Wonderful Women Interview with Chocolate Entrepreneur, Maya Simler
Maya Simler was born in Belgrade and as a child, she lived in Iran and Russia before coming to London to complete a BA in Visual Communications and an MA in Scenography. She taught at the American University in London, founded an interior design company and after feeling shocked by the waste generated at children’s parties, set up an ethical, educational, chocolate brand called PLAYin CHOC.
Based in North London, PLAYin CHOC is best known for its colourful, fun ToyChoc boxes which contain a collectable push-together toy animal, fact card and two delicious pieces of chocolate. All of the brand’s packaging is recycled and recyclable, the chocolate is vegan and the entire production chain is fair and slave labour-free.
Maya loves nature and sailing and yoga and astrology bring balance to her life. Her drive is fuelled by a wish to make a fundamental, deep change to the way we think about both chocolate and the wider world around us.
Describe a typical day for you?
I live in North London with my husband, Dominic, and two sons. On a typical school day, we’ll sleep until seven. We should probably get up earlier but we love sleeping! We’re not big breakfast eaters, so we’ll have some chia puddings or energy balls that I make the night before. I’ll take them to school or walk them to the school coach, have a coffee or two and then work. I pick them up from school or they take the coach and we’ll go for a walk with our dog in the park or Highgate Woods – we love finding secret pathways and adding to our stick collection!
Once a month, I’ll meet online with my astrology group. They’ve been an amazing support through these turbulent times. I feel that by using astrology you’re more prepared in dealing with situations as they arise. I use astrology in my work life too: Mercury Retrograde is an excellent time to plan for example.
What do you feel are your greatest achievements?
Launching a product that people love. After having children, I combined my 3 passions – design, caring for the planet and chocolate – and founded PLAYin CHOC. Our flagship products are ToyChoc boxes: beautifully designed packages containing a double hit of our creamy, three-ingredient vegan chocolate as well as a collectable, push-together toy and a fun facts card, all created from recycled, recyclable materials. We provide an alternative to traditional chocolate-and-plastic-toy products that is ethical, fun and educational. The fact that people really, really love the brand is the best feeling and I think everything else just flows from that.
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
My wallet, keys and phone, of course. And I have a piece of PLAYin CHOC chocolate in there too! Really! I’m a genuine fan of the stuff. I also always have a homeopathic energy booster or calming essence. Oh, and my dog Gala’s poo bags and treats, of course.
What are your ambitions in life?
I just want to live a balanced life. Maybe someday I’ll end up making a home by the ocean as I feel the sea will form a big part of that.
More widely, I want to make a positive impact on the planet. I’d like to help people choose products that have been made with the planet in mind, and to keep our production chain as ethical as possible. If we can prove that you can be successful and ethical, and in turn inspire other companies to follow this route, I will feel as if I have made a difference. There is a ripple effect – we have the power to make a positive difference through our choices.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
I wish I’d known how to handle the work/life balance better and not exhaust myself. Business is a process where, of course, you want everything done properly but I wish I’d asked for more help and support in the beginning.
Where do you see yourself in 5 year’s time?
Sailing a little boat around the sea off Montenegro! I’d like PLAYin CHOC to be a classic, everyday brand available everywhere at an affordable price, giving everyone the opportunity to buy ethically. And I’d like to be somewhere with more nature in my life.
What advice would you give a budding chocolate maker?
You have to believe in your product and love what you do. Then, even in challenging times, you’ll have a purpose that drives you. I think that applies to any job! If you have a love and passion for your work, then you’ll get through the challenges.
What advice would you give to a new parent?
Follow your instincts. As a first-time mother you have these fears, worrying about doing the right thing for your child, and you search everywhere for advice but we all instinctively know what’s good for our children. And I think that wisdom often gets lost in the sea of advice from relatives and books and stuff online. The best thing to do is feel your way for your child and you’ll enjoy parenting more. When you’re less stressed and trust yourself, everything falls into place.
Finally, happiness is…
A glass of wine and a piece of my chocolate. Also living in the moment and appreciating what I have. But chocolate is the most important element of course 🙂