The horrific realisation that mould was growing inside her daughter’s favourite chew toy spurred Ms Debbie Chia (pictured above) to create her own line of teethers.
In December, the mother of two founded online store Annie + Alex, which sells Scandinavian-themed teethers and accessories she designed. They are made of non-toxic beech wood and food-grade silicone.
She is among a handful of local parents who have created commercial products in their attempts to find solutions to problems they encountered during their parenting journey.
Mrs Charmaine Chee designed jewellery that doubles as teethers. Ms Sylvia Seow produces play dough that is safe to taste. Mr Jeremy Tan came up with affordable and eco-friendly diaper disposal bags.
Ms Chia’s journey to becoming an entrepreneur started three years ago. Her daughter Annabelle, six months old at the time, regularly sank her teeth into Sophie the Giraffe, a knobbly teething toy that is popular with parents across the world.
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On one occasion during that period, her husband accidentally sat on the toy and a black, foul- smelling liquid squirted out of its air hole. The substance was mould.
“It was so disgusting. I could not believe it. I immediately threw it away,” says Ms Chia, 33.
She had cleaned the toy regularly before the incident and suspects the mould is a result of moisture entering the toy from the air hole.
She then tried to look for other products in the market, but could not find any satisfactory alternatives and resorted to letting Annabelle gnaw on her pacifier whenever she was teething.
When her second child Alexander was born last year, she found teethers made of silicone beads being sold online. After including shipping costs, getting one of these sent from Australia would have cost her $60.
Not wanting to pay the hefty price, she decided to make a teether for him. She started researching suitable materials – some grades of silicone are said to be mould-resistant – and then sourced around for suppliers, but they sold the materials in bulk.
That was when she decided to try to turn her idea into a business.
The former bank employee sank “a few thousand dollars” of her savings into the business and has already broken even.
She tries to come up with new designs every two to three weeks “to keep things fresh”. There are close to 20 products on her website.
“I used to just buy whatever was popular among parents, but this time, I tried to create something rather than follow a trend,” she says. “I feel very accomplished about what I’ve done so far.”