It’s more than child’s play for these two local moms and their novel toy subscription service

Muriel Cavaroche, left, and Anisa Stoli are the co-founders of Relove Toys.
Muriel Cavaroche, left, and Anisa Stoli are the co-founders of Relove Toys.

A year ago, two local moms came together to fix what they saw as a broken system. The result is Relove Toys, an online service that helps parents, children and the environment.

Muriel Chavaroche and Anisa Stoli were working for the a local Montessori school board when they decided it was time to fill a gap in the Canadian toy market, benefit the environment, support parents and engage children, all with one business.

It may sound ambitious, but the co-founders said it happened naturally.

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After immigrating to Canada from her native Greece at age 12, Stoli completed teacher’s college in Ottawa. She began teaching in Montessori schools, where she learned about the methods and philosophy before transitioning into a marketing role. That’s where she met Chavaroche and, before long, the two had gone from co-workers to co-founders.

“(Chavaroche) called me up last year and said, ‘I’ve been working on something, we worked so well together, why don’t we do this together?’” said Stoli. “I was immediately drawn to the idea as an educator, but also as a mom of three myself and I understood immediately the problem it was trying to solve.”

Chavaroche emigrated to Canada 15 years ago from France, where she worked in marketing for brands such as Chanel. But despite her experience with the corporate world, it was the pandemic that got the wheels turning for Chavaroche.

“The pandemic hit and I had had three kids in a row and I was stuck at home and just overwhelmed with the amount of toys in my house,” said Chavaroche. “I started looking at the European market and saw an interesting concept that had been popular in Germany, Belgium and France and nobody in Canada had started it.

“So then I just went all in.”

After six months of research, Chavaroche found that 94 per cent of parents surveyed would like a sustainable option for toy consumption and that 80 per cent of toys end up in landfills. She also learned that similar concepts, including those motivated by eliminating clutter for small living environments in places such as Paris and Dubai, had been successful.

Fast forward another six months and the two women launched Relove Toys, a subscription-based toy rental service that allows families to use Montessori toys in a two-month rental cycle. Relove is currently the only toy subscription service that ships across Canada.

Relove Toy subscription boxes are customizable based on childrens' ages, needs and interests. Photo provided.
Relove Toy subscription boxes are customizable based on childrens’ ages, needs and interests. Photo provided.

The decision to use Montessori toys was an easy one, Stoli and Chavaroche said. The toys are high-quality and competency-based. Many present one challenge, such as problem-solving or language, that the child must focus on.

The toys are best suited to preschool kids, Chavaroche explained, and are a great way to engage developing brains. 

“With Relove, children get to experience a set of toys at a time, ensuring they work on specific developmental skills before moving on to the next Play Kit. 90 per cent of a child’s brain is developed by age five, so they master competencies very quickly,” said Chavaroche. “It’s important to keep them engaged all the time.”

With some toys costing as much as $170, buying new is not always sustainable for parents. But with Relove, toys get returned and a new one arrives. Families can choose from three membership options based on price and amount of toys. 

For $49 per month, members receive a playkit with $300 worth of toys and five new toys every two months. The most expensive option includes 10 toys at a value of $600, or $89 per month. Each playkit comes with a prepaid shipping label to return the toys and parents can customize the toy’s options based on their children’s preferences and interests.

“It’s a solution financially and also a solution to all the clutter. It’s the fact that I don’t have to figure out what to do with toys once my kids get over them, which is usually about two months,” said Stoli. “You rent it and return it, get new toys, keep them engaged.”

If children develop a favourite toy, families can purchase it at a discounted price through Relove or add it to their next playkit so that they can continue using it.

Sustainability and waste reduction were other motivators in starting Relove, said Stoli. Rather than disposable, low-quality plastic toys, Relove’s Montessori toys are of such quality that Stoli said even her children struggle to break them. And the subscription and return model means when children are bored or finished with a toy, it is sent to a new family — not to a landfill.

“90% of toys are made of plastic and 80% end up in landfill. We are breaking into an industry that contributes 6 per cent to the global waste,” Stoli explained. “The circular economy is the solution and our children’s future. It is expected to be worth 1.5 trillion by 2030. Renting toys instead of buying, gives our children a head start to what their future as consumers will look like.”

Chavaroche’s research found that 60 million Barbie dolls are sold annually, creating emissions equivalent to burning 381 million gallons of gasoline. The research and surveys she conducted in anticipation of launching Relove also found that parents, particularly women, were stressed by the clutter and waste associated with buying toys for their children.

“For me, the toys were everywhere, you don’t know what to do with them, and I saw that women in particular were really annoyed and stressed by the toys collecting,” said Chavaroche. “But also with the money and budget it requires to buy toys all the time and how tempting it can be to buy toys to keep your kids busy …

“You’re just always on a roll of buying, buying, buying, but at the end of the day, you’re wasting money and it’s overwhelming,” she explained. “It’s too much.”

Since launching in January, Relove now has 25 families subscribed to the service. 

Stoli said starting the company has been a learning curve. While she had previous experience with entrepreneurship and her background as an educator and parent gave her insight into the problems that Relove aims to solve, she said the company has posed unique challenges.

“As a marketer, it’s been awesome to explore the world of a product combined with a service,” she explained. “We’re not selling toys; we’re a service providing toys to families that are customizable and we take it back, clean it, care for it and then send it to the next family.

Relove Box toy subscription
Families can choose between 5 and 10 toys per playkit. Photo provided

“Coming into this industry as a startup of two women in Ottawa and Gatineau, trying to break through the noise of the toy industry, has been a challenge,” continued Stoli. “But the return has been really encouraging.”

A large part of the journey was initial research and market study, said Chavaroche. 

“This is new for Canada, so we had to study it and see if it would work here,” said Chavaroche. “It’s not easy, we’re women in a small city and there are challenges for sure, but I’m not sure I could have done this in France.

“It is much easier here to reach out to mentors and build a network to spread the word and Canada is just really supportive for women in business.”

Relove’s first customer was in Vancouver, but in the past few months most subscribers have been based in Ottawa-Gatineau and Montreal. The next step will be breaking into the American market.

“We really wanted this business to become the go-to service for toy consumption in Canada to start, but we can’t ignore the demand that is coming from the U.S.,” said Stoli. “It’s just the two of us and we have a big goal and it’s something we want to tackle.

“It will be a challenge, moving to the U.S. won’t be easy, but we see the demand and we hear it every day in our inbox, bigger than we anticipated.”

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