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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio
with Rhonda Dudek

April 10, 2017

Rhonda Dudek in her Providence, RI studio, photos by Conor McDonough

Succulents and smiles abound in Rhonda Dudek’s radiant Providence, Rhode Island studio. Located in PVD’s West End, where creatives have transformed shuttered mills and factories into workspace lofts, Rhonda designs and assembles her nature-inspired jewelry (when she’s not traveling the country). Vintage US National Park postcards adorn a wall above an antique mail cabinet speaking to her wanderlust and goal to see all 59 of our national treasures (so far she’s been to six!).

A North Carolina native, Rhonda first came to the 50th biggest state in the nation to attend the Rhode Island School of Design. She returned to NC after school, settling in Asheville to grow her Figs & Ginger line of jewelry when she caught the attention of UncommonGoods. Ten years later, she’s back in Rhode Island finding inspiration in Providence’s historic College Hill neighborhood. The studio’s enormous windows look out on downtown Providence where the iconic “Superman Building” leaps out from the small city’s skyline. Rhonda sees the city’s history as a manufacturing center of costume jewelry as motivation to continue growing her woman-owned independent business.

I met Rhonda in her studio on one of those late winter days where a cloudless sky and bright sun give hope to the promise that springtime is just around the corner. She reflected all of that and more with an enthusiasm to match her loving and whimsical creations. Check out our conversation below to discover one of Lil Rhody’s biggest talents.

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Gift Guides

20 New Gift Ideas for Mother’s Day 2017

April 7, 2017

 

She’s the woman who gave you everything, so what could you possibly give her? You’ve done flowers, you’ve done brunch. You’ve probably even done something handmade (macaroni necklace, anyone?). This year, we’re offering you the chance to stop repeating yourself. We’ve gathered 20 goods that are new to our site since last Mother’s Day, so you can share your love differently than you ever have before. (And if you have a sibling gift rivalry going on, you’ll be sure to win Most Original Child.) Read on for our best and brightest gifts celebrating Mom!

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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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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Suzie Thomas

March 6, 2017

Suzie Thomas in her Santa Cruz, CA studio, photos by Emily Hodges

My favorite studio visits are the ones when I walk in and immediately feel at home–and that’s exactly how I felt when sea glass jewelry artist Suzie Thomas opened her doors and welcomed me into her Santa Cruz, CA studio.

Her oasis is, no doubt, ocean-inspired: air plants dangling from inside sea urchin shells that mimic the shape of jellyfish, bright blue abstract art work–painted by Suzie herself–on display, and whales peeking from the corners of her desk and swimming along her walls. Suzie features local artists’ work within her studio, including her son’s “Mom” rainbow, a charming masterpiece.

With Santa Cruz’s gorgeous sea coast and redwoods as Suzie’s backyard playground, it’s no surprise her home and studio space are very much aligned with nature. But it was a surprise for Suzie when she realized she could turn sea glass into jewelry and eventually grow jewelry creation into a full-time business. “At first it was just something I did alongside my full-time marketing job,” said Suzie. “But then the orders continued to grow substantially. I crunched the numbers one day and decided to take the plunge, quit my job, and launch my business full time. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Read Suzie’s interview below to find out how she initially discovered the concept for her sea glass jewelry line, what happened when she got swept up by a wave while hunting for sea glass, and why Albert Einstein keeps her motivated every day.


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Design

The Couch Bowl: Taking Comfort Food to the Next Level

February 15, 2017

A background in engineering helps product designer Thomas Both visualize forms in space and think critically when contemplating his prototypes. It also leads him to ask some important questions: What’s the geometry at work? How might I build this? What’s the negative of that shape? What would that connection look like?

Sure, those are things an engineer would definitely ask when building a complex machine, but how does that influence something as seemingly uncomplicated as snacking? Well, when you think about it, snacking isn’t always that simple. We’ve all been there: balancing an overflowing dish and squirming around trying to get the blanket just right, while simultaneously looking for a video to stream and hoping that you’re not about to start a cheese puff avalanche. (You know that if one puff rolls off Snack Mountain, many more are sure to follow.) In this case, figuring out how to simplify the process of holding a dish, getting comfortable, and delivering that oh-so-tasty food to your face is actually a design problem. A problem that Thomas solved with the Couch Bowl.

Thomas Both

“The point of view is that almost all dishware (particularly in Western society) is designed to be used sitting at a dining table, yet often we don’t eat at a dining table,” Thomas explained. “We stand at a cocktail party, or sit in the living room, or lean against the counter in the kitchen–but we are using the stuff made for table dining. So what if we could create dishware designed for eating without a table?”

