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Summer

Maker Stories

My Hammock Supports Me (And a Lot of Other People)

April 3, 2015

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Some of my most blissful hours over the last couple of years have been spent lying in a hammock. This would be less surprising if I didn’t live in an old Brooklyn apartment building where the tenants are not allowed to use the back yard. Yes, I’m a little eccentric.

Do Good Hammock Maker Story | UncommonGoods

Green Dome Garden, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Photo by Wally Gobetz. Creative Commons License.

Like most people who work at UncommonGoods, I’m also more than a little obsessed with sustainability. One hot night a couple of summers ago, some friends and I were chatting in a neighborhood garden. I told them I’d been trying to think of ways to stay cool in the summer without using a lot of electricity.

fanI’d installed ceiling fans in my apartment, and now carried a handheld folding fan with me everywhere. “They’re underrated!” I stolidly affirmed.

 

Amir in Green Dome Garden

Plant and hammock enthusiast Amir Yarkoni, co-creator of the Green Dome Garden. Photo by Meredith Chesney. Used by permission.

“Hammocks!” declared Amir. “Hammocks are the best! The air can circulate around you and it keeps you cool!”

Yes! A hammock! I needed one immediately. Wanting eclipsed reasoning. I didn’t bother to wonder where I’d hang it in my apartment, with its flimsy, sheetrock walls.
Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Hammock closeup

Photo courtesy Yellow Leaf Hammocks.

We sell hammocks at UG. I’d never looked at ours closely. Now I did. It looked perfect. What Amir had recommended was an open weave Mayan-style hammock (as opposed to Brazilian style, made of tightly-woven fabric).

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

“The indians sleep in a bed they call an ‘hamaca’ which looks like a piece of cloth with both an open and tight weave, like a net … made of cotton … about 2.5 or 3 yards long, with many henequen twine strings at either end which can be hung at any height. They are good beds, and clean … and since the weather is warm they require no covers at all … and they are portable so a child can carry it over the arm.” –Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, 1535, Wikipedia. Source: ibiblio.

Hammocks were (probably) invented by aboriginal people of the Caribbean and Central America. UncommonGoods’s Mayan-style hammocks are woven by aboriginal people as well–10,000 miles away, in Thailand.

In a small village in the north Thailand mountains, members of a dwindling, endangered tribe called the Mlabri learned how to make what are arguably the best hammocks in the world. Yet hammocks were never part of their culture. Making and selling them was a brilliant business move to preserve their tribe in the face of unwelcome changes to their traditional way of life.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Mlabri dance in their traditional clothing, loin cloths, 1959. Photo by Boonserm Satrabhaya. Northern Thai Information Center, Chiang Mai University Library.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Mlabri temporary shelter made of fresh leaves, 1959. Photo by Boonserm Satrabhaya. Northern Thai Information Center, Chiang Mai University Library.

Up until a few decades ago the Mlabri tribe lived a nomadic, Stone Age existence in the mountains of Thailand and Laos. Hunter-gatherers who believed farming brought bad luck, they ate roots, wild fruits, and small game. They mostly wore loin cloths. They had no written language. For shelter, they built tiny lean-to’s out of bamboo and banana leaves where they stayed for a week or so until the banana leaves yellowed and shriveled. By then, they would have exhausted the area’s food resources anyway. Their beliefs, as well as necessity, dictated that they move on at that point, and build another temporary shelter somewhere else.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

An abandoned Mlabri shelter, with the famous yellow leaves. Photo by Pat Mongkron. Used with permission

Because all that other people ever saw of them were the dead banana leaves on their little shacks, they called them “Phaw Tong Luang” (the spirits/ghosts of the yellow leaves). (The Mlabri, being real people, prefer not to be called “ghosts,” but they’re fine with the “yellow leaf” part.)

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Mlabri in destroyed forest area. Photo by Patrick Aventurier. Used with permission. (http://www.patrickaventurier.com/) Flickr

The tropical jungle where the Mlabri lived began to shrink dramatically during the 1970s. Intense guerilla combat in the area–spilled over from the Vietnam war–along with teak logging and agriculture, destroyed so much forest that the Mlabri eventually couldn’t survive the way they had for nearly a thousand years. Tigers and malaria had always been dangers; starvation was now added to the list. By the 1990s, there were only 300 Mlabri left.

