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Product Development

Design

Constellation Collaboration: Creating the Zodiac Pillows

April 15, 2013

All great designs start out as great ideas, and while we often think of great ideas as masterpieces that burst forth from the minds of individuals, in reality, many are actually the product of collaboration.

For our product development team, collaboration has a major part in creating dynamic new goods. Sometimes the idea for a new exclusive designed-by-us product is conceived in a brainstorming session, sometimes it’s the result of discussions with our buyers, and, as in the case of our colorful Zodiac Pillows, sometimes the idea is built around existing artwork.

Senior Product Development Associate Sarah Stenseng, Product Development Associate Tiffany Jyang and their zodiac characters

Before our product development associates Sarah and Tiffany got to work designing these plush pillows, the adorable astrological characters featured on them started out as illustrations by artist Mark Poulin.

“Mark’s artwork informed the materials,” said Tiffany. “The characters are bright, fun, and colorful, so we knew the product had to be huggable.”

Mark agreed that UncommonGoods had to take his designs in the “huggable” direction. “It was all about the cute,” he said when asked what (besides the zodiac symbols themselves, of course) inspired him. He continued, “My goal was to make cartoon characters that would appeal to anyone with a heart and with a sense of goodwill. After all, you do have to feel comfortable snuggling up on the couch with these guys!”

Since there are 12 original zodiac signs, the team knew they had to create a product that could be consistent across several styles, while letting each character’s personality shine through. They decided that pillows were the perfect way to display Mark’s creations, because they are soft, squeezable, and fit into a variety of home decor styles.

“Part of what makes these zodiacs uncommon is that they are lovable, which isn’t something you usually think of when you think astrology,” said Sarah.

Mark himself jokes about his own feelings about astrology. “Secretly I’m a zodiac fanatic,” he said. “Not the reading the columns kind of guy, but the always trying to guess peoples signs based on their behaviors kind of guy. There’s nothing wrong with a little astrology mixed with numerology and maybe a dash of tarot, as long as you don’t talk about it in interviews…whoops!”

Artist Mark Poulin

That idea of blending the symbolism of the zodiac characters into everyday life was also a factor in creating these pillows. The team wanted the youthful series to appeal to fun-loving folks of all ages. And, since they really are functional pieces, that look lovely on your bed our couch, but are also soft and comfy when you rest your head on them or snuggle up with them, they had to be durable.

Fortunately, Tiffany and Sarah didn’t have to look far to find a vendor who could produce quality plush products. UncommonGoods has worked with Green 3 for years, and knew they were a great choice to help take the zodiac pillows from a concept to an uncommon good.

This next level of collaboration started with Jim Martin, who co-founded Green 3 with his wife, Sandy. “Our reaction to the designs was positive as soon as we saw them,” Said Jim. “We liked the icons and felt that had a very modern feel. We also really loved the saturation of colors.”

It was important to Jim and the team at Green 3 that the artwork was reproduced faithfully, without limiting the usefulness of the pillow or making the price point too high.

Zodiac Pillows in production, photos courtesy of Green 3

Since these factors are also important to our product development team, Tiffany and Sarah worked closely with the other collaborators creating mock-ups, working out kinks, making needed tweaks, and striving to hit a deadline–motivated to get the product perfect in time to appear in our next catalog.

The team also reached out to our online community, through the community voting app, to get feedback before releasing the final version of the product.

“We saw a fair amount of positive comments, ” said Tiffany, “which helped us gauge customer reaction to the product.”

Our product developers were encouraged by kind words from our voters, and couldn’t wait to see the finished pillows, and when the first shipment came in, they were both relieved to see that the product was finally here and excited to be able to start getting the cuddly characters out to customers.

Although seeing a product like the Zodiac Pillows through from an idea inspired by charming artwork to a tactile piece does involve a lot of moving parts and collaboration, it’s definitely worth the time and effort to see the end result–a design that can’t be found anywhere else!

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Tiffany Jyang

March 13, 2013
Tiffany Jyang | UncommonGoods

Tiffany Jyang, UncommonGoods Senior Product Developer

 

My hometown is…
Alpharetta, GA – a suburban girl at heart!

My favorite product that I helped develop is…
The printable party kits on our free downloads page. My favorite is the outer space party kit, but the history buff kit is super fun too. I also love the sleekness and functionality of the Jewelry in a Bottle and the cleverness of the Pistachio Pedestal.