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Recycling Books & Spreading Literacy, One Pin at a Time

February 13, 2017

You can never have too many books, right? Well, actually, you kinda can. With hundreds of thousands of new books published each year, and with many library shelves so overwhelmed that librarians are often forced to throw books away, even those of us who feel sentimental about the written word and the pages that hold them have to admit: we’ve got a problem.

So what to do with all of those outdated encyclopedias and forgotten math textbooks? Aren’t there any other options aside from trashing them? Recycling, of course, comes to mind. But the bindings of many books, especially hardcovers, contain adhesives that can’t be recycled. So the inside pages can go, but then what happens to the rest?

Enter Laura Bruland Shields. A long-time book-lover herself and an artist at heart, she’s taken on this wasteful problem and is making beautiful solutions every day – in the form of one-of-a-kind, laser cut accessories made directly from books that would otherwise be thrown away. On top of that, she takes a portion of the proceeds from her business and donates them to benefit literacy and girls’ education around the world.

When we learned about Laura’s story, we knew we had to feature her in our Uncommon Impact series – her values as a maker and ours as a certified B-Corp company are a perfect match. We love that she thinks ethically in the way she makes her products and uses her to success to benefit a cause she’s passionate about.

Read on to hear from Laura directly about her creative process, some of her favorite book-titles-turned-accessories, and how her business is helping to spread a love of reading worldwide.

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Maker Resources, Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Donna and Randall Rollins

February 6, 2017

Randall and Donna Rollins in their Brentwood, NH studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney

Most of us have had those days when we feel stuck in a rut. You know, when you’re sitting at your desk under harsh florescent lights, or walking extra slowly into your office building, or completing the same seemingly unimportant task for the 500th time. For most of us, this feeling creeps in and we start fantasizing about dropping everything and going confidently in the direction of our dreams. While the feeling usually passes, and many weekday warriors just keep fighting that battle against monotony, Donna and Randall Rollins figured that if they had to pour out their time and energy, it was going to be into something they love. 

The couple met while they were both working in corporate America. First they fell in love with each other, and then Donna fell in love with pottery. Then they learned about the healing properties often associated with gemstones from a friend with a PhD in metaphysics, and everything came together: Donna and Randall left the corporate world to start their own clay studio. They slowly grew their business to include family members and employ local artisans, they discovered new ways to incorporate stones and minerals into their designs, and, aside from acknowledging that their business backgrounds gave them the know-how to turn their passion into a career, they don’t do a lot of looking back. 

“We actively made the decision thinking, ‘If we tank, what’s the worst that can happen? We’ll still have each other,'” Randall told me on my recent visit to the couple’s Brentwood, NH studio. “We took that risk and we were willing to lose it all.”  

As you’re about to see in the photos and interview below, Donna and Randall didn’t lose it all, and they’re still hard at work making beautiful pottery and sharing their passion for stones and clay whenever they can. In fact, when our Tabletop Buyer NéQuana and I arrived to the studio over two hours late, thanks to a flat tire, the Rollinses weren’t even fazed. Their team had left for the night, and evidence of a long workday (so many pieces, in all stages of completion!) was all around. Still, they welcomed us like old friends, offered us snacks, and almost immediately started showing us their collections of stones and telling us about the energy in the space.  

Healing Stone Mugs, before the stones are attached

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Anne Johnson and Arra David

January 10, 2017

Anne Johnson and Arra David outside of the Sea Stones Studio in Windham, NH, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney

Canopies of colorful leaves. Air so fresh it actually feels different when you breathe it in. Wide open spaces and dewy blades of grass. These are things I don’t get to enjoy all that often in Brooklyn, but New Hampshire is another story. I experienced the natural beauty of “The Granite State” firsthand last fall, when I also got a full tour of Arra David and Anne Johnson’s bustling studio.

The state’s nickname is certainly fitting, given the extensive quarries in New Hampshire. It’s also fitting that Anne and Arra make their designs there, considering that their one-of-a-kind creations are made with wood, natural stones, metal, and–you guessed it–granite.

Curious about just how the designers are able to turn solid rock into functional home designs, our Tabletop Buyer NéQuana and I made the five-hour road trip from Brooklyn to Windham, NH to get an inside look.

Anne and Arra welcomed us in, offered us some of the homemade hard cider mentioned below, walked us through the studio and workshop, and let us take some tools for a test drive. With Arra’s guidance, NéQuana even built her own Sea Stone Splash Sponge Holder!

Arra, an engineer, talked to us about designing special tools to tackle heavy-duty work. He also shared thoughts on taking hold of inspiration when it “ambushes,” advice on the importance of collaboration, and a perfectly pertinent Thoreau quote.

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