Browsing Tag

Creativity

The Uncommon Life

A Humongous Pinterest Collection of Candy Art

October 26, 2012

One of the heartbreaks of adult life is not being able to go trick-or-treating. Sure, you can go door to door on Halloween night, but only with children, and you have to let them have all the candy. Boo!

One of the joys of adult life, on the other hand, is art. Fine art, crafts, paintings, photos, street art, whatever. It’s all good. And it’s especially sweet when it’s art about… CANDY.

Most candy looks like abstract art to begin with, so it’s a natural subject and inspiration for artists, photographers, and designers.  Look at this photo of Airheads Extreme Sweet Sour Belts by Steven Depolo next to Pop artist Gene Davis’s 1964 painting, “Sour Ball Beat” (above).

Controversial contemporary artist Damien Hirst‘s  famous “dot” paintings have often been compared, sometimes derisively, to candy. The candy will cost you about a buck; one of Hirst’s dot paintings went for $3.48 million early this year. Which is treat and which is trick? (Trick question.)

I may not be able to go trick-or-treating any more, but I can “collect” candy art treats on the Internets without gaining an ounce. In honor of Halloween, I amassed a humongous amount of creative, beautiful, fun, funny, happy, sugary art onto a humongous Pinterest board.

With apologies to diabetics, here’s a sampling of candy you don’t have to say “Boo!” to. Note: because it’s my board and I’m the decider of it, I chose to include gum and soda, aka “liquid candy.”)

“Portraits” of candy

Art made of candy


Art about candy

Candy-themed tattoos


Art made of candy wrappers


Halloween candy corn art

And finally…

A candy toothbrush

(Also, because we care about your dental health, a non-cavity-inducing one.)

Happy Halloween! (If you somehow haven’t OD’d yet, check out the entire Pinterest collection.)

The Uncommon Life

Goldilocks & the Three Bears: An Uncommon Story

October 9, 2012

There once was a beautiful collection of handmade children’s accessories by Jen List and Stacy Waddington. The story began with The Three Little Pigs, but those little pink piggies aren’t the only adorable animals in Storybook Land. Before we get to the part where everyone lives happily ever after, we’d like to introduce you to some more cuddly creatures, the stars of chapter two of our uncommon fairy tale, The Three Bears. (And their friend, Goldilocks, of course!)

Storybook Puppets | UncommonGoods

Storybook Purse | UncommonGoods

Storybook Slippers | UncommonGoods

Storybook | Necklace

Storybook Blanket | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Classic Collaboration: Classic Hardware & Born Free USA

October 8, 2012

Our new Royal Panda and Polar Bear cases aren’t just cute and practical. Yes, they feature original art by Kelly Vivanco. Yes, they’re made of brushed stainless steel, so they help protect your “smart” credit card data. And, yes, they are the latest design from Karyn Cantor, head designer and owner of Classic Hardware. But, they’re also helping to support Born Free USA’s mission to keep wildlife in the wild.

Kelly Vivanco & Karyn Cantor

As part of the Endangered Creatures Collection, a portion of the proceeds from the Panda and Polar Bear Cases goes to Born Free USA. According to Karyn, who founded Classic Hardware in 1995, the Born Free/Classic Hardware collaboration started with a connection through an artist.

Karyn explained: “They actually found us through one of the artists we work with, Caia Koopman. We have contributed to some of their auctions over the years and they are connected with the pop surrealist/lowbrow style art we love! I was talking with another artist about adding Endangered Creatures to the Classic Hardware collection; I knew I wanted to give a percentage of the profit to an organization that helps wildlife. I did some further research and decided they were the best match for our company on many levels. They have a great mission and they understand the modern art style and I think their donors will, too.”

Karyn then reached out to some of the artists she often collaborates with. The artist behind the Royal Panda and Polar Bear, Kelly Vivanco, was a natural choice.

“I wanted to leave it up to the artists what they wanted to draw, but I did send them all the Endangered Species official list, which is huge,” Karyn said. “With Kelly I was encouraging about adding the crowns. She often paints animals that have a lot of personality and sport cute hats, so this fell into place nicely.These animals are royal and regal and deserve a crown and caring!”

Caring for those animals that need it most is what Born Free USA is all about. “Our mission is to end the suffering of wild animals in captivity, rescue individual animals in need, protect wildlife — including highly endangered species — in their natural habitats, and encourage compassionate conservation globally,” said said Sharie Lesniak, Creative Director at Born Free USA. “We work to ‘Keep Wildlife in the Wild.'”

