Sophie la girafe is an institution. All babies love it and we too. So much so that we wanted to know everything about her until her smallest spot. Our investigation into the Sophie factory has plunged us into the secrets of its manufacture. Are you shown?
Sophie, everyone knows her. You chewed it when you were a child and your toddler received it as a birthday gift. Fifty-five years after its creation, it remains the star toy of babies all over the world.
To reassure the mothers whose toddlers spend most of their time putting it in the mouth, we looked at the materials that compose it and the different stages of its manufacture. For that, we went to the source: to the Vulli factory located in Rumilly, a few kilometers from Annecy (Haute-Savoie). A day in a family-friendly business to discover the history of the most famous giraffes, to become aware of the processes and craftsmanship of the employees at the service of the pretty Sophie.
The birth of Sophie the giraffe
But first, back in 1961. At that time, baby toys mostly represent animals (domestic or farm). In order to differentiate itself from the competition, a certain man, Rampeau, launched the creation of an exotic rubber giraffe made from latex, hevea (a tree that grows in Malaysia). It refines the design of this new toy, works out the shape and size to meet the needs of the babies perfectly. So is born Sophie the giraffe … marketed on May 25, the day of the Holy Sophia (we hear you already: “Aaaah, that’s why it’s called Sophie?”).
A Sophie for a Birth
At the dawn of the year 2017, France counts on average 800 000 births annually and Vulli … 800 000 Sophie sold. Besides the traditional and transgenerational dimension of this toy, Proust’s kind of madeleine to which grandmother, mother, and daughter remain attached, Sophie persists, it is mainly thanks to its many qualities. With her 18 centimeters of happiness, she is the only toy capable of awakening the five senses of the child and the first that he will be able to seize between his little hands. The contrast of its spots is indeed easily identifiable by a toddler ( the view ). Its “pouet” is a unique sound recognizable among all ( hearing). Its natural rubber has a weak and reassuring odor. Sophie’s “indefinable” fragrance is similar to vanilla and the nipple of bib ‘(smell). Its soft peach skin recalls that of Mom. A grip is enough for Baby to catch his neck or his legs (the touch). Finally, the toddler can put his long legs, with the hard and soft texture at the same time, in the mouth to relieve by itself his gums (the taste).
Sophie’s various manufacturing steps
But before arriving in the mouth of Baby, Sophie went through different stages and this is where our investigation begins. The Vulli factory, in the middle of an industrial zone, is immense. We hear all sorts of noises: “Brrr”, “Ssshhhh”, “Ffooouu” emanate from impressive machines. Behind, dozens of employees focused on their tasks. On the other hand, no odor of chemicals or other and it is rather nice. The reason is simply that Sophie’s raw material is 100% natural rubber. We also catch sight of latex casks, which have also come a long way: they come from Malaysia! Latex is collected in rubberwood for several small producers, a cooperative with which Vulli works. It is immediately mixed with water to be preserved. Sophie’s rubber is the same as that used in medicine, or chemically very neutral. “Latex is received fairly regularly, large quantities are never stored for long, rubber remains a living material. And depending on the seasons, heat, it keeps for a longer or shorter time, “explains Lysiane Milloz, communication manager at Vulli.
It is in Rumilly that this latex is transformed – the famous success made in France! Since 1961, the process has never changed and 55 million giraffes have been sold since its inception. Color and texture, latex resembles pancake batter. Little landmark: 80 grams of rubber is needed to make a Sophie.
As we approach the molds, we can guess the silhouettes before and behind Sophie. These molds are made of plaster, a material necessary for the absorption of the water hitherto contained by natural rubber. We see a small straw, which will create a small hole in the body of Sophie where will be housed his whistle (for the chick). After being agitated to reform, the natural rubber is poured directly into the molds (10 giraffes per mold).
Once the mold is closed, move the rotomoulding machine. As its name suggests, this large machine with kinds of iron arms makes it possible to transform the liquid rubber into a solid and elastic material thanks to a system of rotation. Each mold turns there for two hours until obtaining a Sophie … solid. The plasters are reused until total wear (then sold to a local company for the production and marketing of plaster), because yes, Sophie is more eco-friendly, goal: zero waste.
Once the round of merry-go-round is over, we must wait a little longer until our favorite giraffe dries completely. It then passes through a so-called “ripening” stage, placed in a conformator for a minimum of forty-five days. 500,000 Sophie drafts are permanently stored to meet the big demands.
The workshop of the hands of fairies
We change rooms and it’s calmer. Apparently, painstaking tasks remain the prerogative of women. There is no need for a force as for the previous stages led by men (the molds, that weighs) but concentration. The employees are installed one behind the other on offices where are placed “almost” Sophie.
We start with the grinding: Sophie is out of the rotomould with a small surplus of rubber all around her that must be trimmed. Discs of cloth against each other heat and reduce the excess rubber to powder. It takes forty seconds per giraffe and for that, it takes a real helping hand!
Then place the whistle, the longest step. You know, the little straw on the plaster mold that left a hole on Sophie’s body … Well, it is in this hole that the whistle is inserted. With a brush, an employee glues it with natural rubber. A layer, two layers, three layers … drying for a longer time (yes, Sophie is very dependent on the weather) and will completely cover the whistle that has become invisible and therefore inaccessible.
The most famous of the giraffes is still quite white. It will come to life in the next stage: painting. For her spots, Sophie is placed behind a stencil with holes. As a paint: natural rubber mixed with natural pigments. The first task (you follow?): First brown painting for the body, feet, and ears. With a hand raised and with the aid of a pistol, the artist “pschitte” Sophie face, then back. She changes her gun and takes the pink for the cheeks and mouth. Here is our Sophie pomponnated. He only misses his eyes: a little black laid gently with the brush and the trick is played.
At this moment, it is realized that each Sophie’s handmade is unique: depending on the intensity given by the person, the spots that make his originality are more or less dark. A small tattoo to finish: the traceability number on Sophie’s paw to ensure an irreproachable quality control. The next steps will be packaging and packaging. It will be dispatched from Rumilly to more than 77 countries. Among the top 10: the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Germany … Before being in the arms of Baby.
Sophie 100% safe
Sophie, the materials that make it up, latex and its products are regularly and regularly tested within the factory. In Rumilly, two people work full-time to ensure the quality of the products intended for our babies. Aspiring “chemists” who try all kinds of experiments to follow the evolution of natural rubber and always meet safety and quality standards. Nothing is too safe for our babies!