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Maker Stories

Max’s Mug: Nothing But Net

September 23, 2014

Max and the Mug with a Hoop | UncommonGoods

Max is a budding entrepreneur who created a slam-dunk design: The Mug With a Hoop™. It’s no surprise that he’s a fan of playing with his food—after all, he was just 8 years old when he stepped out on the court to get in the design game!

The young inventor presented his product at the Babson College Center for Entrepreneurship, and in the Product Pitch at Fenway contest—so he could then tell his friends he had “pitched” at Fenway Park! Max’s mug was named one of the ten finalists in the contest, encouraging him to stay in the game.

Great publicity soon followed, including stories in the Boston Herald and Boston Business Journal. Max and his team (mom, dad and brother) then mounted a successful crowd-funding campaign, and their full court press put the mug into production.

The Mug With A Hoop™ isn’t just an addictively fun product; it also serves as a model success story and celebrates the creative focus found on the upside of dyslexia, a learning disability that’s affected Max from an early age.

Max (chief creator for MAX’IS Creations, now 10 years old), his brother Sam (13 years old and VP of product testing), and their mom, Jen (chief creator’s creator) took some time out from juggling school, entrepreneurship, and sports fandom to give us more detail on their uncommon venture, insight into the inspiration for the mug, and a glimpse of what’s next.

Mug with a Hoop | UncommonGoods

Q.) What was it like starting a business at a young age?

It was hard but I got it done. I like that I get to make money by doing my job. Other kids make money by doing chores, but I sell mugs. It’s more fun than doing chores, but it’s hard because I have to do a lot of work. And I’m proud to be donating 5 percent of the profits from MAX’IS Creations to charities that support learning disabilities like dyslexia because I’m dyslexic.

I made my original mug in art class at school. But then to turn it into a product to market, I had to work with design people to turn it into a prototype for a mug we could manufacture. I had to decide on what it would look like, what shape it should be, what color, and how big it should be. Then I had to decide where to make them. We had to talk to lots of factories until we found the right one. And now I do a lot of work going places to sell my mugs.

I’m very happy for Max and his business. He’s very entrepreneurial, and our whole family is helping him succeed. I like seeing the reaction of the people buying the mugs. Everyone seems to really like it. And it’s great to see places like UncommonGoods wanting to carry it.

Painting Mugs

Q.) Your company motto is “The world would be better if we could play with our food.” Did you get in a little trouble?

Sometimes…I like playing around but this is a good way to have fun at the table! I really like to play with my iPad at the table. But my parents don’t like me to do that because then I’m not part of the conversation. The Mug With a Hoop™ is a way for kids to play and be part of the conversation. It’s something you can do as a family. And the world is better if you can play with your food because it’s more fun!

Play with Your Food | UncommonGoods

Sam (left) and Max (right) play with their food.

Q.) What came first, the motto or the mug?

The mug came first. As our family connected with other entrepreneurs, we quickly learned the adage that successful products solve a problem. Looking at Max’s invention, we asked ourselves what problem it solved, and realized that Max’s value proposition in his own words was rather simple but true: “it makes eating fun.” And for many families, the dinner table is not seen as a place for fun. So we came up with the tagline “the world would be better if we could play with our food” to address the problem Max’s product solved and how his way of looking at things could make a difference in the world.

Q.) Now that The Mug With a Hoop™ is doing so well, do you have something new in the works?

Yes, my baseball mug—The Mug With a Glove™—is in production and should be available next spring! I 3D printed a prototype this spring at Fenway Park. The Mug With a Glove™ has baseball colors: the bowl is white in the shape of a baseball, with red baseball stitching with a brown glove attached that you throw the marshmallows into. It’s fun because you can throw marshmallows into the glove. It’s going to be great for small kids and big kids—any kind of kid, because it’s easier to get it in than The Mug With a Hoop™, which may be harder for little kids. I also have mugs coming out for football, hockey and soccer!

Q.) It must have been cool to visit Fenway a couple of times related to promote and develop your products.

I’m a Red Sox fan and love going to Fenway Park! I was excited to be able to go to Fenway to pitch my Mug With a Hoop™. And then they invited me back and I got to 3D print my baseball mug. It was fun to be on the Jumbotron. My favorite player is Dustin Pedroia, because he’s really good in the field.

Max "Pitching" His Design

Max at Fenway Park with
The Mug With a Hoop ™ and The Mug With a Glove ™.

Q.) Do you have any advice for other young entrepreneurs?

Don’t go too big at first because you may not sell that many. Keep it simple. And then if it’s good keep doing it. Also, you should get other people to help you. If you’re a kid, you don’t really know what to do, so get someone to help you. My mom and dad are helping me, and my brother Sam and his friends Bobby and Marc also helped me a lot.