One way the organization helps animals is through the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary in Dilley, Texas. According to Sharie, the sanctuary is “home to more than 600 primates, many of whom were rescued from abusive situations in laboratories, roadside zoos and private possession. We provide a life in as natural an environment as is possible, with minimal human interference, on almost 200 acres. ”



“This kind of partnership helps contribute to the funds we need to continue doing our work to save the lives of wild animals,” Sharie said. “It helps us reach people outside of our current circle of friends and engage new supporters beyond the initial purchase with information about our organization and what they can do to help wildlife. It also provides Born Free USA with an opportunity to give current members new and different ways to support the organization.”

Sharie also explained that the this collaboration helps the organization reach a new demographic, who might not be familiar with the cause. “With the Endangered Creatures Collection, we are also able to take the unique images of endangered animals out of the galleries and into the world,” she said.”So not just the people who buy the items can be inspired, but also people who see [the Wallet Case and Business Card Case]. They can be moved to ask about the species, the artist, and the two organizations behind it: Born Free USA and Classic Hardware.”

Since the cases are compact, stylish, and can be used for a variety of small personal items, it isn’t hard to imagine taking them on the go.

Karyn said she actually uses both the Wallet Case and the Business Card Case in often in her own life. “I have a large wallet in my bag, but when I go out at night or even out for a walk or bike ride, I will take my ID and some cash and a credit card and use the Card Case or Wallet Case as my wallet,” she said. “I also keep a Card Case in my bag that keeps my business cards nice and neat. I will also use it to hold other people’s business cards that I collect. There has been some concern about identity theft via new “smart” credit cards in your regular wallet. It has been advised to use a stainless steel wallet to protect against this. I’m glad that these cases are stainless steel and it’s a great to play it safe with all the new technology constantly changing, plus they look so cool and we are donating to a great cause!”

Gift Guides

The Three Little Pigs: An Uncommon Story

October 3, 2012

Once upon a time our buyers discovered a collection of whimsical children’s accessories from Jen List and Stacy Waddington. The short version is that we fell head over heels in love with these handmade upcycled fabric pieces and lived happily ever after. Of course, as in every fairy tale, there’s a little more to the story. So without further ado, the first chapter of our Storybook Collection, The Three Little Pigs.

But story time isn’t over just yet. The tale continues in chapter two: Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

The Uncommon Life

Environmental ABC’s: 26 Ways to Go Back to School Green

September 6, 2012

It’s back-to-school time, giving us an excuse to get all educational on you, with tips and ideas about how you and your family can live green this fall. Parenting–and teaching–innately imply thinking about the future, and eco-sensitive lifestyles help ensure that the years ahead will be bright for today’s children. In that spirit, we present to you our ABCs of going back to school in sustainable style.

A

Art. Let’s start with something wondrous: Fabulous art–made from garbage. Some of the best art in the world today is being made out of trash. Check these out:

http://www.etsy.com/listing/101674993/trash-bird-sculpture-three

Inspiring, right? Talk to your school’s art teacher to see if they’d be into working on a trash art project. (There’s a good chance they already are.)
For art-making at home, keep a scrap paper bin of paper that’s printed on only one side. Kids can doodle, or do multiple drafts of drawings or paintings on the scrap paper. When they want to make a keeper version, that’s the time for the “good” paper.

At UncommonGoods, we love unique and beautiful works of art made from recycled and reclaimed materials that would otherwise have ended up as plain old garbage.

B

children-riding-a-horse-to-school-glass-house-mountains-queensland-1928-small
Bike, walk, skateboard, scooter or ride the bus (or a horse!) to school instead of driving or even carpooling. Kid energy is a renewable resource. UncommonGoods employees are encouraged to use bikes as transportation, and we offer several convenient, effective and cool bike safety items.

C

Copy machines: Do you really, truly need to make a hard copy of that document? If you absolutely must, use both sides of the–ideally, recycled–paper. In fact, how about making double-sided printing and minimal ink use the default settings?

You could also buy refillable cartridges containing bio based, sustainable inks (like soy). If for whatever reason that’s impossible at school or work, at least try to recycle your used ink cartridges.

D

Disposable items are uncool. Whenever possible, buy re-useable items. Tossing disposables into a recycling bin is at best, a very pale green: It takes energy to recycle and re-manufacture things, and if you throw them away after only one use, a lot of that energy has been wasted.
Prime culprits of back-to-school disposability crimes include:

  • Pens. The ballpoint pen was invented in 1938. In 2005, Bic celebrating selling its 100 billionth pen. 14,000,000 BIC Cristals are sold a day. And that’s just one brand. Six billion pens are thrown away every year in the US! 