I’m inspired by…
Halloween, strangers, Elon Musk, outer space.

My guilty pleasure is…
Marathoning semi-educational TV shows. I’m a sucker for Alaska: The Last Frontier, and Cosmos.

An uncommon fact about me…
I was the runner-up in my elementary school spelling bee. Sadly, I misspelled the word “mystic” because I spoke too fast and accidentally skipped a letter!

My favorite place to eat in New York City is…
Sugar Sweet Sunshine (for cupcakes and pudding), Kashkaval Garden (for everything), and Joe Coffee (for the coffee and steamed milk).

My style is…
1st grader-meets-comfortable grandmother-meets-construction worker chic.

Working at UncommonGoods, I’ve learned…
Developing uncommon products is easier said than done, but seeing a new item finally go live never gets old.

Would you rather… give up your sketchbook or your access to blogs?
Give up my sketchbook! I love my blogs and I’m addicted to the Internet. It’s my virtual playground, home to all my mood boards, design inspiration, etc.

Maker Stories

Made (Green) in the USA

May 3, 2012

Our friends at Green 3, Jim and Sandy Martin, have helped us add some fantastic uncommon goods to our assortment. From adorable babywear like the gnome babysuit and hat and matching blanket, to the perfect-for-a-breezy-spring-day reclaimed t-shirt scarves, to the summer-friendly update on the popular recycled sweater skirt, the recycled bridesmaid dress skirt, the Martins know eco-friendly fashion.

Sandy and Jim. photo via Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce

Jim works closely with our product development team to create unique clothing and accessories exclusive to UncommonGoods, like the bridesmaid dress skirt and the comfy, casual recycled dress shirt robe. We love that these products come from recycled materials, and many are even created with the help of organizations working with disabled adults.

“My wife Sandy started the company,” he told us. “She grew up on a farm in Michigan and saw firsthand the negative implications on the farmer’s health when they are exposed to chemical pesticides on a daily basis. She felt strongly that her company would focus on sustainable fibers that caused the least damage possible to the environment.”

Causing less damage to the environment means using organic cotton, like that in Green 3’s babysuits, and reusing materials when possible.

Sometimes those materials, like the sweaters used to make recycled sweater scarves, come from thrift stores. Others are leftovers from apparel manufacturers. “We actually look at what types of fabrics are available to us, and then design into the fabric,” Jim explained. “Certain fabrics lend themselves to specific applications and steer us into new product categories.”

Clockwise from top left: A Green 3 Artist hand-drawing a graphic / Green 3’s warehouse storing reclaimed and excess fabrics / Tina, an in-house sewer at Green 3 headquarters.

Once the fabric is in hand each piece is inspected individually to insure it meets aesthetic and quality standards. Thrift store items are washed before being deconstructed and prepared for cutting and sewing, so even though the garment created may be made from secondhand materials, it’s as good as new.

The processes of selecting, inspecting, and preparing fabrics and creating the final products are all done in the United States. “Sandy and I had both been in the corporate apparel industry for over 20 years. During that time we watched a steady flow of jobs going overseas,” said Jim. “We just felt strongly that we could do it here and bring a few jobs back. What we’re finding is that we’re not the only ones that feel this way. More and more like minded companies are partnering, and quickly it is becoming more than just a few jobs. In our community alone we employ 20 people. But our network of partners employs thousands.”

One partner helping Green three create handmade upcycled products for uncommon goods is Aspiro, a non-profit organization offering job training and career options to cognitively disabled adults in Green Bay, Wisc. “We contacted Aspiro after learning of them through a news report,” Jim said. “Their facility has been doing cut and sew work for years and they have a highly skilled labor force. When we toured the facility and saw the pride and passion of the workers, and how this opportunity for independence positively impacted their lives, we knew wanted to support the initiative any way we could.”

Reclaimed T-shirt Scarf / Dress Shirt Robe / Recycled Sweater Scarf / Recycled Bridesmaid Dress Skirt / Gnome Babysuit(TM) & Hat / Gnome Blanket

By partnering with Green 3 and other apparel manufactures, the skilled sewers at Aspiro earn fair wages and are given opportunities for independent living.