Starting a business takes time and effort. If you put in time and effort you’ll have a good product and will be able to sell more and more until you make enough money to create another product and you keep building up.

You don’t really need to be an expert. If you want to be successful you just need to put time and effort in.

When Max made his first product, we chose to take a lot of time out of our regular activities as a family to try to make this product successful. And if you put in enough work and effort you will have a great product and it will be able to sell well.

Max and his team have every reason to be proud of their record so far. You can become a fan by picking up a Mug With a Hoop™ for yourself or for your favorite sports fan.

Maker Stories

Frost Glass’s Banded Lacework Design Wins!

June 6, 2013

I’m never happy to see a design challenge end, but I admit I took a sigh of relief two weeks ago when Candace, Jim, and Justina met via Google Hangout to pick a winner in the Glass Art Design Challenge. I wasn’t only glad we had an amazing winning design, but that my desk could be free from all of these beautiful, yet very fragile samples. I tend to be a little too clumsy to host such a design challenge.

But the greatest joy I get is making the phone call to a design challenge winner to let them know that the judges picked their work to be featured in our collection. When I called Patrick and Carrie of Frost Glass, Patrick told me that they have always loved the UncommonGoods catalog and wondered when would be the perfect time to submit their work to us. It delighted me even more to tell him that the judges loved the colors and interesting design elements in their Banded Lacework Glasses.


Meet Patrick and Carrie Frost and help us welcome them into our UncommonGoods artist family!

What is one uncommon fact about you?
We are both uncommonly determined and happy people!

How did you begin in glass arts?
Each of us got “hooked” on glass during our time in college. Carrie studied and received a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Patrick got started with a BS from the Illinois State University. This is a common case for many artists working in glass that they become enthralled upon the first encounter, and there are many university programs across the country where this can happen.

The real education began for us after school however – the real education and understanding that drives your glasswork comes through years of study and education through alternative means. Volunteering at craft schools, working for other glassmakers, finding ways to be involved in workshops, looking for residencies, work-study programs, whatever it takes to keep going until you are adequately prepared to start working for yourself full time. Every person you work with and all of your experiences culminate to give you your true skill set and vision for what you would like to create and how you will execute your plan.

Where do you get inspiration for your glass designs?
Our designs are based upon a process where we look for a function that needs to be filled, and then create a design that can perform that function in the most interesting way possible. Each of us has a vast body of knowledge that encompasses techniques both traditional and unusual, which came from numerous experiences with master glassmakers from around the world. We love the style of the Mid-Century Modern and feel like it was an important time for design so some of the functions, shapes, and colors come from this era. Sometimes when you think you have done something really unique you will open a book and see something very similar has been done 50, 100, or 2000 years ago!

Describe your artistic process.
Our process up to this point has been to generate a line of glasswork that embodies the idea of elevating everyday experience. We hit upon an idea of experiential luxury after doing some research and found it was an interesting concept that applied to a lot of the things we were doing at the time. Our glasswork is designed to give you an experience through its function, as well as by transforming the space in which it resides. This connection with the client and their home creates a really unique bond between the artist and consumer that is unique to a handcrafted object.

Describe your workspace.
At the time we share a small private studio with a good friend, it has been a real saving grace after spending 16 months or so on the road. Trying to start a business from a mobile office is difficult, especially when you are lugging around all of your tools, glass, etc! We rent a small house, which is almost entirely consumed by glass our office / “war room” features a large-scale desk calendar that is dismantled, stuck up page by page to the wall to give the entire year-at-a-glance (gold stars are sometimes used to note an especially productive day). Being here allowed us to take all of our equipment and belongings from 5 separate locations and put them in one place. Having our work, office duties, photography, packing and shipping consolidated gave us the real opportunity to launch our business.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
This is a great opportunity it doesn’t cost anything to enter there is really nothing to lose! Even the opportunity for a jury to look at your work usually costs money; here you get a team of professionals to evaluate your design for free! The semi-finalists get great exposure on the website through the voting platform and there is another opportunity for honest feedback and insight into your work. We made a goal several years ago when looking at an UncommonGoods catalog to some day be featured in their collection, and it took this long to do it. Without ever having that thought or goal to begin with it never would have happened!

Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Kasia Wisniewski & Nicholas Foley

June 3, 2013

Living in New York City you learn very quickly not to judge a book by it’s cover – every door hides a secret in this city. Upon walking up to Kasia Wisniewski and Nicholas Foley’s building I had no idea what was in store. Only a few blocks from my own place, and on a block with manicured brownstones, Kasia and Nick’s door was gated and uninviting. But upon being greeted and swept upstairs to their apartment by Kasia, I was surprised to be standing in the treasure hidden from the street. Their home is what I imagine Marie Antoinette’s place would look like if she were a Brooklyn artist – a mix of Baroque accessories, Mid-Century furniture, antique sewing machines, dress forms. And right there, among their beautiful furniture and artifacts, was an industrial laser cutter, taking up what I imagine could be a sizable second bedroom.