Buy a refillable pen. Metal ink refills can be recycled. Vintage advertising pens are nostalgic, super stylin’, and the sins of their manufacturing are in the past. UncommonGoods’ selection of refillable pens ranges from funky to girly to sporty to arty.

  • Coffee cups. Americans buy 14.4 billion cups a year of coffee in disposable cups, which take energy, trees and water to make and transport. It’s not only styrofoam cups that are an environmental disaster; because the paper kind are lined with plastic, they can’t be recycled either. Get a mug.

You could go crazy upscale and get a cup decorated with  24 karat gold, blue cobalt, and diamonds. 

Or get an equally covetable but rather more sensible one.

  • Razors. Cut out (yep, we went there) disposable razors. Each year, Americans buy, use, and toss two billion razors and the packaging they come in. Instead, how about trying a solar-charged electric shaver, or at least, an Energy Star model? Electric shavers do use energy, but not water. A recycled razor is another possibility; one brand is made of recycled yogurt containers. The blades in the (disposable) cartridges can be kept sharp much longer by using a razor-saver gizmo.

If you’re feeling a luxe goth vibe, we’re pretty sure that our skull razor is the coolest thing going.

 

Opt for Don Draper’s safety razor (they use recycleable metal blades) and you’ve got an excuse to buy a retro-hip shaving brush. (The gratuitous photo of shirtless Jon Hamm is here for strictly educational purposes only, honest!) But whatever you do, don’t shave in the shower–especially women, who have the most acreage to denude. As this Slate article informs us, “Shaving for 10 minutes with a typical 2.5 gallons-per-minute shower head, you’d waste more than 24 gallons of hot water, 4.1 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 5.3 pounds of carbon dioxide in your warm, misty tub. It would take less than three days of shaving to account for the energy you’d use by shaving in the sink for an entire year.”

E-waste. Americans junk 30 million computers every year (those are circuit boards in the photo above). Add phones, TVs, DVD players, etc. to that list and you’ve got about 3 million tons of dumped electronics a year in the US alone. Not only does this waste reuseable materials, but 70% of the dangerous heavy metals in landfills come from all that e-junk. But it’s becoming easier and easier to reycycle old electronics, as governments require manufacturers to take them back. Here are some links to help you find e-waste collection sites.

A protective sleeve or case will help keep your mobile phone, laptop, tablet or e-reader from getting broken or wet and then sent to an early grave.

F

Food. There are so many good, green food habits to teach your kids. Perhaps the primary lesson should be about wasted food.

Just kidding. Not that kind of wasted.

We Americans waste around 40 percent of our food. The average American throws away 33 pounds–about $40 worth–of edible food each month, according to a report the Natural Resources Defense Council put out in August. That’s about 50% more than in 1974. (And we know it’s not because we’ve gotten better at portion control.)

When people talk about becoming less dependent on petro-fuels, they don’t usually think of food as part of that. But growing, transporting, packaging, selling and buying what we eat uses a ginormous amount of oil. (And fertilizer, pesticides, and water.) The NRDC estimates that approximately 25 percent of the freshwater and 4 percent of the oil Americans consume goes to edible food that’s thrown away. On top of all that, a whole lot of greenhouse gases are produced during the food cycle.

There’s also all that food packaging to consider: Every year, the average American child generates 67 pounds of trash from their school lunches. That’s 18,670 pounds per year from the average elementary school. (NY State Dept of Environmental Conservation).

As Dana Gunder, agricultural environmental specialist at the NRDC put it, “No matter how sustainable the farming is, if the food’s not getting eaten, it’s not sustainable and it’s not a good use of our resources.”

It’s very possible to quickly change this for the better. A public awareness campaign in the United Kingdom called “Love Food Hate Waste” has reduced household food waste by 18% in only five years.

A simple way to do your part to reduce waste while also ensuring that your child is eating healthy, is packing their lunches yourself in an appealing lunch bag made of recycled materials. You can also use cloth napkins and refillable beverage containers–lightweight, collapsible, BPA-free models might be best for kids’ lunches.

Whenever possible, eschew (see what we did there?) single-serve portions: ugh, all that disposable packaging! And don’t forget that in addition to their nutritional benefits, fruits like bananas, apples and oranges come with all the packaging they need.

G

Green(er) tools for school.

