During the first week of October, I traveled to Toronto to attend the annual B Corporation Champions Retreat. (And to celebrate our 10th anniversary as a founding B Corp!) Less than a week before I was set to leave for my first-ever trip to the Great White North, I learned that Stephen Kitras, a long-time member of our maker family, owns and operates the largest hot glass blowing studio in Canada. I immediately contacted the Kitras Art Glass team with fingers crossed, hoping to squeeze in a last minute visit while on their side of the continent. A few days later, I found myself in Fergus, Ontario, thrown into the fire of glassblowing alongside artists who have traveled from all over the world to practice their craft at Stephen’s studio. Continue Reading…
We gave our reclaimed, recycled, and upcycled goods the infographic treatment!
Design by Nikki DeSautelle
Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the person behind the product.
What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Alexandra Ferguson, the designer behind our new handmade, eco-friendly pillows.
Photo by Gabi Porter
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
My mom, who has a fashion background, was always working on crafting projects with us as kids. So I grew up in a very creative home and learned from an early age that the best way to get something really fantastic was to make it myself.
What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?
I love working out of my factory. Working with an incredibly talented team to roll up your sleeves and make something is a really satisfying way to spend your day. I also love speaking with my customers – we are so lucky to have such a passionate and dedicated cult fan base. I get so much inspiration from them!
What does your typical day in the studio look like?
A lot of my day is spent managing the work flow through the room. Our factory is designed to be incredibly lean and agile, handling a large volume of custom orders with a very short lead time. Often I feel like an orchestra conductor making sure that the timing of all the moving parts is accurate. I also spend a good chunk of my day outward facing, working with customers over the phone and email, processing orders and ultimately getting boxes on the UPS truck! The best moment is watching a ton of boxes get loaded up, that’s when I can relax a little knowing that it was a job well done.
Photo by Colin Miller
Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?
My own pillows! I think I have 3 of our “Breathe” pillows in my office. Those are helpful when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartener for the first time. What do you think he/she would say?
They’d probably read it aloud! My 5-year-old nephew loves to practice his reading and writing with “Aunt Al’s” pillows. “Here Comes Trouble” is a favorite among the toddler set. I get lots of cheeky twinkles when they read that one.
What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
Um, do you have space for 80? “I work hard for the money” is a favorite. There’s no sitting back and relaxing in my factory, and I’m proud of the hustle!
No matter how much I prepare before a Studio Tour, I never know exactly what to expect when I step into a creative workspace. On the way to my most recent artist encounter I traveled up New York Avenue by bus, out of my own Brooklyn neighborhood and into a close by, but unfamiliar, area somewhere between Bed-Stuy and Williamsburg, I wondered what I’d see when I arrived at Cassidy Schulz Brush’s studio, Urban Chandy. After getting off at my stop, I wandered down a street that seemed to be a mix of industrial and urbane. I walked past warehouses and large trucks making deliveries, but also passed several people who looked like they could be on their way to art shows or coming from trendy coffee shops.
When I entered Cassidy’s studio, I found that same juxtaposition of city chic and industry. Of course, it’s what I should have been expecting all along, considering that Cassidy and her team so beautifully combine mechanical elements (like wires, sockets, and bulbs) and gorgeous reclaimed materials (like barn wood or vintage ceiling tiles) to create her chandeliers–or chandies, as she calls them.
The space is lit by a combination of sunshine pouring in large windows and the exposed bulbs hanging from its many chandies. Stacks of wood, various tools, and spools of wire line most of the walls there, and the remaining wall is covered in chalkboard paint and filled with chalky lists and numbers. Surrounded by so many details, I felt like I could explore the studio all day examining the many combinations of old and new. Here’s a closer look inside Urban Chandy, and some great advice from Cassidy Schulz Brush.
Ok, so I don’t have the greenest green thumb, but I love having fresh herbs and veggies on hand. When I’ve planted in the past my poor plants’ main downfall has been lack of water. If my sprouts are not directly in sight every day I tend to forget them. The backyard for my apartment building is accessible, but it isn’t exactly easy to get to each day, so I need a watering system that will babysit my sprouts a few days a week. I’m hoping the Plant Nanny is up for the job!
The Plant Nanny will keep my herbs and tomato plants well-hydrated without daily watering sessions on my part.
I got my seedlings home and potted in a sunny spot. I also brought home the Plant Nanny wine bottle set. Because my herbs went into pots on the small side I decided to try empty beer bottles for their Nannies. The tomato plants went into a larger pot, so they got a wine bottle. The necks of the beer bottles fit just about perfectly into the wine bottle Plant Nannies. But I wasn’t certain that the water would hold out in them over the next few days.
The directions recommended that the end of the Plant Nanny should be pushed down by the roots. This was easily accomplished without over-packing the soil too tight or crowding out my seedlings.
It was also really simple to get the full bottle into the Plant Nanny. The directions noted to put a finger or two over the top of the bottle before tipping it into the Plant Nanny. The water filled the base of the nanny and balanced out without losing hardly a drop.
