The story of a broken eye and what it taught us
In the spring of 1997, Carina Ingelsten is at IKEA in the Finnish capital Helsinki. It's a Saturday and full of customers in the store. Carina is a textile technologist at Children's IKEA and is running a course for a group of co-workers. The topic is safety. ”I lifted up a teddy bear and pulled on the legs and arms to show how well they are sewn in place. When I pulled on the plastic eye, something happened that shouldn't – the eye came off”, says Carina twenty years later. The event was a major setback for Children's IKEA, but it was a setback that would lead to something really good.
Carina Ingelsten still remembers that day clearly. All soft toys were immediately removed from the store while she was trying to call her colleagues in Sweden. ”It was a Saturday, so it wasn't that easy to get a hold of people, but in the end Jörgen Svensson, my manager at Children's IKEA, answered and we succeeded in stopping global sales of our soft toys”.
Carina had just been involved in the creation of Children's IKEA department, where the needs of children and safety had been the main focus from the very beginning. The fact that the plastic eye came off the teddy bear – despite all risk analyses and safety checks – was very serious. Fortunately, no child had an eye stuck in their throat, but Jörgen Svensson remembers the major consequences of this event: ”We recalled all soft toys for a full refund, and at the supplier in India production came to a standstill”. In hindsight, Jörgen still sees that it led to something really good. ”Thanks to what happened, we learned to systematize safety work even more. We established clearer procedures and areas of responsibility”. At the factory in New Delhi, the sound of sewing machines was heard again. ”We still felt a major responsibility for all who worked there, so it was natural to continue the collaboration”, says Jörgen. ”The first new product we made was the red heart-shaped FAMNIG pillow which is still in the range”.
More personal expression
The incident also led to other important actions and the decision to not use any plastic eyes at all. At the time, it was not the norm for the toy industry, but in time, a large number of industry players followed suit. Embroidered eyes were not only safer, they also proved to give more character and personality to the toys. Designer Annie Huldén agrees. ”The eyes are very important for a soft toy and plastic eyes easily seem too symmetrical and stale, while embroidered eyes are easier to vary in terms of the design, the size of pupils and the eyelashes. For JÄTTESTOR elephant for example, I made almond shaped eyes with extra large irises and an eyelid line above it. All this makes for a kind and a slightly sad expression. It's as if it needs a hug”, says Annie, who has created many soft toys over the years. Soft toys at Children's IKEA are loved by children throughout the world. Whether it's an elephant, a frog or any animal for that matter, it's a loved friend to play with and find comfort with - and which parents can always feel secure about.