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On the first floor of a small building on Levantine Street in South Tel Aviv, amid the clutter of material scraps and fluffy, plastic-wrapped sofas, Michal Levy-Cogan and Merav Ofri-Vax spend their days inside designing baby products that they hope will be soft and comfortable enough to temper the harsh, noisy world just outside their doorstep.
The two partners studied industrial design together at Vital in Tel Aviv, but at the time, they had no idea they would one day be creating products of their own together.
"We were acquaintances but we didn't have any plans to work together," Michal says of their unexpected partnership. After she finished her degree in 1999, Merav started working as a freelancer designing wedding decorations, while Michal made her living in Web design.
Through a mutual friend, the two women were brought together again in 2004. They decided that their similar philosophies and approaches to design would make a good partnership.
"From our own experiences as mothers we know what things are practical for children, and we wanted to create products that would be both useful on a daily basis and soft and simple," explains Merav.
In April of 2004, Michal and Merav launched Goga, a product design company geared toward making accessories and toys for babies that evoke harmony and balance.
Goga combines everyday necessities like blankets, diapers, pacifiers and pillows with "friends" like rabbits, dolls, bears, elephants and sheep. They use only soft and comfortable textiles and pastel colors in their products, and their goal is to generate a more peaceful, simple environment in which babies feel protected and safe.
"Today's world is too noisy and busy. The toys and accessories for babies are too bold and bright. With so much over-stimulation, it's hard to create a relaxing environment for them," says Michal.
The material's softness and the fact that it gives babies "a friend" are critical elements in the product design, they explain.
"By combining something soothing they use on a daily basis with a 'friend,' the children get to take something with them from home that has the imprint of the house and the added value of friendship," says Merav.
She points to a scientific study conducted on two monkeys who lost their mothers as an example of the importance of softness. One orphaned monkey was given cloth and one was given steel. The one who received cloth was able to adapt to life without his mother, but the monkey given steel went crazy.
"We're not saying that if a child doesn't have a soft blanket, he'll go crazy," laughs Merav. "We are only interested in adding more comfort and harmony to the child's life."
Another central theme in Goga designs is one of imperfection. Each of their hand-sewn products is slightly different, and each one has its blemishes.
"Some of the faces have asymmetrical eyes or one ear may be slightly longer than the other. The point is that each one is unique and none of them are 'perfect,' just like we are not perfect," says Michal as she models a terrycloth towel that ties around the mother's neck to keep her dry, free her hands and give her baby a soft exit from the bathtub.
When Goga first started, the two women went store to store with their first product in hand - a cotton diaper with a doll in the middle. The cloth nappy was so successful that today, their products are available in over 40 stores in Israel and France, and their line has expanded to include baby furniture, toys, hand puppets, lampshades, towels and rattles. They work with a Druse sewing factory run exclusively by women and they hired a female salesperson who is also a mother.
For Goga, the possibilities for future products are limitless and they are constantly expanding, but no matter how many new items emerge, they plan on maintaining their core concepts of softness, simplicity and imperfection.
For more information, visit www.gogadesign.com