Anyone who has had a baby in the past decade is likely familiar with the ubiquitous giraffe teether known as Sophie. One of the most popular toys in France since 1961— more are sold annually there than babies are born—Sophie was introduced to the American market by Hélène Dumoulin-Montgomery in 2001. The Laguna Niguel resident and French expat remains the sole U.S. distributor and has expanded her business, Calisson Inc., to include handmade plush toys, shoes, and accessories.
What prompted you to bring Sophie here?
I was a single mom working part time, and I wanted to bring my beloved childhood toy to the U.S. The company, Vulli, allowed me to do so.
What made sales take off?
With the recall of Chinese toys in 2007, people started to find Sophie, who is made of natural rubber in France. And celebrities like Kate Hudson and her son were photographed with Sophie.
Do you handle all U.S. orders from your warehouse in San Juan Capistrano?
Yes—with a staff of 12 people! We also work with Vocational Visions, a Mission Viejo nonprofit that employs people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They do a lot of our packaging.
What about your brands?
Calisson Little Royals is my children’s shoe and clothing line. And Pamplemousse Peluches are our handmade animal plush toys. My products might seem expensive at first, but as my dad would say, “Buy quality, don’t buy junk.” Because it lasts as a special keepsake for parents.