Hmong farmers made them their slaves through a combination of manipulation and force. They schooled them in slash-and-burn agriculture and put them (including children) to work in dangerously pesticide-heavy fields, where they also often ate and slept. Drug traffickers used them; sex traffickers preyed on them; they were made to perform in demeaning faux primitive tourist shows. Not considered citizens by the Thai government because they had no birth certificates, they had no civil rights. Suicide, virtually unknown in the tribe before this, became another danger.

Mlabri women making traditional wild jute bags. They have an open, stretchable weave similar to that of Mayan hammocks. 

An American couple, Mary and Gene Long, moved to the area as missionaries in 1978. Horrified by the condition of the Mlabri people, the couple dedicated themselves to helping them. Gene had an “aha” moment after observing some of the women skillfully weaving net bags from wild jute: If these weaving whizzes learned how to make marketable hammocks, maybe they could earn a decent living.

“A Path to Prosperity, The Mlabri People and Yellow Leaf Hammocks” 

It worked–though not without causing conflict with the Hmong, who weren’t happy about losing their ultra-cheap laborers. Decades later, after learning not only how to make hammocks, but also some fundamental post-Stone Age things like “What is money?”, the Mlabri have largely liberated themselves from peonage. Hammock weaving provides a 650% increase over average hill tribe wages, enough to move families from subsistence living to the middle class.

Having gained strength and confidence through the improvements in their circumstances, the Mlabri successfully lobbied the Thai government for their civil rights, including citizenship, which bequeaths health and education benefits. Mlabri children can attend school for the first time in the tribe’s history.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Mlabri weavers in their village hammock making center. Photo courtesy of Yellow Leaf Hammocks.

Hammock weaving turned out to be the perfect job for many of the Mlabri, because they can do it at home or in their village hammock center, at times convenient to them, without bosses. Mothers (the weavers are mostly, but not all, women) can work around their childcare schedules. It’s safe and sustainable, both environmentally and economically.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Photo courtesy of Yellow Leaf Hammocks.

Each hammock is woven by hand on a simple loom. It can take up to 7 days, 150,000 loops and 3.5 miles of yarn to create one. Machines can’t take away these jobs because they can’t recreate the Mlabris’ meticulous craftsmanship and special weaves. The tribe has worked with textile engineers to develop weaving designs that improve on the basic Mayan type, and mold-impervious yarn that holds its brilliant colors without fading.

In 2010, a 26 year-old, hammock-loving American, Joe Demin, bought a Mlabri hammock while traveling in Thailand. So smitten was he by the heavenly hang of this hammock, that he took a 600-mile detour into the jungle to meet the tribe. Right then and there in the village, he decided to quit his job and devote himself to amping up sales so that more of the Mlabri could work without seasonal slowdowns (when they’d have to return to slash-and-burn farming). He convinced his girlfriend Rachel Connors to join him, and together they created a company to accomplish that.

To expand the market for the Mlabri hammocks, the duo has worked with organizations like the Unreasonable Institute and Kiva, and like UncommonGoods, is a B Corp.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Photo courtesy of Yellow Leaf Hammocks.

Because Mlabri hammocks are gorgeous, sturdy, and indescribably comfortable, they appeal to people around the globe. Ever-increasing sales now support over 200 weavers.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Note: We now sell a different color/pattern, not the one in this photo. Otherwise it’s identical, though.

As for me, Amir was right. On the most unbearably hot, humid summer days, I hang my hammock on my fire escape with a couple of big dollar store carabiners, prop up a cheap beach umbrella (freegan’d from a subway stop where someone had forgotten it) over my head, and bliss out with my tablet. My sweaty skin catches every cooling breeze. The hammock conforms to every party of my body, with no pressure points anywhere. It’s heaven.

Eddie in window

My cat Eddie likes to loaf alongside me in the windowsill.

Let others drive for hours to get to the beach or the country; I can’t wait for the weather to warm up enough that I can start up my blissfully comfortable, low-carbon, flip-proof hammock summer lifestyle again. I owe 150,000 thanks–one for each loop–to the skilled Mlabri weavers who make it possible.

