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The Uncommon Life

Introducing Sunny,
Your Expert Gift Guide

October 11, 2017

Meet Sunny. Released into the wild this week, we created this expert gift guide to make your search for the perfect present a much easier endeavor.

So, how exactly does Sunny improve your shopping experience? Well, instead of browsing across all of our categories, Sunny lets you search for your recipient’s interests all at once, giving you a personalized collection of gift ideas.

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Design

Functional Fashion:
The Tulry Utility Necklace

October 9, 2017

*Editor’s note: The Tulry Utility Necklace is coming soon to our assortment. Get it first by pre-ordering here.

The Tulry Utility Necklace is coming soon to UncommonGoods | Pre-order here

“A lot of everyday products are designed with a male-centric audience in mind,” says designer Nate Barr. He admits that he hadn’t really thought about that until his wife, Bryn, challenged him to think from the perspective of people who aren’t always empowered to speak up. Bryn also inspired his latest invention, the Tulry Utility Necklace.

Bryn said she loved the functionality of Nate’s tools, like the Multi-Tool Box of Wonders, but had no way to carry them. “She pointed out that dresses don’t have pockets. Jeans pockets are too tight, and a purse is never big enough,” Nate explains.  She encouraged him to create a unique way to solve this problem. The result marries an elegant jewelry design with a highly functional piece.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio
with KaKyung Cho

October 4, 2017

Some 60 miles north of New York City, Newburgh, New York, sits quietly on the western bank of the Hudson River. To some, the name of the city is synonymous with a rough history. For others, it evokes vistas of riverside streets lined with 19th-century mansions, many mere blocks from abandoned homes. To a growing group, however, it’s become a refuge—a place that celebrates local creators, welcoming artists and entrepreneurs into a vibrant community of like-minded folks.

Enter KaKyung Cho, one of many makers who’s forging a home for her business in a newly renovated space in Newburgh. Like the duo behind design firm and longtime Brooklyn fixture Atlas Industries, KaKyung is a recent transplant, still transferring operations from her kitchen in Williamsburg, where she first began crafting soaps with the aid of a rather unlikely household tool—her slow cooker.

As we saw when we visited KaKyung back in July, she does everything herself, from selecting suitable loofahs for her three-piece soap sets to assembling the boxes she uses to package her equilateral soaps, and she does it all in a beautiful space a stone’s throw from Newburgh’s notable historic homes. In her workshop, antique furnishings mingle with massive ferns, delicate crystals, and piles of snacks just begging to be eaten. (Whether said snacks are always there or KaKyung just happens to be a great hostess, we’re not totally sure.) Buoyed by calming vibes and friendly conversation, we munched on burritos, watched KaKyung hand-cut and package her soaps, and asked her a select few questions about what life as a maker in Newburgh looks like. Read on for more.

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Maker Stories

Touch, Technology, and Giving Back: Meet John Harrison and Vanessa Whalen, Creators of the Long Distance Touch Lamp

July 24, 2017

Imagine a technology that allows you to show loved ones you’re thinking of them–not with a phone call, not with a text, but with a soft, colorful glow. John Harrison and Vanessa Whalen, a married couple looking to foster unique connections with their faraway family members, made it happen with their Long Distance Touch Lamps. With just a simple tap on the top of your touch lamp, you can illuminate another connected lamp anywhere around the world—sending a message of love without words.

Here at UncommonGoods, John and Vanessa’s lamps have proven to be a huge hit, connecting faraway friends and family members with a little bit of Wi-Fi-powered magic. Read on to hear from John about the winding path he took to get to the Touch Lamp‘s creation—from playing the violin professionally, to working as an electrical engineer, to working closely with non-profit organizations to bring his and Vanessa’s shining idea to families and friends all over the world.

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The Uncommon Life

Why it’s Better to Give
with 826 National

July 9, 2017

“Once upon a time there was a sheep named Oddy. He was a regular sheep in the grasslands with all the other sheep. Then, one day he fell in the Arctic sea, and he saw a big wave. It pushed him to shore towards a cyclops’s cave. Oddy took big steps towards the cave. The cyclops had a superpower that could turn anyone into a cyclops like him.”

Pretty intriguing first paragraph, right? It was written by Wahaaj, a young creative writing student who “likes pizza and french fries, and he loves to spell Mississippi.”

Wahaaj’s story is funny, imaginative, and might not exist without the help of our newest Better to Give partner, 826 National. Through their network of seven—soon to be eight—chapters across the US, 826 National has helped thousands of kids like Wahaaj let their imaginations run free, develop writing skills, and build confidence. The non-profit organization takes an uncommon, but extremely effective, approach to teaching writing to students age 6-18. They are passionate about their mission “to empower students with the skills to write their own paths forward, undefined by circumstance.” The 826 Network believes in the power of making learning fun, and the power that quality education can have in influencing children’s lives. All of this, along with their clever storefronts, dedicated staff and volunteers, free programs, and general ability to make every person who learns about them proclaim something along the lines of, “That is SO cool!” made us realize that we really, really wanted to join forces with them.

Now that 826 National is a part of our Better to Give program, you can select them to receive a $1 donation from us (at no cost to you) each time you shop at UncommonGoods. These donations will help 826 Network writing and tutoring centers across the country provide services to kids in under-resourced communities.

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Design

Designing a Force for Good: Behind the Scenes of Our Hope Shines Necklace

June 30, 2017

 

For 16 years, we here at UncommonGoods have demonstrated a commitment to supporting causes we care about through our Better to Give Program, an initiative that allows us to donate $1 from each purchase to a non-profit partner of your choice (and at no additional cost to you). Earlier this year, our Product Development team joined forces with one of our longest-standing Better to Give partners, RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, to craft a unique item of jewelry to benefit their organization. The result—our Hope Shines Necklace—is an elegant emblem of what RAINN stands for, symbolizing hope, reflection, and triumph over darkness. But how did we arrive at this design?

 

 

The process was a long one—about four months—but our team began with a few ideas in mind. At first, they used text as a springboard, attempting to translate everything from statistics—like RAINN’s assertion that every 98 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted—to the number for the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline into wearable pieces of jewelry. Soon, however, they broadened their approach, exploring ways to highlight some of the more general themes associated with RAINN’s mission, like hope, forward motion, and the ongoing nature of one’s story.

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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

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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