The Uncommon Life

Twice a Refugee: A Visit from the IRC

June 24, 2016

After recently partnering with a new Better to Give partner – The International Rescue Committee (IRC) – UncommonGoods was lucky enough to have an audience with Omar Almashhadani, a refugee client of the IRC. Omar describes himself as being a refugee twice in his life. In 2006, Omar was living in his native Iraq, studying prosthetic dentistry, and was hoping to continue his studies and move into practicing – but his life was in danger. The security situation in Iraq had collapsed, and his family fled the country to what they thought at the time might be a beacon of safety—Syria. They lived in a refugee camp, and Omar and his brother couldn’t go to college or work because of restrictions on refugees. Given the bleak outlook for their futures in a refugee camp, Omar and his family decided to apply for refugee resettlement in the United States, and in April 2008, were granted resettlement in the U.S. With help from the IRC, Omar became a U.S. citizen and has been going to school and working in New York City ever since. Here’s a look at our conversation with Omar.

Omar and Family

Omar (far right) with his family, who are now living in the United States

What was your life in Iraq like before the war?

It was peaceful, quiet, and I could go outside to hang out with my friends and family. We had many different communities and different religions, but we were all very happy and peaceful.

How did your family decide it was time to leave Iraq?

In 2003, the war drove me and my family out of my hometown and into the center of Baghdad where we stayed with my uncle. Unfortunately the conflict continued to escalate with suicide bombings and rumors of people being kidnapped. Then in 2005 my brother was shot in the leg, and we realized it was too dangerous to stay any longer. We knew we had to leave as soon as possible, so we applied for an Iraqi passport – which can take a year to be approved. Finally we fled to Syria in 2006. At that time, Syria was considered safer than Iraq.

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Maker Stories

Andrea Panico: 3D Printing and Reinventing the I.D. Necklace

June 24, 2016

Puppy wheelchairs, prosthetics, and pizza in space. What do these things have in common? They’ve all been 3D printed. Once the stuff of science fiction (think the replicators of Star Trek’s Enterprise), 3D printing is rapidly becoming familiar technology for artists, inventors, and industrial designers. Although 3D printing is associated with creating a wide variety of things, it’s not necessarily associated with making beautiful things. One artist who’s working on changing that is Andrea Panico, maker of our Common Edge 3D Printed Initial Necklace.

Panico Common Edge 2
“I think when 3D printing technology started gaining momentum, we all looked at it like ‘What can I do with this that I couldn’t do via traditional methods?’,” says Andrea, reflecting on makers’ embrace of the cutting edge potential. But instead of embarking on flights of 3D-printed fancy, her approach was relatively pragmatic: “I’ve always been more interested in how I could use 3D printing to help me do what I was already doing—as opposed to creating something aesthetically different, just because I could. I’m a lover of tools, whether they’re manual or technological in nature, and started looking at 3D printing as just another tool in my kit.”

Panico Common Edge 3

Andrea’s drawings for the Common Edge necklace

The Common Edge necklace design is an extension of Andrea’s architectural approach to jewelry design. “I’m always looking at systems and modularity and always thinking about how to minimize production time and maximize beauty and uniqueness,” she says. Part of Andrea’s challenge as a jewelry designer was to reconcile the digital, automatic nature of 3D printing with the cachet of custom, handmade jewelry. Prototyping potential is part of the key to striking such a balance.

“The work I do is precise by nature and I spend quite a bit of time planning and designing so that I can maintain that precision in production,” she explains. “It’s similar to me using a mold to cast a piece for production. I need that tool to help me ensure the design is accurate and true to my intent, time after time.”

Further making the connection between traditional casting techniques and 3D printing, she adds, “I still spend quite a bit of time finishing the piece by hand. With 3D printing, the time and effort are spent up front, doing the work to plan and execute in the 3D software. So while I’m not hand finishing the design per se, it still involves quite a bit of decision-making and design intent.”

Panico Common Edge 4

Digital schematics for the Common Edge necklace

Technology and tools aside, concepts of universality inspire her design. “I wanted to underscore the theme that we all share this common human denominator; that we’re all different in so many ways, but there’s a foundation of basic needs that brings people together,” she asserts. “I started looking at the alphabet and realized that almost all the letters could be created by building simple gestures on top of either a common straight line or a common curved line. This piece reminds us we are unique, but also that we are not alone.” For Andrea, the geometric framework of the alphabet provided a ready metaphor for the ties of human experience.