Ok, so I have to admit I thought the upside-down bottles might not be that great looking. (Course, neither do the re-used pots I got from a neighbor that was going to chuck them.) It turns out that they look pretty cool, and I can already tell that they’ll blend in a bit better once my plants start to fill out.
So, I did my planting on a Sunday afternoon. By Wednesday morning there was only a bit of water left in the both the beer bottles and the wine bottle Nannies. The small-bottle-to-small-pot and large-bottle-to-large-pot idea worked out well with the wine bottle Plant Nannies! The soil in all three pots was moist without being overly flooded.
Looks like I’ll be able to let the Plant Nannies “babysit” for about 2-3 days at a time. If we hit a dry spell I plan on checking my plants every 1-2 days to be on the safe side.
Read full contest rules and submit your designs on the Upcycling Design Challenge website.
This new sari handbag was brought into our assortment with the feedback and support of 558 customers.
Indian women have worn saris, beautiful, often embellished sheets of fabric, for hundreds of years. The traditional garment can be worn in many ways, but every sari, no matter how lovely, will eventually be draped a final time.
Fortunately, the gorgeous fabrics don’t have to go to waste when the sari no longer serves its traditional purpose. Artisans in India wash and repair the cottons, rayon, and silks from secondhand saris, then transform them into fashionable, functional handbags.
The one-of-a-kind creations are handmade by skilled craftswomen who are given a fair wage, allowing them to earn a living while staying in their villages near family instead of having to travel to bigger cities.
After the fabric is cleaned, the craftswomen cut it into vibrant strips and organize it to ensure that each bag expresses rich color combinations, from bright jewel tones to deep earth tones. Since saris are often patterned, sometimes quite elaborately, each bag also features interesting details within individual fabric strips.
The artisans hand-sew the fabric strips to the white cotton lining, creating the light, ruffled look of the bag. To add to the functionality of the piece, a wooden toggle and a fabric cord are both attached for fastening.
The finished product caught our attention, but this product story really pulled us in and we couldn’t wait to share it with our community. We were thrilled to find that our community voting app users stood behind the product, too.
“I think this is a beautiful bag and the cost is very reasonable,” Michelle told us via the voting app. “I plan on buying it and knowing that each bag is different make it even better! I will not see this bag coming and going.”
Nataly drew on her own experiences to add her feedback. “Reminds me of my travels in India, how I always noticed that no matter how remote the location and how outdoor the environment, they keep their Saris SOOO vibrant and beautiful,” she wrote. “Every where you look–bold statement making colors.”
We love seeing such enthusiastic support for our potential products and we’re pleased that this fair trade, handmade, upcycled bag is now an uncommon good!
Having a great idea is only the first step in building a successful business as a product designer. Hart Main took that step when he was just 13 years old. Hart’s idea came to him while his sister was selling heavily-scented candles in common fragrances for a school fundraiser. He took a whiff of the wax and wondered why no one was making candles in scents that everyone could enjoy.
Now, the young entrepreneur and his family are not only running a business producing Man Candles, candles with less perfumed, flowery smells, they’re also helping to feed the hungry.
Hart is pretty busy, with his business, school, and the swim team, but he took a moment to tell us more about his candles, donating soup, and how kids (and adults) with great ideas can follow in his footsteps.
Q.) What was it like starting a business at a young age?
I was 13 when I got the idea for ManCans, it was late October of 2010. I was really excited at first to get my ideas down on paper and then trying to find ways to accomplish them. At times, though, it can be frustrating when things don’t work out like you planed. Being young, and looking younger, also works against me sometimes. It’s hard to get some adults to take you serious. I can’t drive places without my parents so adults want to talk to them about my business instead of me. And I am not allowed to legally own the business, because I am a minor, so my parents currently own it.
Q.) What was the first scent you developed and why did you choose that scent?
A scent list was my first list of ideas that I wrote down on my laptop. I don’t remember what ones were at the top of that list, but the first three that we bought to start making candles were Fresh Cut Grass, New Mitt, and Campfire.
Q.) Why did you decide to make the candles in used soup cans?
I wanted them to be different than most candles you find at a store, in glass jars. This was another brainstorming process and I knew I wanted something that was recycled and easily accessible. We talked about pop cans, sports drinks bottles, and a few other things, but the soup can was just sitting there from the dinner the night before. At the time it seemed a perfect size and easily accessible and inexpensive. At that time there were no plans of donating thousands of cans of soup, that came out of necessity. Looking back, this was a really lucky find for the business, but it has become a core part of my business. All containers that have the ManCans logo on them are recycled food containers [from soup] donated to people who need a little extra help.
Q.) What’s your favorite ManCan scent at UncommonGoods?
My favorite scent is Fresh Cut Grass. I like being outside, playing baseball, and playing with friends, and it reminds me of that when I smell it.
Q.) Do you have any advice for other young entrepreneurs?
I get asked this question a lot through email from kids my age that want to start a business or make a difference. I try and answer their questions the best I can related to what they are doing, but I always tell them two things. 1.) Find a way to solve a problem with your business and people will buy your product. 2.) Find a way to give back to your community and they will support you.
Hart’s creative candles are also available in Coffee, Campfire, and Dirt smells that men (and women) are sure to enjoy.