Toys with a Powerful Purpose
Mustafa Koliva, president of OoMaLoo, discusses how his company’s handmade toys enrich the lives of not only pets, but also women in need.
Pet Business: Tell us about OoMaLoo. How/when did the company get started? What inspired you to get into the pet toy business?
Mustafa Koliva: We actually started the company in 2006 in order to provide an American company to market pet products in the U.S. We had been working with our family in Turkey to manufacture pet products for several years and felt it was time to break into the U.S. market.
Our first pet toy was created by accident. At the time, my wife, son and I were living in Turkey. We had a beautiful Kangal named Jango. My sister made a cat toy for my son, who was two years old at the time. The dog stole it and kept it for his own. We realized that, with a few modifications, we could make great toys for dogs. Since then, we’ve been working to create a unique line of handmade toys.
PB: What sets your pet toys apart from other products on the market? What are some of the most important features of your toys?
Koliva: First of all, I think our toy designs are whimsical, unusual and fun. They catch the eye with color, texture and shapes. And of course, we are the only handmade toy on the market, so no two toys are exactly the same. I believe a lot of people like and appreciate knowing that a person, not a machine, made the toy that their pet enjoys.
As for important features, there are several. The yarn we use—what we call ‘funky fur’— creates a great texture for animals to play with. Our custom-made squeaky balls are also unique to our toys and very durable. Overall, even though our toys look and feel soft, they are actually quite durable (and washable).
PB: Your company has a unique international social impact. Can you please tell us a bit about that impact and your motivation?
Koliva: Even though I am proudly an American, I am Turkish and all of my family still lives in Turkey. I grew up in a small village near the Black Sea, where my parents had cleared the forest and created a large hazelnut farm. As a young man, I moved to Istanbul and eventually built a small house for my parents in what was then the outskirts of the city. The people in that area were mostly poor, uneducated village people, like my parents.
Although things are changing and improving rapidly for the younger generation, most of the women in that area have no more than a fifth-grade education. They are wives and mothers in a culture (especially in their socio-economic group) still dominated by men. Because of their responsibilities at home and limited skills, they do not have many opportunities to earn money.
When we looked to increase manufacturing, we were committed to employing these women, and we have stayed committed to employing them. They can do as much or as little as their time allows and are generally paid for each piece. The money they earn helps them educate their children, keep food on the table and buy extras that their husbands’ salaries do not provide for. Also, their income is reported to the government, which will increase their eligibility for retirement pension.
Within my own family I have spent my life working to bring the younger generation into the modern world. I have made sure that my nieces and nephews are educated so that they have choices for their lives. In a small way, I see OoMaLoo as helping other people do the same for their children. Education is the key to better lives and a better world.
PB: OoMaLoo recently introduced a line of natural fiber toys. How are these products different from your previous offerings? How do they fit in with the overall natural trend in the pet industry?
Koliva: Our original style toys—with the funky fur yarn— are made of polyester and acrylic yarns, polyester filling and a vinyl ball. Customers requested that we create some toys with natural fibers, and we responded. Our natural fiber toys are made with 100-percent wool yarn and cotton filling. Once the toy is knit or crocheted, it is then filled (what most people think of as felted) to create a solid fabric. Other than the materials used, the toys are the same as all others in the line.
I believe that our toys are a playful addition to the other natural toys out there. When customers make a request, manufacturers must listen and change accordingly. The demand for natural fiber toys is no longer a trend, but rather the new status quo. There is a segment of the pet-toy-buying population that is committed to giving their pets the same natural products that they themselves believe to be most healthful and responsible.
PB: Are there any other new products that the company has introduced, or will introduce in the near future?
Koliva: We are always creating new toys within our existing line. This year, we are bringing out several fun new characters: pelican, panda, pineapple, dinosaur and sloth. They will be on display at SuperZoo this month. We are also currently working on designs for a few new accessories and sweaters for the coming season.
PB: What does the future hold for OoMaLoo?
Koliva: Like most companies, we would like to continue to build our product lines, increase customer satisfaction, and increase quality and uniformity. Those are goals we strive for daily. But additionally, we are exploring entering into pet markets beyond the U.S., Canada and Japan.