn the Dolphin, Shelly the Sea Turtle, Sammy the Seal, Stephen Seagull, and Emma the Whale make up the original Shore Buddies plush crew. Each character has a different lesson to teach about the environment. For example, Finn the Dolphin advocates against single-use straws and Sammy the Seal reminds families to bring along a reusable bag while grocery shopping. When kids bring the toys home, their hangtag explains what animal they are, what they believe in, and three ways kids can make an impact.
At the moment, the company is working on more ways to include the characters’ messages, such as animated, PSA-style videos and an app. A book incorporating the missions and more helpful tips is already available for purchase online.
“The idea is to create sustainability as a second language from day one,” Niebelschuetz says. In addition to the plush characters, Shore Buddies also offers reusable straws online. The team had wanted to add even more sustainable products last year, but had to change some plans due to the pandemic.
In the future, Niebelschuetz says the company plans to keep the core Shore Buddies the same, but also add some friends for them to meet along the way. One such animal will be a penguin that teaches its new pals about the impact of pollution in Antarctica. Niebelschuetz hopes the buddies can become a global sensation and reach kids around the world. He notes that the world is a beautiful place that can be even better if companies dedicate themselves to important missions and values.
“If you can do it, why wouldn’t you? [We are] a company that has so much more to do and so much more to give.”
This article was originally published in the May 2021 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!