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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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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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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Carrie and Patrick Frost

May 11, 2017

Carrie and Patrick Frost in their Mantua, OH studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney and NéQuana Rollings

“Glass is full of magic,” Patrick Frost told me as he and his wife Carrie began the tour of their Mantua, Ohio home with an introduction to their impressive collection of glass pieces from around the world.

As Patrick carefully handled one of the handmade glass objects, he explained that it was created by a master glassblower he’d trained with years before. The glassblower was very old, but after 60 years practicing his craft, he still loved his art, because he believed in the magic of glass.

Patrick said that he too is enchanted by the way glass moves, interacts with light, and almost mesmerizes. The Frosts continued to tell the stories behind many of the pieces in the collection (which takes up an entire wall and then some in their living room), and it became clear that both Patrick and Carrie are sincerely passionate about every part of the glassmaking process—from the first drops of molten material, through firing and turning and blowing, all the way up to opening the oven and seeing the cooled, finished piece for the first time.

Carrie making the Sham-Rock Glass, check out a video of the this glass getting made here

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From Acadia to Yosemite: A Celebration of Our National Parks

April 17, 2017

When President Ulysses S. Grant signed the law establishing Yellowstone as the first National Park in 1872, he probably didn’t imagine how the parks system would expand or how popular the parks would become. The National Park Service celebrated its centennial in 2016 and welcomed a record number of visitors: 325 million. Yellowstone is still one of the most popular, but the system now includes 59 National Parks in 27 states and two US Territories. Other units in the National Park system add diversity to familiar natural preserves like Yellowstone and Yosemite, meaning you can climb to the top of Devil’s Tower or get your patriot on at Independence National Historical Park. To celebrate these priceless natural and historic treasures, we offer this collection of designs to help you enjoy the recreation and inspiration they offer.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Rachel Faller’s Ethical Fashion Company Puts People and Planet First

March 15, 2017

Rachel Faller Tonle UncommonGoods

When you pick out a shirt to wear, it’s likely you’re thinking about how it looks with your pants, or if it’s un-stained/not wrinkled enough to be passable – not the amount of water, land, chemicals, and overall carbon footprint that went into making it. You probably aren’t thinking much about who made it, either — like if the factory workers involved in its production had health insurance, or if they were working in a safe environment for a fair wage.

It’s easy to become detached from the clothes we wear, especially when, due to the expansive nature of the fast fashion industry, you can get them cheaper and easier than ever before, with just the click of a mouse or a tap on your phone. Fast fashion seems appealing at first – it adds to our convenience, and it makes a wide variety of styles available at competitive prices. But when you consider the human and environmental costs, fast fashion doesn’t seem so pretty.

Textile expert Rachel Faller took those human and environmental costs to heart when she visited Cambodia in 2007. She met artisans who had similar ideals to her and began to realize that maybe sustainability and style didn’t have to be exclusive of one another.

Recycled Fashion UncommonGoods

The Tree Rings Clutch, Infinity Tassel Scarf, and Recycled Denim Clutch are all Rachel’s designs available at UG

Fast forward to 2017, and Rachel truly has made (and continues to make) an uncommon impact on the ethical fashion world. She employs a team of artisans in Cambodia and provides them with the fair wages and work conditions they deserve. Her stylish designs are made from all sustainable materials and with unique production techniques. In fact, Rachel and her team are now at the point where their processes are completely zero-waste, making use of every last bit of scrap material.

Read on to hear from Rachel directly about how she broke into the eco-friendly fashion world,  how her clothes and accessories maintain their style without harming the environment, and how she sees the future of fast fashion vs. ethical fashion unfolding.

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