The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Values: Our Guiding Principles

June 21, 2017

What makes a workplace great? Your knee-jerk response might focus on salary and benefits, but we all know it’s more than that. Do you feel challenged? Are you encouraged to grow? Do you have a say in your company’s direction? Do you feel like it’s your company? Do you like your co-workers? We’ve had the goal of being a great place to work for a long time, but that can mean different things to different people. We realized that in order to actually make it happen and in turn become a stronger, more impactful business, we had to figure out what “great place to work” meant to us.

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Through discussions with our leadership, work with our human resources team and a trusted advisor, looking at the practices of businesses we admire, and a lot of feedback from team members across the company, we put who we want to be as an organization into words with our seven Guiding Principles.

Each of our Principles helps us define what we’re working to be as a company, and what we want to mean to the people who work here. In short, they’re a set of guidelines to keep us all moving in the same direction. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be differences of opinion expressed. In fact, the Principles are set up to empower folks around here to do just that.

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Maker Stories

Where the Wild Things Grow:
Artist Catherine Murphy Turns Metal to Magic with Her Garden Decor

June 19, 2017

Catherine Murphy has always been an observer. From the rich architecture she saw shuffling around European cities as a child, to the awe-inspiring complexity she’s discovered in nature, Catherine’s brain is a mosaic of interwoven experiences. Today, she fuses these influences into stunning designs for your garden at the Haw Creek Forge. Nestled on the edge of the French Broad River in Asheville, North Carolina, you might find Catherine and her team of artisans collaborating on a new idea or welding shiny plates of copper into praying mantises and hummingbirds. We had the pleasure of learning more about Catherine’s process and her magnificent journey to becoming a metal artist.

Catherine’s garden fairy makes an enchanting addition to your yard.

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Design

A-Side Design: Jeff Davis’ Vintage Vinyl Bluetooth Speaker

June 16, 2017

*Editor’s note: Jeff Davis’ Vintage Vinyl Bluetooth® Speaker is coming soon to our assortment. You can be among the first to get this design by pre-ordering here.

Vintage Vinyl Bluetooth® Speaker | UncommonGoods

Side A

Fresh from its triumphant world tour on Kickstarter, Jeff Davis’ Vintage Vinyl Bluetooth® Speaker puts a new spin on old LPs, letting reclaimed vinyl play music in an innovative way: as the speaker itself. With a bemused smile, Jeff points out that you can’t drop the needle on these reshaped records, but they will play your entire digital music collection in analog-inspired style. It’s a cool way to give your smartphone an audiophile upgrade.

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Alex Ahrens

June 12, 2017

The work of self-described designer and craftsman Alex Ahrens is anything but typical. Armed with a degree in engineering and a background in packaging design, the Austin-based maker turned a budding interest in woodworking into a business handcrafting fun, yet functional wooden objects in the shapes of various animals. His sleek, inventive Elephant Wall Hook, Bear Keys & Glasses Holder, and Shark Business Card Holder are all newcomers to our assortment.

As always, we’re excited to welcome such dedicated, thoughtful makers as Alex to the UncommonGoods family, where the creativity exhibited in his clever goods is so often celebrated. Read on for Alex’s insights on the power of organization and what being an artist really means—as well as how he turned his side hustle into a full-time gig.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Changing Lives and Cooking Dinner with the Non-Electric Slow Cooker

June 8, 2017

Sarah Collins, inventor of the Non-Electric Slow Cooker

Picture this: You want to cook a meal. In the US, this is an easy enough proposition, if occasionally tiring. You take a trip to the grocery store, prep your ingredients, and leave them to cook, whether in an oven, on a stovetop, or in a slow cooker. Before too long, you sit down and eat. Simple, right?

In rural Africa, no such luck. For many women, making a meal is a long, costly process fraught with danger. Every day, women across the continent spend up to seven hours collecting firewood to use for cooking, walking between 3 and 6 miles, taking away time that could be spent working or bonding with family members, and risking sexual assault and attacks by animals along the way. Those who don’t collect firewood often cook with charcoal, a fuel that eats up a sizable chunk of a rural family’s income—think along the lines of one third. The actual cooking takes hours, and the use woodfuels combined with that of an open flame contributes to potentially deadly levels of indoor air pollution. In providing for their families, these women make sacrifices that are unimaginable to many, risking their health and livelihood for the sake of a single meal. A trip to a packed Trader Joe’s at 6 o’clock on a Tuesday pales in comparison.

