Like so many other how-did-this-not-exist-already ideas, Carissa Tozzi founded Wolf & Friends, an inclusive shopping and lifestyle site, out of pure necessity.
When Tozzi’s now-5-year-old son Wolf was in preschool, his teacher saw that he didn’t like sitting up during circle time and suggested he may have sensory issues. “They handed me a package of paperwork, which included therapy sites for toys,” says Tozzi. “I immediately poured through all the paperwork in a panic and started to order some sensory toys that may be helpful for him, not really even understanding how he should play with them or what the intended result should be.” The toys she bought ended up being “crappy and unhelpful.” While Wolf grew out of his sensory issues, Tozzi didn’t lose the feeling of wanting the best for him and not being able to find it.
It was that experience — as well as the fact that so many of her friends’ kids were on the spectrum or suffering from ADHD, including Wolf & Friends CEO Gena Mann’s son — that lead her to create the site.
But it’s not exactly what she planned to do from the outset. A former editor at magazines like Seventeen and the now-defunct CosmoGirl! — the latter of which is where she met Mann — Tozzi was originally interested in what was happening in the mom space in terms of children’s decor and design, but didn’t want to create a shopping site for materialism’s sake. Instead, she looked at how products for atypical kids are often corralled to one depressing corner of the internet. “Oftentimes, you have one child that has delays and one that doesn’t, but you need to shop for both of them,” she says, noting that shopping for kids with special needs always feels like a bit of a downer. “The reality is, these toys are available anywhere, but nobody was curating them in a space that’s happy.”
And with the help of experts like Alescia Ford-Lanza, an occupational therapist, Gwen Lopez-Cohen, a child and adolescent psychologist, and speech language pathologist Shari Goldstein, Tozzi oversees articles so parents can browse helpful articles while picking out toys and decor — all of which are designed to help with development. “There are certain things I played with or that I know that are good for speech and language, like a dollhouse, for example,” she tells me, but for anyone without an expert in their pocket, each toy on the site is labeled with markers like “gross motor play,” “pretend play,” “speech and language” [and] “fine motor play” so parents can shop based on their kids’ specific needs. “But no matter what, the more you’re creative with your kids, the more likely they’ll be creative back.”
Ahead, check out a few of the toys from the site.