That’s another thing about New York City – you have to make it happen by any means possible. For Nick and Kasia that mean taking out a wall, building a ventilation system, and giving up precious real estate to fit the laser cutter that helped Kasia leave her job in luxury fashion design and start working for herself. But nothing is wasted – they have used the cutter to create Kasia’s wall art and jewelry, to cut stencils to create other designs, and Nick even used it to cut wood to create a suspended indoor garden. Getting to tour their space and talk about their work was truly inspiring and a reminder that nothing is earned in this city without a little sacrifice.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
We are collectors! We’re surrounded constantly by reminders of things we love- from books and photographs to piles of fabric and knick-knacks from our travels. Living in Brooklyn has forced us to be creative with a limited space, so we’ve put our passions front and center. Nick is starting an indoor vegetable garden in the corner of our living room, so a lot of it is creating our own inspiration as well.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Working from home means we’re working on and off from the time we get up to the time we go to sleep – but when you’re doing stuff you like, it’s not work. I usually take an hour or so to go for a run around midday and we always watch something funny during dinner at the end of the day.

We also have a blog where we detail our food and design experiments, so working on that is sort of a treat for us as well.

What are your most essential tools?
Our most essential tool is our laser cutter- we use it not only to create products like our You Are Here map, but we also use it to create tools for our other projects, from stamps and stencils to jigs and frames. My industrial sewing machine (a birthday gift from Nick to me) is another Collected Edition MVP.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Transitioning from a full-time job in a high stress fashion company to being my own boss was terrifying. I think the hardest part was really realizing how fast time goes by when you’re working on projects by yourself. At first I would beat myself up if I didn’t have something solid and concrete at the end of the day – but mistakes and revisions are 95% of the design process.

What advice would you offer yourself of 5 years ago?
I would encourage myself to follow my instincts and believe in my vision. I think all designers suffer from insecurity, but if you focus on making good work and being true to your aesthetic, others will get onboard.

How do you set goals for yourself?
We both have a very clear idea of what we want our lives to be like in 5 years or 10 years – but the path to get there is still developing! We are both big fans of lists – both small detail and big picture. I try to set manageable goals I know I can reach, while always keeping in mind the endgame.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Every victory is celebrated by figuring out how to win the next victory.

What quote keeps you motivated?
This Samuel Beckett quote pretty much sums up creative entrepreneurship. I think there are very few designers that ever feel completely satisfied with their work – you should always be aiming to “fail better” on the next go-round.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’m starting to experiment with casting. I love using tutorials from sites like Instructables to inform my experimentation. We also have an electroforming set-up that we both worked with some in college but is now lying dormant – that’s another avenue we have been exploring and requires a lot of trial and error to perfect.

How do you recharge your creativity?
The only time I can ever really relax is when we go away – whether on a proper vacation or just a day trip. A change in scenery does wonders for the mind.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Since so much of what we do is custom, each piece is really a collaboration with the client. My favorite thing is to work closely with a customer to bring an idea to life – it’s a beautiful thing to know that what you do brings happiness to another life.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Kristy Hadeka & Sean Tice

May 7, 2013

Days before I made it to the Red Hook work space of Sean Tice and Kristy Hadeka, they were putting the finishing touches on Brooklyn Slate Co’s new home, a space that took a hard beating during Hurricane Sandy. A line painted on an exposed brick wall shows where the water came up last October. At the time they were beginning construction on their new office and showroom, and had begun to store all of their merchandise and computers.

Months later, their space is a rustic, welcoming meeting space where they can work on new designs and meet with clients. I was happy to learn that behind the homey facade, Sean and Kristy were as warm as their aesthetic–serving as true advocates of their new neighborhood and neighbors. Take a look inside their work space and see what makes Sean and Kristy (and Garp) of Brooklyn Slate Co such Uncommon Artists.