Get the Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Gift Guides

A Day at the Beach

June 25, 2013

Warm sun, waves crashing on the shore, that coconut-y smell of sunscreen. Is there anything better than a day at the beach? Nope. Nothing.

I can’t wait for a few relaxing beach days this summer. Here are a few things on my beach wish list this year…

01. Beach Ball Roundy Towel. Guys, this over-sized towel is made to carry! It has a sturdy strap that allows you to pick it up and swing it over your shoulder. Think of all the free space you’ll have in your tote bag now… and a lot less sand.

02. Upcycled Mail Sack iPad Case. Admit it. You totally bring your iPad to the beach. No? Just me? Well maybe you would if you had this awesome case, think about it.

03. Custom Map Tote Bag. Tote bags are a beach must-have. This one has a ton of pockets and space, plus I absolutely love the authentic nautical chart.

04. Custom Beach Stacking Rings. I always want to wear jewelry at the beach, but none of my day-to-day accessories quite fit. These rings are perfect. They feature granules gathered from over 1,000 shorelines around the world. Wow, love.

05. Beach Sounds Portable Speaker. A day at the beach just isn’t complete without the right soundtrack. Plug in your iPhone, strap it safely inside, and you’re ready for a beach dance party.

06. Bamboo Sunglasses. I’m all about the bamboo sunglasses this summer. They’re so lightweight and durable. Perfect for the beach.

07. Beach Chess and Checkers. Playing checkers on the beach sounds so relaxing after a long day of swimming, don’t you think?

08. Sprocket Rocket Camera. I take photos everywhere I go… with my iPhone. I’d love to take this camera to the beach to capture some photos the old fashioned way.

Are you planning on spending some time at the beach this summer? What’s on your beach wish list?

Design

Summer Cocktail Inspiration

June 7, 2013

After hibernating all winter I get excited for summer and opening my home to friends. I always find entertaining in warmer weather is so much easier. I can keep food simple and light. Decorating is as simple as putting out some flowers and pulling back the curtains. And I always have so much fun mixing drinks for my guests – chilling some beer and wine and setting out a festive cocktail in a vintage pitcher. This summer I plan on getting fancy with ingredients and have really been inspired by three elements – gin, flowers, and fruit. (Yes, I’ve been on Pinterest. Don’t judge.)

Gin
I’m not usually one for hard-liquor but I love ordering a gin cocktail when a glass of wine is uncool. It’s so old-fashioned and kind of classy, and there are really exciting new ways to spruce up some gin. Its juniper flavor blends well with a variety of fruits and botanicals.

Without question, my favorite drink on a sunny summer afternoon is a Pimm’s Cup stuffed with cucumbers, oranges, and mint leaves. A classic Pimm’s Cup recipe calls for gin, and this Smitten Kitchen recipe is speaking my language.

It’s easy to combine fruit and herbs in a gin cocktail. It might sounds strange, but trust me – delish! You can even get a little crazy and use kumquats like in this recipe for a Citrus Rosemary cocktail on Ruffled.

Still in the mood for a plain old gin & tonic? There’s nothing boring about this boozy sorbet recipe by Peter Georgakopoulos on The Boys Club.

Heck, the DIYer in me might even take to making my own gin this summer!

Florals
Flowers. In your drink. On your table, in your hair, and yes, in your drink. Floral flavors are becoming increasingly popular as French macarons make their rounds and it was only a matter of time until they were mulled and infused in simple syrups and mixed into our drinks.

This Raspberry Rose Fizz by Joy the Baker is almost too pretty to drink. Almost.

This video of Bree from Design.Love.Fest makes me want to run out and get a bottle of crème de violette to recreate this lemon violet drink.

Fruit
This one is a no-brainer. Summer is ripe with citrus, berries, and melons and any drink would be remiss without one. But think beyond the garnish and incorporate fruit within your drinks for a refreshing treat.

Sangria is always popular, and my personal favorite is a white blend with tart Granny Smith apple chunks and citrus. But my girl Martha (we’re old friends) makes hers with summer peaches. Perfection.