Thanks to these dedicated workers, secondhand and leftover fabrics, and the imaginations of Jim, Sandy, and the talented designers at Green 3, we’re always seeing updated products and trendy upcycled fashions. Which Green 3 design do you love most?

Design

Paper to Silk

August 11, 2011

Finding that perfect gift for a special couple isn’t always an easy task.

We’re happy to provide a little advice and proudly offer our original Anniversary Book as a suggestion for a great wedding or anniversary gift. This hand-bound journal includes pages to help loving couples celebrate years the first twenty years of marriage, and features pages in 5-year increments for each year from 25-50.

You told us that you loved this little journal so much that we needed to take it to the next level. And with your suggestions, we developed a more complete Anniversary Journal featuring pages for each year up to that golden 50th anniversary.

Continue Reading…

Design

Vintage Stamp Money Clips

July 28, 2011

Michelle said: “I would have a hard time deciding which to buy!”

Our product development team is at it again and they just added their latest creation to our community voting app.

Each Vintage Stamp Money Clip features an actual United States postage stamp and a quote from the stamp’s star. Ben Franklin’s famous line: “A penny saved is a penny earned” complements an authentic used 1-cent stamp, while Harry Truman’s motto: “The buck stops here” is engraved next to a mint Truman commemorative stamp.

Would you let President Truman hold your bucks? Or, would you rather carry your cash with Mr. Frankin’s words of wisdom as a fiscal guide? Share your feedback in our community voting app and tell our product developers which clip is right on the money!

Design

Hit the Road in Style with Vintage Key Rings

November 5, 2010

Ever wanted to own a classic car? We sure have, so we set out to find a way to give you a piece of the most iconic classic cars, without having to break your bank. Here’s the story behind our vintage Mustang and Thunderbird key rings.

We decided upon two favorite vintage autos: the first generation Ford Mustang (1964-1973) and the third generation Ford Thunderbird (1961 – 1963).

Continue Reading…

The Uncommon Life

Buyer’s Dilemma

October 5, 2010

Right now we’re making our final picks for the catalog we’ll send to you in January. Remember the sari scarf? We carry these beautiful handmade scarves in turquoise and cinnamon.

Our buyer Erin is in the middle of deciding what new colors to bring in. She just sent me this email:

“Saris are by nature brightly colored and full of prints, so I’ve got a lot of color options to choose from. Since the patchwork look is such a big trend right now, it made sense to make a scarf of different contrasting colors that also complement each other. I’ve got the photographs of the sari scarf samples and they all look so fantastic, I need help deciding which scarf to feature in our catalog.”


Blue and Purple

Red and Cream

Orange, Green and Yellow

Purple and Pink

Well I’m turning it over to you. Help Erin decide, by leaving a comment for your favorite color combo. Thanks for your help!

Maker Stories

Friday Giveaway: Hand-Forged Kitchen Tools

September 10, 2010

ETA 10:26 AM, Sept. 13: Hope everyone had a great weekend!  Congratulations to Jennifer, our latest Friday giveaway winner. Her favorite pizza topping is the garlic dipping sauce– which is a great answer for almost every slice.

Stay tuned for future giveaways by subscribing to The Goods via RSS.


This week’s giveaway comes with a really awesome story.

After 20 years of working in a high-production industry, Al Stephens decided to become a blacksmith. He visited Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site in Illinois, and soon became a volunteer in the 19th century blacksmith shop where they had bellows, a coal forge, anvil, and vise. For the next few years, Al developed his skills by working with other blacksmiths who taught him the trade.

And by 2000, he and his wife Sylvia had started their own blacksmith shop. Today Al makes items like the pizza cutter and cheese slicer by hand, in his shop in rural northern Alabama.

Impressed? We certainly are!

This week we’re giving away two hand-forged kitchen tools available on our site– a cheese slicer and a pizza cutter— to one lucky reader.

Want to win? You know what to do! Leave a comment below telling us about your favorite pizza topping or type of cheese. Then leave a comment on our Facebook wall, and tweet @uncommongoods on Twitter to triple your chances.  We’ll announce the random winner on Monday.

Want to learn more about the art of forging metal? Al Stephens suggests you go out there and try it! The Artist Blacksmith’s Association of North America has local affiliates all over the country. Find a group near you and attend the regular meetings. Al says, “One-on-one teaching is an excellent way to learn, hands-on style.”

And it certainly paid off for him!  Happy Friday, everybody!

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