From FabLab to family business – Václav Fego talks about the brand’s philosophy and the desire to invent new things, modify existing ones and improve them.
BRN – Václav Fego was not satisfied with the offer of Montessori toys on the market, so he created his own design at the FabLab. It continues under the Montehra brand and expands the range with original products. He is assisted by his companion Petra Špotáková with practical experience as a teaching assistant in a primary school. Their children’s toys and furniture are the result of manual work, in which they currently involve automation.
“Two years ago my friend Petra and I were faced with the question of buying a Montessori swing gift for our nephew, but when I found out what assortment is on the market and how much money they want for it , I decided to make the swing myself,” says Václav Fego.
The Montessori principle is to create an environment with stimuli that develop and educate children in a non-violent way. In a fun way, the Montessori elements lead the child to develop specific psychomotor skills. The first product of the Monte game was an insert – the child inserts different shapes (keys) into the correct boxes. “I made such an evolution, instead of a plate with one key, I made a plate with ten keys. It was a huge success. I said to myself that I had to look at what else there was to produce in the category of Montessori products, what I would especially like to produce, and we found swings and triangles”, recalls Vaclav Fego.
What is a Pikler triangle?
The Hungarian pediatrician and inventor Emmi Pikler discovered that when a child is faced with a problem which may lie in the simple climbing and overcoming of an obstacle in which he must alternate and develop the coordination of hand grip and foot, the brain is involved and thus accelerates its development. She discovered that physical activity improves children’s mental development. So she invented this game element, which is produced in many variations around the world.
The triangles offered on the Czech market were not suitable for my static and single-use construction. I modified the design so that it was possible to position the arms between them, which would change the shape of the triangle, and therefore its height above the ground. I wanted to allow more triangles to be interconnected to create little monkeys for their own monkeys. Compared to the competition, our Pikler triangle can be broken down into individual arms and variably connected to the arms of our other triangles. When you buy two or three, you are able to vary different shapes among the six arms. Competitive triangles usually can only hold. Once a child grows up, you can offer a competing product in the secondary market and sell it as is. From our triangle arms, you can, for example, make ladders on the wall. They will continue to live with children until adulthood. And that’s what it’s all about, making products that won’t just last a while, but will live with you for as long as possible.
How are the roles distributed in the company?
I’m going to find something, I’m going to be interested in something, I’m going to look at how it could be done, I’m going to model it, I’m going to make a prototype, I’m going to take a picture of it and we’re going to market it. Petra comes up with ideas like “I have to make a tool for the kids” because she works as a teaching assistant at school and sometimes they need something for kids who need help in teaching. So we make a small tool for a given school. , assembly, packaging and shipping of products, she also created and maintains our website.
Why do you use wood?
Wood is easier to process and shape than plastic. I will definitely not buy an injection molding machine and make molds for the production of plastic parts. I would prefer to design the game so that it can be made of a wooden surface material and is safe to play after painting and varnishing. It is also more environmentally friendly. Only wood has increased by about 300%, and moreover, most quality plywood is found in Russia and Belarus. There is something in Lithuania. I am currently buying a lot of hardware and it is with a big question mark, how it will be in the future. If Russia is not in order and the trade does not start… We like the wood and will be happy when it is available.
We produce mostly birch plywood, which has the advantage over solid materials of being stronger, more durable and better processed. We use beech for the rods in the Pikler Triangle, which can resist bending when loaded by a child. Wood and plywood can be repaired or refurbished if damaged. This means that over time they will not fly in the trash, but we can use them again and again after renovation. We want to produce products that will be durable, last a long time, won’t break right away, and serve others.
How to design and make a toy?
I draw it on the computer in InkScap, I model the curves. Now I use Fusion360 for 3D modeling. I project the individual components into the material and CNCčko solves it for me. It’s such a headache.
During production, each product passes through my hands, so I am able to assess whether or not it meets our quality standards. Unfortunately, while working with some part-timers, I realized that their quality standards did not match mine, so we had to say goodbye. We focus on precise machining so that there are no edges on the product that could injure the child and hide any defects that may appear on the plywood or wood during production – sealing holes, resharpening, several stages of painting. I encountered that someone was able to release a solid material slide into the world and there was a fallen knot on the edge. It is very important to focus on the details, which will take a lot of time.
What regulations are toys subject to in the EU?
There is a 71 standard on the safety of toys, which defines the design of a toy so that it is not dangerous for the child. It is also necessary to pay attention to the surface treatment with harmless paints and varnishes. It annoys me when someone pulls customers by the nose. Photographs the product, does not indicate dimensions, material strength, surface finish. I wrote down the main points that customers should pay attention to when choosing a swing and published them in articleyou on the web.
In addition to toys, you have also started making children’s furniture, what are you going to do next?
Yes, more and more shelves, tables and chairs, my design, we prepared the curves and made. I have to keep developing, because I basically like inventing new things, modifying existing ones and improving them. I am a well, a geyser of new products. I came up with a combination of a chair and a learning tower. On one side it is a tower and after turning it on the other side is a high chair at the table. I’m waiting for my CNC to start, because it jerks and messes up my hardware. As soon as it works properly, I throw it away. I have an industrial design ready to use so no one will copy it for me. It is a product for families who have little space in the apartment and cannot install a chair and a learning tower separately. I have several types of learning towers ready, so the spring will be marked by the growth of the child and learning towers.
Will the Czechs appreciate a quality artisanal product?
We have managed to build a fan base on Facebook and we reach the general public through various bazaars and Montessori groups where people respond to us. Many customers who bought something from us are satisfied, so we keep them coming back for more products. I also make to order, we are not afraid of new ideas for new products. If anyone is interested in our things and would like to modify them or make a similar one, they can feel free.