Panico Common Edge 5

Digital rendering of the Common Edge necklace

Andrea’s inspiration also stems from existing traditions of I.D. jewelry—specifically, a bit of bling from her own collection: “I have an I.D. necklace I got in the ‘80s that had this delicate and elaborate ‘Andrea’ with a tiny diamond in it,” she reflects. “Those are back in style as an ironic statement now, but I wanted to make a piece for the woman who likes pieces that are a little stronger and less precious. This is why the necklace includes the two pieces—the common edge piece and a more gestural overlay that together creates her initial.”

A creative continuation of the I.D. jewelry tradition, the Common Edge necklace can be worn every day to work, at home (it’s strong enough to withstand curious kids’ hands), or out and about. Plus, its 3D printed forms will help you feel connected to a fascinating piece of the future. blogcta-letternecklace

Gift Guides

Gift Guide: Wedding Anniversary Gifts by Year

June 23, 2016

Just as there aren’t official rules that fit every romantic partnership, the “appropriate” wedding anniversary gifts by year aren’t written in stone–nor iron, copper, bronze, tin, steel, gold, or diamond. The origins of the traditional anniversary gift list are shrouded by the mysterious, misty mists of time, anyway.

The “traditional” guide for anniversary gifts by year featured mostly practical items, to help couples set up their new homes. The modern list, created by the American National Retail Jewelers Association in 1937, is (surprise!) big on precious metals and gems. As much as we adore sparkly baubles, we don’t believe that jewelers have the authoritative last word on this subject.

However, an anniversary gift guide of what’s generally considered appropriate can be a lifesaver: without one, it’s easy to succumb to mental paralysis when you need to come up with anniversary gift ideas for friends or relatives celebrating X years of marriage.

With all this in mind, here is our own fresh guide of anniversary gifts by year: traditional, modern, and, of course, uncommon.
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The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Randy Clinton

June 23, 2016


Randy Clinton – UncommonGoods Data Analyst, Analytics Team

My hometown…
Livonia, Michigan

I’m inspired by…
Stories of people succeeding through hard work: Louis CK changing his entire act, Bill Gates poking at a computer over the summer as a middle school student, Dennis Rodman running for an hour on a treadmill after games and any other example of people working hard.

I would like someone (maybe me) to invent…
An earpiece that translates a language into your ear in real time. It’d open global travel to a completely different experience for people who don’t have the time to learn a new language before visiting a new place and change the relationship between medical and humanitarian mission personnel and the people being helped.

If I could meet anyone, living or not, I would choose…
Thomas Jefferson. I’d want to know when he thought the revolution would be won and what he expected the country to look like. Then I’d give him an update on how things have been going for the past 200 years and see where the conversation went from there.

When I’m not working, I’m probably…
Walking around someplace new and taking photos or trying to learn something.

The most amazing thing I’ve ever seen is…
The night sky with a full moon and dotted with stars far away from any Earthly light source that would pollute the sky. The moon was so bright it cast shadows on the ground.

If I won the lottery, I’d…
Commission the building of a time machine/sports car, go into the future, buy a sports almanac, travel back in time, and hand it to my old self. A sports almanac contains the scores and details about every game. Besides betting on just who wins, there’s a ton of smaller bets on things like number of points scored in the game, who scores first, etc…
It’d probably require a nuclear powered energy source but, in an effort to be environmentally friendly, I’d want to explore using garbage instead. I’ve seen this work before. 

Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Counting Beads, Caramel, and the IRC

June 22, 2016

As a certified B Corporation, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green”–we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best-interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always eager to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.

While many of our makers rely on sustainable practices at one point or another in their process, we’re especially excited about those who place the wider world at the forefront of their craft–those who are making an uncommon impact.

IRC | Uncommon Impact | UncommonGoods

The International Rescue Committee is providing cash support to women-led households with the greatest need. Here, IRC staff ask a Syrian refugee about how effective she thinks the program is and whether it can be improved. | Photo: Ned Colt/IRC

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