Avoid backpacks and school binders made of nylon or new plastics, especially PVC vinyl. Not only is it not recycleable, but some of the most dangerous environmental contaminants, including dioxins (known carcinogens and hormone disruptors, and the most toxic synthetic chemicals) are released during its manufacture and disposal. It’s worth searching for non-toxic binders, and easy to find bags made from recycled or natural materials.

Personalized backpack patches,  painted backpack,  homemade drawstring backpack

Better yet, find a gently used vintage one. I’m a lifelong thrift store cruiser, and those places always have plenty of new-looking backpacks and messenger-type bags for sale, just begging to be creatively personalized. If you’re artsy, it’d be a snap to paint a great-looking, unique backpack; sewers of even modest skill could make one from the fabric of another vintage item, like a skirt.

If you use “office” machines at home, choose Energy-star rated ones, and be sure to schedule regular maintenance for maximum energy efficiency. And it’s now possible to buy folders and binders, pushpins, rulers, scissors, paper clips, crayons, correction fluid, glue, pen and pencil holders and cases, desk organizers, and laptop sleeves made of recycled/recycleable/biodegradable/nontoxic materials.

H

Habits, like recycling, or searching for green alternatives, are easy once they become automatic. Teach kids (and pets, if you can…) to turn out the lights when you’re the last one out of the room; turn off their computer when they’re done using it; turn off the tap while they brush their teeth.

I

Inventory. Know what you already have before you go shopping for school supplies, clothes, backpacks, etc. It’s so tempting to buy scads of new, shiny pens and notebooks when they’re on sale, and parents tend to over-buy at back-to-school time. Pull out last year’s extras to save money and waste less.

J

Jobs. Green ones. Meaningful employment is one of the main reasons people go to school and get an education in the first place, right? Lots of interesting and fulfilling jobs are popping up in the fields of sustainability and environmentalism. Inspire your kids by talking with them about the possibilities. For teenagers and college students, there are internships galore.
Many colleges and universities throughout the U.S. now have an “Office of Sustainability” or a less formal task force, through which students can become involved in greening their campus. A geographically diverse sampling:

A few resources to help find green/environmental/sustainability internships:

K

Kvetch. And vote. It’s never too early to teach your kids that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. (OK, we take that back. It is sometimes too early.) Help them understand what democracy is and the effectiveness of action within it. Teach them about the history of environmentalism (maybe brush up on it yourself, first) and how people got together to push for societal change.

L

Laundry. Living green sometimes takes a little extra effort, but occasionally it’s less work, rather than more. Here’s an example: don’t wash your clothes and bedding so often. You can tell when fabric needs cleaning: it’s either dirty or…fragrant. If neither is true, skip the wash.

Set a family laundry schedule and stick to it. Getting the whole family on board could avoid unnecessary runs of your machines for a basketball uniform or dance costume. When you do wash, use natural and non-toxic soaps, and line-dry whenever possible. In the summertime, use the great solar dryer in the sky. In the wintertime, damp articles of clothing hanging indoors are electricity-free humidifiers.

UncommonGoods offers a nicely designed indoor clothesline, as well as this aroma-tastic natural laundry soap. It’s packaged as a manly item, but who doesn’t like “rich smelling sunflower, coconut and rosemary oils”?

Stunningly beautiful clothesline photos to inspire you, collected by Pinterest-poster Mei-Mei:

M

Meat. Eat less of it.

Issues of morality and health aside, meat is simply far less energy-efficient and far more polluting than non-animal sources of protein. Audubon magazine: “The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that livestock production worldwide is responsible for a whopping 18 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gases–more than all the cars, buses, planes, and trains in the world combined.” Nathan Fiala, a doctoral candidate in environmental economics at the University of California-Irvine, estimates that to produce 1 pound of beef, 15 pounds of carbon dioxide are created.

According to Department of Agriculture estimates, it takes about 15 pounds of feed to make 1 pound of beef, 6 pounds of feed for 1 pound of pork and 5 pounds of feed for 1 pound of chicken. Even farmed fish eat up to 5 lbs of wild-caught fish per pound that we can eat.

That doesn’t even take into account the energy and other costs of raising, butchering, packaging, refrigerating and transporting. For instance, according to the Worldwatch Institute, producing one pound of beef can use up 50,000 liters of water.

Children will love the following info-tidbits about the inevitable noxious “output” of so many animals: Massive amounts of #s 1 and 2 from pig factory farms leak into nearby water supplies. Burping and farting livestock produce 16 percent of the world’s annual production of methane, which is 23 times more powerful as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). So. You can start small by participating in Meat Free Monday, the worldwide campaign of the cute Beatle. Or start big and do the opposite: eat meat only on Mondays.

