Teddy bears bring comfort in more ways than one. In the hands of social entrepreneur Jonathan Goh, they became a source of income for the elderly and disabled.
Contributed By Dawn Seow
TeddyThotz ‘n’ OneKind, a social enterprise started by social worker Jonathan Goh, 40, brings income to the poor and disadvantaged through the sale of teddy bears and other creative items they make.
The enterprise harnesses the talents and skills of the elderly, the poor and disadvantaged, stay-at-home mothers, crafters and indie designers, to produce teddy bears and other marketable things for sale. The profit goes right back to the creator. Many of Goh’s “crew” depend on this income for a living or to supplement their livelihood.
“TeddyThotz has a dual mission: to be a creative and a caring enterprise. Every product produced must be both creative and have a social benefit at the same time,” says the City Harvest Community Services Association social worker.
It is the very qualities of “creativity” and “care” that Goh possesses that led him to conceptualize this social enterprise.
“I have a deep interest in bear-making and other creative crafts,” he says. “I realized that many people from less privileged backgrounds also have very interesting craft skills. That, combined with the affinity I feel for the poor and the elderly, led me to develop TeddyThotz ‘n’ OneKind to become what it is today,” said Goh.
Five years ago, Goh used to spend his free time combing local, sometimes even overseas, bazaars and flea markets looking for items to add to his unusual collection of teddy bears and quirky collectibles. It was in one of these searches when he stumbled upon some teddy bears and interesting items hand-crocheted by people in rural Thailand.
Among these craftsmen were two handicapped persons who could crochet faster than anyone in the village in spite of their disabilities. This made Goh realize that disabled people could learn a unique skill to generate income for themselves as much as any able-bodied person.
Goh, now piqued, set out to discover more talents among the handicapped and under-privileged. He began engaging these people to produce handmade items for sale, and this small business became an effective way to generate income for these people and their families. TeddyThotz ‘n’ OneKind was thus born.
Goh, who works with a business partner George Wong, put his heart and effort into the business, making sure that their products are differentiated and have a market.
“We have always been very involved in the creative and production process from the start, like sourcing for the right materials, development of new items and designs, branding of the products, because we wanted to make sure the products were unique to us.”
The small business that started with hand-crocheted hoody bears, cherubs and long-tailed monkeys grew over time. Wedding and angel bears, “Sox Princesses” (made from baby socks), teddies and doggies in fabrics of all kinds, and exotic “Koolly Bears” soon joined the family, forming the TeddyThotz range of unusual toy bears.
ONEKIND OF SPECIAL
Shortly after, Goh began developing a range of products named OneKind. He took every day items and made them special.
These products include canvas bags hand-painted by villagers, cosmetic pouches sewn by work-from-home seamstresses, leather journals made from leather scraps, hand-painted earrings and rings, bracelets shaped from aluminium wire and more.
TeddyThotz ‘n’ OneKind offers another range of products that came out of Goh’s deep involvement with the Dialect service at City Harvest Church.
Having served the elderly in this service for many years, Goh had a special relationship with them. He started the “Elderly Enterprise” to champion the talents and skills of the seniors by getting them to make the things they are good at. The profits he received from selling the items went back to the elderly as a form of income. From traditional patchwork blankets and floor-mats to batik bags and tissue holders, the “Elderly Enterprise” products never fail to attract customers and stir up fond memories.
“Many shoppers would stop at our stall at the craft market to touch and admire the products from the Elderly Enterprise range, especially the patchwork blankets,” Goh shared. “Many would also tell us about their childhood or their memory of their mother or grandmother. TeddyThotz probably has the widest selection of patchwork blankets you can find in Singapore, as they are made by different elderly individuals in their own unique style.”
As a social enterprise, TeddyThotz ‘n’ OneKind goes beyond benefiting the crafters it works with. In running its everyday business, it aims to bring about social benefit, giving priority to small businesses run by the elderly or poor families when purchasing materials. The enterprise also supplies handicapped individuals with products to sell, in support of them making a living on their own.
TAKING IT TO THE MARKETPLACE
TeddyThotz ‘n’ OneKind received a boost in its early years when it was invited to join Singapore’s first social enterprise and craft market, PaTH (Pop and Talent Hub) at VivoCity. Elim Chew, president of fashion wear brand 77th Street, saw potential in the social enterprise’s products. Chew is the major force behind PaTH which is an initiative of Social Innovation Park, a non-profit organization founded by Penny Low, Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, to promote social enterprises in Singapore.
“While the business environment is extremely tough and competitive, we have been able to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the businesses with an emphasis on developing unique products that are both creative and meaningful,” explains Goh with gratitude. “Through PaTH, more people have come to know about us. Today, some of our products can be found in a few reputable retail outlets.”
You can buy TeddyThotz’s unique products at PaTH, which happens at VivoCity on the first and last weekend (Sat & Sun) of every month. PaTH is located at Level 1, Lobby A to C area, from 11am to 10pm. http://teddythotz.blogspot.com.
Mdm Ong, who is in her 80s, lost most of the use of her right arm after a stroke. Yet, she inspires observers with her lovely patchwork. Despite needing a wheelchair to move about, she would sit at her sewing machine by the window daily, patiently piecing together numerous bits of triangular-shaped fabric. She continues day after day, until another lovely patchwork blanket is completed.
A small five-by-five inch feet blanket would require Mdm Ong to cut and sew together some 1,300 pieces of small triangles: such is the enormity of her patience, perseverance and effort. This effort begins with choosing different patterned fabrics, cutting them into small triangular shapes, joining them into small squares to form bigger squares, before finally piecing them together into a one-of-a-kind blanket.