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Inside UG

The Uncommon Life

Doing Good, in Brooklyn and Beyond:
A Look Back at 2017

December 26, 2017

At UncommonGoods, we strive to be more than a business: We strive to be a force for good. In addition to providing one-of-a-kind, high-quality handmade goods to our customers, we’ve made it our mission to use our business to help improve the world we live in. As an independently-owned company with 18 years under our belt, we’re lucky to have the freedom to act according to our convictions, providing our workers with a living wage and a generous paid family leave policy, donating thousands annually to our Better to Give partners, and supporting makers who create a positive social and environmental impact wherever possible.

Of course, this isn’t all that we do each year. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to ensure we’re supporting causes we believe in as effectively as we possibly can, and we’re always trying to make sure that UG is a great place to work. (Side note: Being a great place to work, like most things, requires a lot of trial and error, and we don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we do know that being open to change and putting our employees’ needs first are key points for us.) This year, we’re letting you in on our proudest achievements, from work we’ve done within our Brooklyn warehouse to relationships we’ve built with new nonprofit partners. Read on for more on what we’ve done #InsideUG, with our Better to Give partners, and within the B Corporation community.


#InsideUG

Samples line the walls in our newly renovated office, complete with custom woodwork.

Here at UncommonGoods HQ in Sunset Park’s historic Brooklyn Army Terminal, we’ve made some improvements of our own. In June, we announced the launch of our Guiding Principles, a series of seven carefully formulated standards by which we at UG strive to lead our professional lives. With values like We Are a Force for Good, We Are Open-Minded, and We Are Always Learning, we’re encouraged to foster a culture in which we respect one another and consider our company’s impact on the world. (But more on that later.)

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The Uncommon Life

Happy “B” Day to Us! Celebrating 10 Years as a B Corp

July 16, 2017

Throughout the month, we are celebrating our 10th “B” Day! (Not to be confused with the birth of our company that happened waaay back in 1999.) Our “B” Day commemorates our official initiation into the B Corp community, a community of businesses that have successfully passed a B Corp Assessment. The assessment scores companies on how they’re building better businesses by taking care of their workers, their customers, the community, and the environment. In 2007, we stood with 42 other companies and signed a declaration of interdependence proclaiming our mission to use our company as a force for good. Over the next few weeks we’ll be celebrating this in ways that relate to all of the key areas that are measured by B Lab (the non-profit that is in charge of the B Corp Assessment and the certification process). In honor of this exciting anniversary, we’re taking a look back on what’s happened through the years with our B Corp score, the B Corp movement, and to throw in a little extra fun, the world at large over this decade-long stretch.

2007:

B Corp: And so it begins! Our first Impact score: 97
UG: In searching for an assessment process to internally audit our practices to show that we are practicing what we preach in terms of our societal and environmental commitments, our founder and CEO, Dave Bolotsky, committed UncommonGoods to be a founding B Corp. We’re one of 43 companies to be recognized with this distinction.
And also this: The seventh and last book in the Harry Potter series is released.

2008:

B Corp: The first B Corp Champions Retreat is hosted in California.
UG: We say so long to Manhattan and complete our move to the Brooklyn Army Terminal.
And also this: Barack Obama is elected, becoming the first person of color to serve as president of the United States.

2009:

B Corp: The number of certified B Corps grew to 205 in 54 industries in 28 states.
UG: We make it Facebook official.
And also this: Water is discovered on the moon.

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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

Inside the Designers’ Studio
with UncommonGoods’ Product Development Team

September 16, 2016

 

UncommonGoods Product Development Team

UncommonGoods’ Product Development Team: Carolyn Topp (Director of New Business & Product Development), Elisha Janas (PD Associate Designer), Emily Reside (Senior Product Designer), Tiffany Jyang (Senior Product Developer), and Morgan Tanner (Senior Production Manager), photo by Emily Dryden

Each month, we have the privilege of bringing you a look inside an artist or designer’s creative space. Sometimes we hop on a train and head someplace nearby in Brooklyn, sometimes we hit the road to see friends a little farther from New York City, and every now and then a jet-setting contributor will helps us feel a little closer to a studio that seems worlds away. These adventures are always entertaining and inspiring, and they give us chances to get to know the people who make the goods we sell a little bit better. 

While planning some upcoming Studio Tours and reminiscing about the many great experiences I’ve personally had seeing where our products are made and meeting the people behind them, something occurred to me: We make products. Right here at UncommonGoods, a team of product designers, developers, and managers is at work coming up with brand new uncommon creations. 

