Phyllis and Evelyn attending their first
International Toy Fair Trade Show in 1978.
The inspirational story of “Creativity for Kids” begins with two women, Phyllis Brody and Evelyn Greenwald who believed in the power of creativity in children’s lives. This conviction came from their own childhood play experiences, those of their children and the many workshops and classroom programs that brought them into contact with children around the world.
Evelyn, who was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania studied art as an undergraduate and grew up to be an attorney. Phyllis, born In Brooklyn, New York, became a family counselor and taught art to children. Both produced and exhibited their own art- all the while never losing their inner child. When they started their families in Cleveland, Ohio both women took temporary leave from their professions to raise their children, fully expecting to return to their original careers.
They met in 1974 as volunteers in their children’s elementary school in Cleveland Heights, Ohio where they brought creative programs into the classroom. They were struck by the total involvement and enthusiasm of the children and on the other hand by what they called the “turkey syndrome”. Phyllis and Evelyn realized that when children were given simple, interesting materials along with opportunities to make choices, something magical occurred. They decided to package the magic and make it available to children everywhere.
They were two women on a mission- driven by the belief that they had a unique concept that would benefit the lives of children. With the strong support of their families, they set up the ping pong table in Phyllis’ basement and the dining room table at Evelyn’s house where, with the help of their husbands, their young children and elderly mothers, they assembled burlap bags filled with supplies intended to inspire children to express their natural creativity.
At this time, in the late 70′s “creativity” was a little used word and it required a lot of explanation. Although there were some craft kits on the market, they were of the “cookie-cutter”, “paint by number” variety. Phyllis and Evelyn’s kits, packaged in distinctive burlap bags, appealed to parents and kids who were immediately receptive to the open-ended approach. The challenge was to educate buyers to the novel concept and the innovative packaging. A few local retailers bravely gave the products a try. Their first customers were the Halle department stores and Taggart’s Toys, a small specialty store in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Shortly after, friends and relatives in other cities began to sell the products in independent toy stores as far away as Creative Kidstuff in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Be Beep a Toy in Virginia.
Buoyed up by the response of consumers Phyllis and Evelyn decided to trust their own instincts (against all advice that they weren’t ready) and in 1978 attended the International Toy Fair Trade Show in New York City. They set up in the darkest, most out of the way corner, in the smallest booth at the show. They were thrilled to see that their Burlap Art Bags appealed to retailers like FAO Schwarz, Childcraft, and Bloomingdales as well as small toy retailers who were looking for products that actually contributed to the well-being and creativity of children. Attending the New York Toy Fair Trade Show was a major turning point and it set the stage for the expansion and growth that followed.
Now, they needed to keep up with the orders and re-orders that were coming in, so they contracted with the Sheltered Adult Workshops of Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Retardation. This was meaningful to Phyllis and Evelyn who were gratified to know that they were providing work to this population even as this mutually beneficial arrangement allowed them to fulfill growing customer demand.
As the company grew, Phyllis and Evelyn developed business expertise and management skills- getting a virtual MBA-on-the-job. The staff grew and Evelyn managed operations, purchasing and production. Phyllis’ primary responsibilities were marketing and sales and both continued to collaborate on product design and development.
By the time their products were featured in the Sears Toy Catalog they were reaching a wider audience and, as happens with success, this inspired competition when other toy manufacturers began to take notice and the category that was created for them by Playthings Magazine- namely “creative activities” – became popular.
In 1999, Creativity for Kids was acquired by Faber-Castell®. Count Anton von Faber-Castell was drawn to the company because of its mission statement. Cleveland joins the world-wide organization and becomes US headquarters for Faber-Castell USA as the entire Creativity for Kids team transitions to new ownership.