Just like Picasso went through a Blue Period, I am at the height of my St Germain’s Period. It’s great in margaritas, martinis, or simply mixed with Prosecco and cucumber in this recipe from Zested.

And would it be summer without some sweet tea? This Mango and Sweet Tea cocktail by Emma of A Beautiful Mess is only missing one thing – a porch swing.

Head on over to our Wine, Beer, and Spirits Pinterest board for more bartending ideas. What are some of your favorite summer cocktails?

The Uncommon Life

Our Backyard Party Pinterest Contest Winner!

July 6, 2012

We’re sure this week saw plenty of backyard parties, thanks to July 4th! While our social media team isn’t taking an extra-long holiday weekend like many lucky folks out there, we are seriously celebrating BBQs, beaches, and backyard parties and we’re pleased to announce the winner of our first ever Backyard Party Pinterest Contest!

But first, we’d like to share a few of the boards that caught our eyes.

Adrienne’s board leaves us longing for the good old days. Her film strips, snapshots hung with clothespins, and family photos in Mason jars help us remember what summer’s all about–making memories with those you love.

Alyssa’s board also had some great examples of nostalgia, but her food selections are what really stand out. Baked s’mores, blackberry frozen yogurt, and an assortment of summer salads–yum!

Dustie’s boho board steers clear of sugary sweets, and features a variety of summer fruits instead. We love how the colorful fruit fits right in with the playful theme. On one pin Dustie commented, ” In a past life I was a GYPSY!”

Zillie Zallie’s red, white, and blue Independence Day party is another great example of a board with a solid theme and a cohesive look. Patriotic punch and watermelon stars, anyone?

And…the winner is…

NYC Recessionista, Alison. Her deep fried Oreos, Nutella popsicles, and cubed pineapples make us hungry, her friendship bracelets evoke memories of summer camp, and the photos of her own family make us want to get to know them. We’d definitely attend her backyard party!

We received nearly 200 entries, but Alison’s stylish board stood out in the end earning her the grand prize. Congratulations, NYC Recessionista!

The Uncommon Life

Backyard Party Pinterest Contest

June 22, 2012

Summer is finally here and we can’t wait for backyard barbecues and picnics in the park. In fact, we have been Pinning about it all winter and now want to see your summer inspiration boards!

One lucky winner Pinner will receive an UncommonGoods gift card to furnish their summer party.

Leave the link to your inspirational Backyard Party board in the comments below and/or on the original pin in our Summer Time board and you’ll be entered to win.

We’ll announce the winner on July 6. How much that person wins is up to you. For every 50 entries we see, we’ll add $50 to the grand prize, up to a total of $250. So after you share your board with us, be sure to tell your friends and family to enter too!

Follow us on Pinterest for more updates, and leave a link to your profile in the comments. We follow back!

Good luck and happy pinning. We can’t wait to see your brilliant boards!

The Uncommon Life

How To Repot Succulents

June 8, 2012

In the world of trends, Succulent plants seem to be taking home the crown in the fauna and flora category. And why shouldn’t they? Succulents are hardy, unique, and perfect for the dry summer heat. They don’t ask for much, but a good environment No green thumb needed — follow this quick DIY tutorial to repot your succulents and ready for your front porch or city window.

As Charlotte (you know, the one with the web) would say, Salutations! I’m Blair – the bloggin’ gal from the lifestyle and fashion blog, Wild and Precious and now that I’ve introduced myself lets chat about a way to spruce up that patio of yours!

Mix Your Potting Soil

Potting soil recipe:

  • Potting Soil
  • Coffee Grinds
  • Sand

Did you make mudpies growing up? If so, this might be your favorite part — make your own dirt mixture! When picking out potting soil just get the very most basic stuff. You don’t want anything too rich in additives — Succulents just don’t like that stuff. The goal of your dirt mixture is to get water/food/light/nutrients to and away from the roots in a time appropriate fashion. Mix coffee grinds and a little sand into your dirt before filling your pots. The sand will keep your soil from getting too over saturated with moisture (remember, these type of plants are desert dwellers – they aren’t use to a whole lot of the wet stuff) and the coffee grinds will help fertilize as well as keep away slugs and bugs that would otherwise love to nibble your Succulents down to nothingness.