N

New. Old is the new new. If vintage clothes are cool enough for super-rich and fashionable movie and pop stars, it’s possible that your kids (and you) could deem them adequately fabulous. They require zero energy and resources to make, because they’re, y’know, already made. We did a little searching and found these adorable clothes that we thought were perfect for back-to-school.

1960s snap-front western shirt,  vintage dress and sweater,  Garfield brand vintage polo shirt,  1960s plaid skort / culottes

Then there are clothes made from recycled or salvaged fabric and fibers. They’re green no matter what color they are.

UncommonGoods Recycled Bridesmaid Dress Skirt and Recycled Cat and Owl Scarves

O

Organic foods don’t pollute our environment with toxic pesticides or petroleum-derived fertilizers. They usually (but not always) take a lot less energy to grow, too. You’ve probably had your fill of info about eating organic, but perhaps your kids are interested in growing it!

It’s tough to make a living as a small organic farmer, but the non-financial rewards are inspiring more and more young people to give it a whack. If your teens or college students would like to taste life on the chemical-free farm, here are some resources to help them find a volunteer or paid position–maybe next summer?

P

Paper. You already know that paper requires the death of innocent trees (and destruction of animal habitat). But you may not know about the rest of paper’s massive environmental impacts.

Paper milling is one of the most energy and pollution-intensive industries in the world, emitting lethal chemicals into the air, water, and when the 12 million tons a year of paper solid waste are disposed of, the earth. Some of them stick around for a very long time and gradually enter the food chain. Others deplete the ozone layer. As if that’s not bad enough, its manufacture uses more water per ton of product than any other industry.

The good news is that making new paper out of old is energy-efficient, cost-effective, uses far fewer resources, and obviously, reduces the amount of waste. While it takes from 2 to 3.5 tons of trees to make 1 ton of virgin paper, a ton of recycled paper can make nearly equivalent amount of new, while using only 10 to 40 percent of the energy, less water, and far fewer chemicals. Buying recycled paper is voting for more recycling.

The most toxic chemicals involved in paper making – the various types of seriously carcinogenic chlorine used for bleaching, which produce, among other things, deadly dioxin (as we mentioned in letter “G,” above, the most potent carcinogen known)–aren’t necessary. There are plenty of non-toxic chemicals that can whiten paper, including the same stuff that’s in Oxy-Clean.

Not all paper has to be white, anyway–paper towels, and toilet paper, for instance. Avoid using bleached paper products whenever possible. Buy non-bleached brands instead.Processed Chlorine-Free

When you do buy bleached paper, choose chlorine-free brands; specifically TCF (Totally Chlorine-Free) or, best of all, PCF (“Processed Chlorine-Free”). The latter is a lousy name for a good product; it refers to papers that contain a minimum of 30% post-consumer recycled fiber, have not been re-bleached with chlorine-containing compounds, are made in mills without outstanding environmental violations, and use TCF virgin pulp (when virgin fiber is included in the paper) that did not come from old growth forests. (Don’t be confused by ECF, “Elementally Chlorine-Free, which uses other types of chlorine, just not its “elemental” form.)

The Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA) certifies all of this. You can use the Paper Calculator to figure out the environmental impact of various kinds of paper, and look up every possible sort of paper on Conservatree, in order to find green paper brands. You can even buy recycled sticky notes!

Q

Questions are the starting point of changes. Moms and dads, encourage your children to ask questions about the family’s new habits and ask them if they can think of new ways to decrease the family’s ecological impact. You might be surprised by their answers.

R

Read. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s magazine, Conservationist for Kids, covers a wide range of topics that are fascinating to kids, written just for them, and accompanied by great photos. All past and current issues are available online.

S

Statistics. We know we’ve flooded you with facts here. But they’re meant to inform, not overwhelm. Negative statistics can make one feel powerless and discouraged. But you yourself, reading and practicing a few (or a lot) of these green ABCs and sharing them with friends, who share them with their friends, and so on, could start generating statistics we all like a lot better. Yes, really.

T

Think (it only takes a moment) before you buy or use anything and everything. That’ll give your mind a chance to recall some of the tips and factoids you’re reading here (and elsewhere).

U

Unplug electronic gadgets and appliances when not in use, due to…

V

Vampire power. Also known as “standby power,” this is the electricity used by many electronic devices, chargers, appliances, and equipment when they’re switched off, but not unplugged. The name comes from those black power supply cubes; their metal plugs are like fangs, sucking power out of your walls.

