Rachael Classi: Saving the Planet, One Toy at a Time

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Rachael Classi founded Tiny Earth Toys, a circular toy subscription business, during the pandemic to reduce her family’s consumption of playthings

Rachael Classi, the founder of Tiny Earth Toys
Photo by John Michael Simpson

By Renee Ambroso

This time last year, Rachael Classi’s upstairs closet in her Duke Park home overflowed with toys. The blocks and doodle boards once loved by daughters Donna, 4, and Lucia, 2, cluttered the space. Rachael saw what the overstuffed alcove was teaching her children. “Habits of overconsumption start really young,” Rachael says. “It kept hitting me that we don’t need to constantly be purchasing brand new things for our little ones.”

That thought prevailed when the pandemic began. Rachael and her husband, Peter Classi, who were now without child care, struggled to manage their full-time jobs. Rachael left her position as vice president of strategy and marketing at Teamworks to look after her daughters. At home, she found herself “trying to find ways to bring new and novel things into the house [without] spending a fortune,” Rachael says. She began exchanging sanitized toys and books with neighbors.

This informal neighborhood trade-off reminded Rachael of that closet. “It stressed everybody out,” Rachael says. In an effort to learn if this affected other families, she surveyed parents and discovered that others also wanted to find a systematic way to pass on toys their children had outgrown.

Rachael developed a concept for a startup that would offer subscription boxes of playthings intended for reuse. She teamed up with experts, including certified Montessori early childhood teacher Olynda Smith, in October 2020 to curate sustainable, age-appropriate toys.

Tiny Earth Toys launched a full line of products for newborns to toddlers in March. Each box option contains high-quality wooden toys, and the subscription service operates on a circular model, which means toys are returned when children outgrow them. Each box is intended for four to six months of play before TET recommends sending it back and moving on to the next option.

“The bigger opportunity is that we can teach about reuse,” Rachael says. Returned kits are sanitized in a warehouse at American Underground, then sent to their next home.

“Rachael has such vision,” Olynda says. “She is walking the talk … what is happening behind the scenes and the way she is building the team and bringing people together is really beautiful.”

Rachael’s goals for Tiny Earth Toys reaches beyond the products they offer. “She could very easily just be looking at the nuts and bolts of the toys, but she’s also looking at the bigger question of how to support families,” Olynda says. Boxes include guides that are less of a how-to on parenting and more of “an invitation into a particular lifestyle” centered on being environmentally conscious, Olynda says.

Rachael believes it was no coincidence that her inspiration struck last summer. “If the pandemic had not occurred,” she says, “I’m not sure I would have slowed down enough to realize what was going on in our house.” The business continues to grow – it sold out of two of its flagship kits and doubled the number of parents subscribed in April – and Rachael is excited by the momentum. She hopes to share with others what she already knows; that they can “be really happy without needing to own that closet at the top of my stairs.”

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Durham Magazine Intern

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