For South African entrepreneur Sarah Collins, this was a key problem. Her lifelong mission to empower rural Africans has manifested in many types of work, from conservation to political action, but perhaps her most meaningful contribution has been the invention of the Non-Electric Slow Cooker, also known as the Wonderbag. Now available for purchase from UncommonGoods, Sarah’s slow cooker—made from patterned cotton fabric stuffed with repurposed foam—keeps food brought to a boil cooking for up to 12 hours simply by trapping heat. For every Non-Electric Slow Cooker purchased in the developed world, another is donated to the Wonderbag Foundation, an organization that distributes Sarah’s invention to communities in need throughout Africa. Because the Non-Electric Slow Cooker doesn’t require an open flame to keep food cooking, it reduces pollution and deforestation throughout Africa and keeps rural women and families safer and healthier, freeing up their time and money for work, play, and family bonding.

As a certified B Corp, UncommonGoods is committed to offering sustainable, socially responsible products. When we first heard about the Non-Electric Slow Cooker, we were intrigued—we’d never heard of a slow cooker made out of foam! Once we learned of its impressive effect in Africa, though, we knew we needed to hear more from its inventor. Read on for more of Sarah’s story—including advice on how to contribute to her mission, even from afar.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Kim Strassner and Mike Pararas

June 7, 2017

Kim Strassner and Mike Pararas (with dogs Freddie and Sammie) in their Baltimore, MD studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney

When we first started doing Studio Tours back in 2012, we were pretty limited on where we could go to get our inspiration. That isn’t to say the inspiration was limited–we’ve visited a fantastic line-up of New York City artists close to home. But getting the sign-off to pack up and head to another state definitely wasn’t the goal from the start. Five years later, we’re still featuring monthly studio visits. Thanks to all of the love and support shown by our online community, makers, and the UG team for our tours, we’re able to keep growing the series. Now, we’re finding ways to stop by the studios of creators a little farther from home. Around 195 miles or so from home, in this case.

My latest trip started at Penn Station in Manhattan, eaaarly in the morning. A few hours later, I arrived at Penn Station in Baltimore, Maryland, where Kim Strassner was waiting for me and our Tabletop Buyer, NéQuana. Kim filled us in on some neighborhood history as she drove through B-more to the studio, woodshop, and office space where she and her husband, Mike Pararas, design and craft their personalized wooden cutting boards and lazy Susans. It didn’t take long before I realized how much work Kim, Mike, and their team put into each board they produce. The letters in the customized pieces are carved using tiny blades, precise hand movements, and great attention to detail.

In addition to walking me through how a slab of wood becomes a beautiful, handcrafted cutting board, the couple gave me a look at Kim’s first-ever board with words, answered a few questions about what keeps them going strong, and introduced me to their two adorable Havanese dogs. Keep reading to see inside this woodworking wonderland for yourself.

 

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The Uncommon Life

Push for Paid Family Leave: Takeaways from Capitol Hill

June 6, 2017

The 850 pieces that are included with our “50 States – Puzzle Within a Puzzle” are designed to create 50 different mini puzzles, so that each state presents its own unique challenge to the puzzled participant. These mini puzzles can only be united as states once all of the extra-large pieces are fitted to the whole.

After my recent trip to Capitol Hill, I would argue that this design is an accurate metaphor when it comes to the politics around paid family and medical leave.

Translation: Paid family leave legislation is a paradox. The US is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t offer paid time off to care for a new child or seriously ill loved one. In fact, paid family leave legislation has only passed in four states. (Our handy interactive map will tell you what’s going on in the other 46 states!) Given that only 14 percent of US workers have access to paid family leave through their employer, it’s evident that something needs to change at the national level. With today’s diverse workforce, the Family and Medical Leave Act, which offers 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave, is both outdated and insufficient, as only 60 percent of our workforce is eligible for FMLA protections.

That’s why I joined business leaders from Seventh Generation, Badger Balm, Eileen Fisher, Honest Company, and more to voice UncommonGoods’ support for the FAMILY Act to members of Congress.

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) meeting with business leaders to discuss the FAMILY Act. | Photo courtesy of the American Sustainable Business Council

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Gift Guides

Super Gifts for Your Superhero Dad

June 2, 2017

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…Dad! We’re all holding out for a hero, but no need to wait ’til the morning light: he’s right there in the back yard. Or the kitchen. Or maybe the garage. Wherever your one-of-a-kind pop prefers to spend his “me” time (your words, not his), here’s our guide to gifts that celebrate his cape-worthy, Spandex-free super-ness.

 

 The Fantastic Formula

E = MC Pow!

 

Earth Cufflinks | Uncommongoods

He may have out-of-this-world powers (case in point: the power of knowledge), but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep him grounded with these spiffy cufflinks made in the image of our home planet. | Earth Cufflinks

 

Brain Bookends | UncommonGoods

Is there any place more appropriate to wedge Dad’s favorite academic tomes than between two halves of a concrete brain? We think not. | Left Brain, Right Brain Bookends

 

Math Glasses | UncommonGoods

Toast his mathematical prowess with this set of four Old Fashioned glasses, each decorated with a formula impenetrable to even the most cunning of mere mortals. | Math Glasses – Set of 4

 

See more gifts for geeks | UncommonGoods

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