Depending on how much electricity costs where you live and how many devices you have plugged in, trickles of vampire power can really add up. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy’s joint Energy Star program estimates that “the average U.S. household spends $100 per year to power devices while they are off (or in standby mode). On a national basis, standby power accounts for more than 100 billion kilowatt hours of annual U.S. electricity consumption and more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.”

As you can imagine, the billions and billions of devices sucking electrical “blood” out of the world’s power grids collectively waste a tremendous amount of electricity. And because most energy plants emit a great deal of carbon dioxide (one of the major culprits of global warming) and sulpher dioxide (which causes acid rain), plus various other pollutants, eliminating vampire power with smart power strips, etc. is a no-brainer.

W

Water. Most Americans have never had to give water a second’s worth of thought. This summer’s drought, however, has caused many of us to begin waking up to the reality that water is a limited resource. How about trying to use less? It’s painless, once you start paying attention.

Some simple ways to conserve water: If you’re a gardener, grow plants that thrive in dry environments. Notice when you’re using running water’s physical force to push food off plates or dirt off of whatever, and begin using elbow grease instead, cleaning with a brush or rag–with the tap turned off. In fact, start paying attention every time you turn on a tap or shower. How long does the water really need to be running? During the hectic morning rush, setting a timer for morning showers will limit bathroom time per family member while saving many gallons of water.

X

Xx.  We hope you don’t think we’re fresh, but…here’s a smooch, for getting your green on.

YRecycling symbol tattoo,  glitter green platform disco shoes,  eco-mack daddy vegan fur hat and vest, recycling symbol nail art

You’re a shining star
No matter who you are
Shining bright to see
What you could truly be

–Earth, Wind, and Fire

(Set a good example!)

Z

Zzzzz. It’s easy to drift away from the great schedule that you started at the beginning of the school year, but keeping bedtimes early means fewer lightbulbs burning in the night. Besides, Benjamin Franklin says it will make you healthy, wealthy and wise–and he was not only one of our Founding Fathers, he’s also the Father of Electricity!

He also said the words we’d like to close with:

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.

Design

Meet the Design Panel – Jenny Krauss

August 22, 2012

Is it time for you to take your business to the next level? Get tips, advice, and your questions answered at UncommonGoods’ third design panel and happy hour – How To Make It: Scaling Up Your Creative Business – taking place in Brooklyn, NY on August 28th. The panelists have experience advising businesses and personal experience with scaling up, like panelist, Jenny Krauss.

Jenny’s business started in 2008 with a love of Peruvian traditional embroidery. Today, her business employs 1600 artisans, who make anything from pillows to belts, while earning a steady income and preserving their local culture.
Without further ado… meet Jenny!

What is an uncommon fact about yourself?

In college and grad school, I never took a business, accounting, or economics class and I knew nothing about starting a company. I did a lot of research, picked people’s brains and realized it’s mostly common sense. Now I enjoy advising start-ups as best I can.

What products are you responsible for?

Belts, bags, pillows, shoes, luggage tags and whatever else I decide to produce; all hand woven and hand embroidered in wool or cotton.

What advice would you give to designers who think they are ready to take their business to the next level?

Take it one step at a time and don’t get deep into debt. I’ve read in business books that a common mistake for new companies is to overestimate sales. Having to manufacture more is better than getting stuck with too much inventory. Depending on your product, research your market and consider possibilities in addition to manufacturing, such as selling or licensing your designs.

What tools do you use to manage your time and stay productive?

I keep a to-do list that is with me at all times. Everything, important or trivial, is written down so it won’t be forgotten. Don’t spend work time on non-work activities like tweeting with friends, surfing the web, etc.

What advice would you give yourself when you were first starting out?

I funded my business with my own savings so if I failed I wouldn’t owe anyone money. If this is an option, I suggest using it. Or, go to family, friends, and funding sites such as Kickstarter before going to a bank. And be prepared to work long hours.

What does a typical workday look like?

I start out thinking I know what’s ahead for the day and then, almost always, something comes up, either from a customer or a supplier, and I have to stop everything and deal with it. Today is a perfect example; e-mails to one of my producer’s in rural Peru keep bouncing back. I did some research online and it turns out her domain name has expired. I’m sure she has no idea about how to fix this so I’m trying to track her down and not having much luck. There is no typical day!

What does scaling up mean for you?

