Little things matter

Iowa couple collaborate to make small wonders

DUBUQUE, Iowa — About 18 months ago, when Kayla and Chisum Pike began making their wooden creations, the Dubuque couple wasn’t intending to start a business.

The way Kayla tells it, they were just looking for a way to pass the time.

“We were both in the Marine Corps and when I got out, I needed something to do. I was really bored,” she told the Telegraph Herald. “I saw these dolls online, charging $30 or more, and I decided I wasn’t going to pay that much. So I started making them myself.”

It didn’t take long for the Pikes to discover there was a market for their handmade, wooden items. In summer 2015, the couple launched Teeny Weeny Toys. They describe them as “modern folk toys for hip kids.”

The business sells peg dolls, puzzles and games designed for children. They sell their products at the Dubuque Farmers Market and through the virtual storefront Etsy.

The young parents — Kayla and Chisum have two children, Zoey, 3, and Charlie, 1 — say their products would not be possible without the other’s contributions.

Chisum starts the process by cutting out wood, often tracing a design into wood using a bandsaw to make the necessary cuts.

Kayla then paints the products, giving them their distinct and colorful appearance.

Despite their proficiency with their duties, the Pikes both emphasized that they are far from experts.

“I took a woodworking class in high school and that was about 10 years ago,” Chisum said. “With the work I’m doing (for the business), I just went at it and hoped for the best. I learned a lot through trial and error.”

Kayla said she has long had an artsy side. But she admitted she also has learned on the fly.

“I’ve never taken an art class my entire life,” she said. “I’ve always been a do-it-yourself type of person, but I’ve never had any formal training. Since I’ve started doing it, my skill level has gone up a ton.”

Kayla said she has been amazed by their products’ reach, noting that multiple customers outside of the United States have purchased products from the Etsy website. This year, they established a booth at the Dubuque Farmers Market.

“One of the reasons I love farmers markets is, when we were just doing Etsy, I didn’t get to see kids’ faces when they saw the toys or took them home,” Kayla said. “To actually see their reactions has just been amazing.”

The time it takes to create a single toy or item can vary widely. Kayla emphasized that some toys can take 10 or 20 minutes to paint, while others can take more than two hours.

Finding time to create the toys can sometimes be difficult, but Chisum said the hands-on nature of the products is what makes them special.

“We want our toys to stay natural,” he said. “We don’t want anything plastic or anything electronic.”

The Pikes draw much of their inspiration from the fact that they, too, have young children. This has taught them not only how to make toys that kids will like but how to avoid things that could pose a danger.

“I use a nontoxic paint because I put myself in the parents’ shoes and I can tell why that is so important,” she said.

Whiles the Chisums have a great working relationship, Kayla noted that they have little in common when it comes to personality.

She views that as a key to their success.

“Chisum is very mathematical and linear thinking and I am very creative,” she said. “We are opposites, but it works out well.”