Prince Charles has one; Elvis adored his and named a song after it, while actress Dame Judi Dench is a well-known collector of them. From Winnie the Pooh to the Care Bears and Paddington, these cute little animals have gained a global reputation as adorable symbols of peace, love and playfulness, which is why we love making them at Grin & Bear.
Our story is built on friendship and love. A few years ago with Christmas approaching and in a scramble to find a last minute present for a friend, I decided to create something personal. I was either foolish or ambitious as Christmas was only 2 days away. I searched frantically through my craft box and found some fabric which I knew she would love and just like a miracle I discovered an old teddy bear pattern. I spent the entire afternoon creating this bear (Castano Bear) and i must say I was completely surprised at the result.
Indeed the foundation of the Grin & Bear business is built upon a simple testament to continuing the legacy that teddy bears have already conjured in the hearts and minds of everyone, and not just Elvis Presley; a legacy that endures today from the captivating memories of their early creation.
Right from the start, the teddy bear charm was palpable from the very first day that they were created at a modest New York toy shop back in 1902 - at a time when the then American President Theodore Roosevelt captured public attention by refusing to shoot a real-life bear on a hunting trip. The episode sparked so much national admiration that two shopkeepers, Morris & Rose Mitcham, got straight to work at making plush toy bears in their Brooklyn store to commemorate the incident. The rest, as they say, was pretty much history, as the cute cuddly bears flew off the shelves and into the hands of delighted consumers.
At the same time however, European versions of teddy bears also emerged, but in a totally different fashion. A German man named Richard was working for his aunt Margaret on a project to design new soft toys for their family business, and on a trip to the local zoo, he suggested making bears because of their instantly charming appearance. The Steiff Company of Giengen then rapidly produced the first stuffed bears on his orders to wide consumer acclaim. Many of the bears were showcased at the 1903 Leipzig Fair, where an American buyer saw them and ordered 3,000 for a shipment to the US where their popularity had already began to surge due to aforementioned events. It was not long after this that English toy-makers also caught on, and thus a craze was born that quickly took the globe by storm.
We strive to recreate these more romantic times when making bears was about tender loving care.
The quaint romanticism of this historical story was perfectly evoked in early bear designs, which reflected the rustic, life-like ambience of real-life bears from the Zoo and from President Roosevelt’s early observations. The original teddies were deliberately made to look like their real-life counterparts, with extended snouts and beady eyes, while being crafted from natural materials like mohair and wool to echo the organic nature of their earthly woodland homes.
However, modern times have not been so kind to these graceful old ways, replacing hand-made craftsmanship and quality materials with unrealistic looks, assembly-line production and synthetic fabrics; a picture far removed from the teddy bear past, which was conversely steeped in the noble values of quality and natural authenticity. This sad fact is something that has propelled Grin & Bear into being, as we strive to recreate these more romantic times when making bears was about tender loving care. In the process, we have established a uniquely bespoke service that aims to reinvigorate past refinement while maintaining age-old symbolism and looking forward to the future with fresh and modern design. In this respect, we celebrate the glories of the past while keeping bears as cute as they ever have been in a lustrous and long-lasting way.