My business only scaled up when there was revenue to do so. Meaning, strong sales propelled it forward, and earned money provided the funds. I added more products to the line but didn’t have to add more employees here in the US. The group of artisans in Peru swelled from 300 to 1600 which puts pressure on me to keep sales up.

Design

Tips for Creating a Winning Portfolio by Design Challenge Champ Tasha McKelvey

August 14, 2012

A great portfolio is a must-have in the visual world of design, but what’s the best way to build an eye-catching image collection? Ceramicist Tasha McKelvey captured our judges’ attention and won our first Ceramics Design Challenge with her uncommon piece. Here’s her advice on creating content to get the attention of art show judges, buyers like ours, and others in the art world.

Last fall I entered the UncommonGoods Ceramics Design Challenge on a whim. The holiday rush was already upon me, so I decided to take a few minutes and fill out the application right then. Otherwise, I knew I would end up forgetting and not enter at all.

Be Prepared

I already had an item to enter in mind. My Birdie Mini Dish would be a good fit for a catalog based on the size, price-point, cuteness factor, functionality and my studio’s ability to produce it both efficiently and in quantity.

Using relatively few images and words, I would need to effectively communicate all these details to the judges reviewing the applications for the Design Challenge.

With my entry decided on, I was able to pull my application together very quickly because I had already invested some time and thought into the process of portfolio presentation. The images I submitted for judging reflected the function, size and other options I offered for the mini-dish while still demonstrating the items’ consistent style.

This was the most specific mini-portfolio I have put together to date because it really only contains one piece of my work. I normally present a quite different group of images to craft show juries or gallery owners emphasizing the full scope of my work along with my particular style or voice.

Be Selective

Some time ago I created a Flickr portfolio of product images I had assembled for some indie craft show applications. I wanted to provide the show’s jury panel a link to a small selection of images I felt accurately represented my current ceramic work. Just sending a link to my website might have been overwhelming for a jury since it catalogs the entire diversity of my work. The smaller online portfolio I created on Flickr can also be a great resource to share with galleries, shop buyers, and the press.

Create a Cohesive Look

Additionally, the images are appropriate for uploading directly to an online craft show application that require image attachments for jurying. The individual images in my portfolio are actually composites; each jpeg consists of two images side by side. I combined the images using Photoshop, but there are lots of other programs available that can do the same thing. In order to better demonstrate the variety and relationships in my work, I chose to use two images in each “slide”. I put my bird bowls side by side with my ceramic bird necklaces, my ginkgo pottery with my ginkgo jewelry, my woodland gnome with my woodland mushroom mini-tray, etc.

Photos by Tasha McKelvey

Tell a Story

Take a look at the six “slides” that make up my portfolio. Notice the order I placed them in and the story such an arrangement tells. The first image is bold and eye-catching, while the last image references the subject matter as well as some of the colors in the first image (a little trick I also used with my UncommonGoods Design Challenge images too). Even though the backgrounds vary, each image shares the common themes of neutral colors and woodgrain — there is variety, but it is a consistent variety.

Know Your Audience

I use these images for indie craft shows and boutiques, but I do not always use these particular images for more traditional or upscale art and craft shows or galleries. For most non-indie shows I have a separate set of images with a gradient gray background. More traditional or high-end show juries have certain expectations for image presentation, and my casual woodgrain backgrounds might rub some of the more traditional art show jury members the wrong way. Also note that composite images are not recommended for non-indie shows in general.

Here are some examples of my images for non-indie art and craft shows.

Photos by Tasha McKelvey
The UncommonGoods buying team is always looking for great new designs. Check out our latest design challenge or show us your work through our new goods submission form.

Design

Fit to be Tied: Bethany Shorb’s Designer Drive

July 16, 2012

Bethany Shorb photo by Achille Bianchi, © Achille Bianchi

Bethany Shorb may be the founder, CEO, and principal designer at Cyberoptix TieLab, the fashion-forward brand that’s sold ties to all 7 continents (yes, even Antartica!), but despite her role as the woman in charge, she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. Bethany still creates every single tie herself.

“To date, I’ve hand-screenprinted over 100,000 neckties, all by hand, with no automation, machines or even a press! I have to admit having quite a buff right arm to show for it,” she told us.

That’s an awful lot of ties since she launched her company in 2006, so how does she do it? She takes inspiration from everything around her, draws on her background in fine art, and has a little help from some, as she says, “studio bees,” who assist with shipping, customer service, website update, and keeping an ample supply of take out coming into the studio during busy times.

