Nibbling mice, cute plush geese and bears that you want to hug all day long. Senger Naturwelt has been hand-making lovely organic cuddly toys and puppets for over 30 years. With their unique and wondrous character, these animals put a smile on every child's face.
For the newest edition of our blog series #GOODTHING we spoke to the founders´ couple Sabine and Volker about the journey of Senger. They reveal to us where they get inspired for their figures, what city was especially open to their curious toys and how they live sustainability in everyday life.
Photo by © Senger Naturwelt
Can you take us back to the beginnings of Senger Naturwelt? How did the idea for your company come about and how did the first years go for you?
I grew up in a tranquil place called Obersinn and met Sabine in Berlin where I was studying psychology. During this time, I published a comic magazine in Sweden with a friend, painter and caricaturist. He made the drawings and I wrote the texts. I was in Sweden for one month and Berlin for the next. When our financial sponsor stopped the project, I thought about what to do in the future.
One summer, my wife and I moved from the big city of Berlin to the Sinn, idyllically situated between Spessart and Rhön. My mother owned a small clothing factory there. Ever since she retired in the early 1970s, there were many sewing machines standing around in empty rooms. We weren't so interested in making clothes, but we started to create organic cuddly toys on the side for fun. None of us were experts in plush animals. My wife is a bookseller and I completed a tailoring apprenticeship but never worked in the industry. We started to look at the toy market more closely: there were so many standard toys, but none with a special character and unique designs.
I was in charge of a children's book department, where many children's books passed through my hands. Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows" influenced me a lot during the development of our mouse family. There are beautiful stories about a mole, a water rat, a toad and mice, each animal with their specific character. They travel through the forest and experience the most wondrous adventures.
One day I wanted to make a nice birthday present for Laura, the two-year-old daughter of a friend - my first stuffed animal mouse! Of course, it still looked a bit different than our mice today. We placed our mouse head on the body of an existing plush animal. Laura loved her mouse more than anything. She named him Philip and he followed her around everywhere. Very soon, all of her friends wanted to have their own cuddly animal.
The first mouse was 45 cm large, a standard size for puppets. Then we added kids to the collection, because we wanted to give it a family feel. We drove to Berlin with our first collection and courageously presented it in alternative wooden toy stores. Many people were enthusiastic because the figures were so unique. Our animal family started to grow as we added an elephant, then a rabbit, then geese.
We drove all around the country and showed our toys to alternative stores. The reaction was mostly, but not always, very positive. Not everyone loves mice: “We already have enough mice in the basement and don't need them on the sofa,” some people said. The Berliners were always very encouraging to us. They are more relaxed and are more open for new and funny things.
What makes your organic cuddly toys so special and what do you pay particular attention to in production?
Our puppets are mostly modelled after native animals, many of them play a big role in fairy tales like the fox, rabbit, wolf or sheep. These animals possess certain human characteristics in our imagination, and we emphasize these characteristics to give our animals a unique expression. The mouse gets a longer nose, rabbits have hanging ears and pigs have a trumpet-like muzzle...
We get many of our new ideas for animal figures when we take walks. We live in an area with a lot of forests and low mountains, where the Brothers Grimm already got the inspiration for their fairy tales. Many of the animals that we modelled our puppets after can still be studied here in real life. Through observation and discussion, we try to pinpoint the essential characteristics of each animal and develop that idea further.
The most tricky part is the face of course. Each eye, each mouth is individually embroidered by hand. To get the expression right, which is the soul of the plush toy, you need a lot of practice and intuition. If the eyes sit too far forward at the nose, the animals look a bit stupidly. If the eyes are not in line, it is even worse. It makes the animals cross-eyed or even mean-looking, staring grimly into kids´ faces. Such companions are not made for loving or giving comfort when homesick.
What makes you especially happy at work? What are you most passionate about?
We want to create beautiful and loving products that give moments of joy in daily life. I am deeply convinced that you can infuse products with positive energy, which is our core philosophy as a company. People say that you can really feel that our sustainable stuffed animals are made with love through and through.
Do you have any exciting projects and ideas for the future?
We are always thinking of new things and already have some novelties ready for next year. Our new organic plush animals will be quite exotic and oceanic - that much we can already say. Other than that, we want to expand our collection to include more kids´ room accessories.
What does sustainability mean to you and how do you live it in your everyday life?
We try to buy as much as possible without packaging and locally, which can be surprisingly difficult in the countryside sometimes. We choose recyclable materials as best as we can and only buy what is really necessary. Our team thinks very closely about each purchase and consciously chooses higher-quality alternatives for all sustainable stuffed animals.
For many years now, you have been placing a lot of importance on sustainable production. How has sustainability evolved in the 30 years of Senger Naturwelt?
The velvety fur for the animals is hand-woven from pure organic cotton. It took a long time to find the right supplier, there are almost no more hand-weaving mills that make their own plush in Germany.
Our organic cuddly toys are not just sustainable on the outside, but the inside too. The plush animals for example have their round bellies stuffed with sheep's wool and feel wonderfully soft in children's hands. The rosy plush pig, which sleeps lazily on its belly, is padded with rustling spelt chaff. His little brother has stuffed his belly with cherry stones. Both can be warmed up and be placed on kids´ bellies when they are unwell.
We are also super proud that we haven't changed any of our suppliers in the last years. It makes us really happy to be able to purchase such outstanding and long-lasting quality from local partners.
It is often said that quality features like craftsmanship and Made in Germany are less valued in our fast-moving modern society. Are the children of today different from the children of the past?
Our organic cuddly toys appeal especially to parents who want selected toys for their kids and are not interested in cheap mass consumption. Many of our customers are very conscious about the dangers of throwaway culture and want to educate their kids about it as well. For these parents, plush animals must be made from natural materials, free of pollutants and ethically made. Especially this year, we can really see that this trend is growing not just in Germany but also internationally.
Our organic stuffed animals are made and meant as friends for life. The quality of our materials and processing makes them last a very long time. The unique and unconventional character of the animals creates a special bond between every child and their puppet. I feel it is very important for the development of a child to learn to build stable relationships. It also greatly stimulates the imagination when children have only a few, selected toys to play with. It is incredible to witness how kids can create imaginary worlds with just a few simple things. There is no limit to kids' imagination. Prefabricated modern toys like "Barbie" leave little room for the imagination.
Please complete the sentence: “Children are wonderful, because…“
… the world is so beautiful through their eyes.
Dear Sabine, dear Volker. Thank you so much for taking us through the journey of Senger! We are fascinated by how much detail you put into each puppet, how much work goes into all organic plush toys and how consciously you live. You and your cuddly little animals will surely make many more children's hearts beat faster in the future.