I realized that despite all of the studios I’ve personally visited, the folders of photos from other folks’ tours I’ve sorted through, and the blog posts I’ve edited, I still haven’t given our readers a look at the place where we develop our very own designs. But that’s about to change. Welcome to this behind-the-scenes look at our Brooklyn office, where you’ll see works in progress, inspiration and advice from our Product Development team, and even a quote from The Boss (Springsteen, that is; not Dave Bolotsky).

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Design

Shirt Tales: Personal Shirt and Message Pillow Stories

August 1, 2016

Most of us have an old shirt in the back of a drawer that we just can’t bear to get rid of. Maybe it doesn’t fit quite right anymore, or maybe it just doesn’t work with your current wardrobe, but throwing it out or even donating it just doesn’t feel like an option. Maybe that shirt is from an unforgettable concert or a big game. Maybe it’s from a special day, like that tuxedo shirt from your wedding that means a lot, but will probably never be worn again. Or maybe it’s a shirt that was passed on to you by someone special. Just because you don’t wear it anymore doesn’t mean you can’t show it off. Turn it into a Personal Shirt and Message Pillow to give your old shirt a new use.

A few folks on our team had t-shirts with sentimental value, and now they have brand new pillows stuffed with memories (and synthetic, goose-friendly down).

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Design

A Serving Solution
as Amazing as Chocolate

June 13, 2016

Few treats are quite as inviting as rich, decadent chocolates. That familiar, sweet scent. The lure of its velvety texture. The promise of a few moments of the unique pleasure the mouthwatering morsels will bring.

What could possibly make this bite-sized treat even more appetizing? A presentation that gets chocolate out of the box and on full display. The A-Maze-ing Chocolate Server does just that, and offers a clever solution when it comes to stashing those leftover wrappers.

“We wanted to create a presentation worthy of chocolate, because chocolate is amazing,” said UncommonGoods’ Senior Product Development Associate Tiffany Jyang, who worked on creating the design for our Uncommon Collection.

The initial idea for the piece was, in part, based on the success of other Uncommon Collection items that offer unique serving solutions. Products like the Pistachio Pedestal, Popcorn Bowl with Kernel Sifter, and Cheese & Crackers Serving Board  are all unique presentation options that each tackle an entertaining challenge–discarding nutshells, dealing with pesky unpopped kernels, and keeping enough cheese and crackers on deck to keep snackers satisfied. With these designs in mind, the Product Development team thought about other ways to improve the presentation of foods frequently served at dinner parties and cocktail hours.

A-maze-ing Chocolate Server | UncommonGoods

“Sometimes there’s an excess something that you don’t want to carry around at a party or stick in your pocket,” Tiffany explained. “In [the case of chocolates] it’s the wrapper. This [server] is an all-in-one solution.”

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The Uncommon Life

A Visit from Secretary Perez of the U.S. Department of Labor

May 31, 2016

In early May, UncommonGoods was fortunate enough to host U.S. Labor Secretary, Tom Perez. He spoke with a handful of team members about their experience working for a company that values “conscious capitalism,” praising UncommonGoods for investing in team member development, paying a living wage, and actively listening to team member feedback. He also took a tour of the warehouse space, eagerly chatting with individuals out on the floor about their daily tasks. You can read about Secretary Perez’s recent visit to New York in The Guardian, and see for yourself in the photos below.

BAT Lobby

UncommonGoods Founder Dave Bolotsky (left) with U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez in the Brooklyn Army Terminal Lobby.

Secretary Perez listening to feedback from UncommonGoods employees

Secretary Perez listening to comments from UncommonGoods employees.

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The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Impact: UncommonGoods’ Animal-Friendly Choice

February 19, 2016

To date, our Uncommon Impact series has focused on stories of environmental and material sustainability drawn from our many talented makers. But UncommonGoods’ own mission has always focused on a positive effect on people and the planet, inviting us to find uncommon impact in our own history and company culture. One way that we’ve done this is to be an animal-friendly company from our start seventeen years ago. Since then, environmental sustainability has come to the fore even more, and animal-friendly choices, whether personal or commercial, can be a major factor in minimizing our negative impact on the earth.

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Vegetable Parchment Platter

UncommonGoods’ commitment to not carrying items that harm animals stood out for me as a vegetarian for over 20 years. This was a factor when I joined the UncommonGoods team in 2014, a principle that is also important to our founder, Dave Bolotsky. As a vegetarian since 1974, Dave felt it was important to establish a cruelty-free character for the company and its collection, a choice that aligned with our concern for people and the planet and our dedication to sustainability. This extends to our policy of not showing items on our website or in our catalog propped with animal products (only veggies on our grills and kabobs, for example).

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