What are your most essential tools?
Sean: An oversized work table, drafting light box, and good music playing. Editor’s note: The music was indeed very, very good.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Kristy: When we found this space, it was completely stripped down and raw. We built it out using materials and colors that make us feel really comfortable and at home. It’s open, airy, and relaxing – perfect for finding inspiration.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
K: Red Hook is a great neighborhood to walk around and explore – whenever we need a few minutes, we pick a direction and go for a walk.
S: Our dog also accompanies us at the shop on most days, so we take him to the park in the morning and late afternoon. I usually stop by Baked for a coffee or tea, then we go and throw the ball around.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
K: You should never be afraid to ask for help. Whether you need feedback on an idea you’re working on, or you find yourself managing an area of the business with which you have no experience, it’s important to know you can always go to someone you trust for feedback.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
S: We celebrate small victories every Friday with Beer Friday, when we pair a new beer we haven’t tried before with a cheese. Often, someone on our team will bring in something homemade for us all to enjoy, and we’ll pair a beer with that.
K: A big victory always requires the team head to the Ice House, one of our favorite watering holes in the neighborhood.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
S: We recently started developing other tabletop items that aren’t necessarily made of slate. I typically sketch ideas by hand, but I’m learning Google SketchUp so I can create more detailed renderings.

How do you recharge your creativity?
K: We both love running. It’s a great way to reset or gain perspective, especially when you’re stuck on an idea. There’s also so much to see in New York, and running is the best way to do it.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
S: Collaboration comes into play in two ways – on the one hand, we’re always exploring ways to collaborate with other producers in New York. Within the company, everyone is encouraged to speak up as new ideas come to them. Our shop and office are one and the same, which encourages open communication between everybody. Even if you’re not participating in a particular conversation, just overhearing a discussion can plant a seed in your own mind.


Using to Promote Your Designs

April 9, 2013

As an avid craft blogger, I know the magic of getting a post featured on craftgawker. One DIY or tutorial posted on the site usually means thousands of new visits to my blog! We even use it as a tool to promote UncommonGoods design challenges and blog posts. But it recently dawned on me how helpful the gawkerverse could be in gathering inspiration and promoting your work so I reached out to Maria, their designer and editor, to pick her brain. As a designer herself, Maria has some great advice for using the gawkerverse to it’s greatest advantage.

How can a designer use the gawkerverse community to market their designs?
Anyone can use the gawkerverse to share their work. Our goal is to publish posts that are inspirational to our readers. Sometimes that comes in the form of a DIY or recipe, an artist’s interview, or a post that shares a behind the scenes look at how something is made.

If you are a designer looking to share your work, the best gawkerverse site to submit your work to is craftgawker or dwellingawker. A great way to get readers to check your post is to offer a printable or a DIY, as people like to participate. If you don’t want to provide a DIY or printable, another great way to get noticed is to provide an inside look at your process. Did you just create an amazing logo? Why not share some of the ideas that led up to the final? The same thing would work for a fine artist. Rather than only sharing the final painting, why not share some of the in-progress photos? People love to see how an artist/designer got from point A to point B.

Also, remember that photography is important! Photos are important for any blog or website, because most people are visual, but it is especially important when submitting to the gawkerverse. You only have a short time to draw someone in, and the best way to do that is with a photo that makes them stop and look.

What is the most creative thing you have seen submitted to the gawkerverse?
That’s a really hard question, because we get a lot of amazing submissions but here are a few posts that stand out.

This post by The 3R’s Blog utilizes a paper craft we all know how to make from our childhood and repurposes it into this modern, geometric lamp shade!

This DIY by My Poppet is a great way to restore old, hand woven, cane chairs. Cross stitching turned this old chair into a modern, colorful work of art.

This recent post by Feathers of Gold shows us how to create this awesome hexagonal ornament with stir straws!

Where do you seek inspiration?
I usually don’t have to look too far for inspiration, since I am one of the craftgawker moderators, so I see tons of amazing ideas daily, but some of my favorite design blogs are Design Work Life, Weekday Carnival, and Door Sixteen.

I try to find inspiration everywhere. Packaging, posters, magazines, catalogs, they all give me ideas and inspire me to try something different.

What makes a good gawkerverse submission?
Our goal is to inspire our readers to be creative. In our opinion, there is no better feeling than creating something! Whether your creative outlet is food, art, your wedding, your look, or an entire room, we want people to experience the satisfaction you get from making something yourself.

The most important component for a good gawkerverse submission is a great photo. Beautiful photos are always inspirational and will usually do well on our site. It’s the first thing a reader will see and it is what makes them want to find out more.

Next we look for good content. We always prefer DIY, but we will accept anything that we believe our users will find inspirational. That includes process photos, interviews, or any discussion about what inspired the blogger to create.

What are some tips for taking gawkerverse-worthy photos?
In my opinion, lighting is the absolute most important component for taking a good photo. If you don’t have good lighting, the photo won’t be successful. Natural diffused light is always best, because very direct light can create distracting shadows.

Next, composition plays a huge role. It’s always important to consider your subject matter and be sure that it’s always your focal point. An image can be perfectly exposed, with amazing light, but if the composition isn’t right, the image won’t be successful. It’s always important to consider your subject matter and compose a balanced shot that will work in our square format. When in doubt, keep it simple.

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