Bike Chain Tie photo by Luke Copping, © Luke Copping

This busy studio, a buzzing center producing artistic fashions admired all over the world, isn’t located in New York, Paris, or Milan. After receiving a BFA in sculpture, with a concurrent concentration in photography from Boston University (in the city where she was born) Bethany made the Motor City, Detroit, her home.

“I’ve been based in Detroit for thirteen years now,” she said. “I chose to move here to go to graduate school [receiving a MFA in sculpture, also with a concurrent concentration in photography, from Cranbrook Academy of Art ] and also chose to stay immediately after finishing. I realized there was vast opportunity here that diverged from the traditional New York gallery or art educator path. With the low overhead that basing a studio practice in Detroit affords, it also in turn enables one to take financial and aesthetic risks that one would not be able to take were money tight, student loans looming, distractions abound and space cramped. With access to a large amount of space, I was fortunate to be able to ramp up my production scale as soon as there was demand and in turn grow my business very quickly.”

Photographing and Screen Printing, Photos via Bethany Shorb

Bethany believes that customers are “tiring of disposable culture,” and finds that “increasingly people want to buy into a story, not just a product. They want to buy from real people making real things with real histories…” and Detroit doesn’t fall short when it comes to real people producing these memorable goods.

“Detroit’s makers provide that accessible story while also providing a product that fits the client’s needs,” Bethany explained. “Along with a great sense of community, Detroit is a wonderful home-base to make things.”

Perhaps Bethany’s love for Detroit will shine throughout her upcoming solo show at Metro-Detroit’s 323 East Gallery, which opens this October and uses reclaimed materials from the commodity that made Detroit famous. “Recently I’ve been exploring a series of screenprinted work on metal, paired with reclaimed automotive emblem text; and a series of sculptural pieces made from deployed airbag fabric,” she said.

Of course, the thriving art community in Bethany’s city isn’t her only source of inspiration. Her design ideas come from everything from current trends to the desire to reboot antiquated styles by giving them a modern flair.

Cyberoptix TieLab Studio in Detroit, Mich., Photos via Bethany Shorb

She described a few places where she finds those sparks for new designs: “While I can still sometimes get caught up with the immediacy of pop culture (running an internet-business means I’m plugged in, non-stop), I like to look toward objects and ideas not made in the last five minutes, including natural history, medical ephemera, and Victorian botanical drawings and architectural renderings. Some of my favorite days are spent in dusty museum cabinets of curiosities or looking back at retro-future projections of what people thought it may look like in a hyper-stylized year 2000.”

Once Bethany has a firm image of the design in her head, she doesn’t spend a great deal of time “ruminating on other versions.” Always thinking about how the vertical shape of the tie influences each pattern, she begins manipulating photos from her own camera or digitally assembling the pieces that will eventually be the basis for a unique illustration.

“Once I think it’s about done, I’m pretty old-school about printing it out on tabloid-sized paper and just holding up the finished design over a few different necktie sizes on a lightbox and then burning it right to screen once it’s the correct size, ” she said. “I’m not a fan of rulers.”

Her aversion to rulers certainly hasn’t stunted the quality of her work, and we’re thrilled to offer several Bethany’s latest creations. When asked which of these designs is her personal favorite, she was a little indecisive, but answered with two options that happen to be on our favorites list as well.

Beer! Hops Tie. Photo by Bethany Shorb

“I’m definitely guilty of being seduced by the new, so probably my most recent design, [the Bike Chain Tie] is my current favorite,” said Bethany. “I’m also particularly drawn to the more pattern-based designs, ones that look like a traditional necktie motif, but have a little something extra hidden within the pattern that you might not realize is there until up close to the wearer. The Beer design is a near second – ties proclaiming one’s affinity for the tasty beverage are not always the most elegant, so I enjoy being able to put a different spin on the often less-than-classy beer tie.”

Finally, after giving us a look into her creative and technical process and providing a little prompt to those who aren’t quite sure which stylish tie to purchase first, Bethany also left us with a bit of advice on seeking an education in art and aspiring to build a business in art, design, or even another seemingly unrelated field.

“I like to think that my schooling in art taught me how to design and see in a holistic manner, rather than the simple mastery of a particular craft, technique or tool,” she said. “I firmly believe a quality art education can be applied to any discipline.” She went on to explain, “I’m completely self-taught in screen printing aside from one messy afternoon session on my friend’s kitchen table.” Evidence that learning the basics, and keeping an open mind when looking at the big picture, can go a long way.

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