 

Prepare Your Pot

As far as picking out pots the world is your oyster. You don’t need anything too big and can even choose to put more than one succulent together in a pot. With your pot(s) picked out fill 1/3 of each pot with sand. Do not try to cut costs (sand is cheap anyway) by bringing home sand from your beach vacation — that stuff is full of salt and your succulents will no longer be… well, succulent. Sand is important in helping move around and drain water. Once you’ve got the sand in, fill with your dirt mixture leaving a small lip of space up top.

Prepare Your Succulent

Before introducing your plants to their new home give the bottom of the existing dirts/roots a bit of a scrunch. Flare the root structure out a bit. This will help it transition better into its new/bigger/better environment. This is something good to remember when planting anything anywhere. If you don’t break up the bundle they are used to having in their temporary store shells, they might be a little too shy to branch out (pun intended) into their new world.

Pot Your Succulent

Now — where to put them? These guys are not fans of the midday sun. They prefer indirect/filtered sunlight and enjoy a nice airflow (I chose to put mine on my front porch which is roofed). As for watering — unlike planting in your garden, you do not want to water these right away after repotting. Give them some time to adjust and then give a good watering about once a week during the warmer months. Don’t ever leave standing water in your pots — it makes them angry.

Wham bam thank you ma’am we have ourselves some repotted Succulents! Call your self hip cause you’ve got the trendiest little plants on the block. Mischief managed!

Thanks for hanging out with me — pop over any time to say hi Wild & Precious. ta ta friends.

Ready to get started? Shop planters at UncommonGoods >>

The 10 Best Indoor Succulents | Indoor Plant Tips | UncommonGoods

Check out this INFOGRAPHIC to discover the perfect succulent for you. (No green thumb needed.)

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Summer Picnic

June 1, 2012

Background

The Picnic Backpack ($40) is a two person picnic backpack. The core of the backpack is fully insulated thermal lined pocket, while the smaller front pocket comes with storage for [also included] two: plates, cups, napkins, forks, spoons, knives. There is also one waiter’s tool bottle opener. It also has a cell phone pocket on the strap and side and front pockets for a bottle and accessories.

It comes just as expected!

Hypothesis

I love to go out to eat or entertain at home. I also like to combine the two by getting a couple friends together for a nice outing in the park (food included, of course!), but there’s always the hassle of lugging my picnic basket which gets way too heavy. The weight of the basket plus its components doesn’t even include my beverages. I usually have to carry an extra backpack with the beverage and utensils. By the time I get to the park–I’m exhausted.

I think having the weight on my back alone would be easier, and this backpack seems to have the right storage for my drink, food, and utensils. I think I’ll be more excited and willing to bring lunch from home to the park, or anywhere for that matter, with this backpack.

Experiment

Instead of picnicking with friends as planned, I opted to take my younger brother Naquan (14 years old) and cousin Mya (2 years old). Taking these two would be perfect in figuring if this product will turn my picnic horrors upside down. My brother willingly (shocker) carried the FULLY packed bag, while skateboarding!

Dealing with a teenager and toddler is not the easiest thing, so I aimed to keep them happy with plenty of snacks and games.

Conclusion

The picnic was a success! With this one backpack, I was able to fit 1 qt. of water, 2 bowls of salad, 2 yogurts, 2 pints of fruit, 2 canned beverages, an abundance of snacks, a full-sized sheet, beach mat, card games, hand sanitizer, a trash bag, iPod, and there’s probably other things I’m forgetting. This backpack kept all of my cold items chilled, and everything I wanted to keep dry dry. According to Naquan, it was easy to carry–even on wheels. It was easy to setup, cleanup, and everyone enjoyed the day out in the sun (well, mostly shade).

In conclusion, picnicking was made fun again and we can’t wait for our next outing!

The Uncommon Life

Meet Becca!

May 30, 2012

Hi y’all! My name is Becca and I am the newest addition to the UncommonGoods team. I will be blogging and tweeting about UG throughout the summer. I would love for you to get to know me. Here are some fun facts…

I volunteer with Camp Kesem, a national organization that provides a free weeklong summer camp for children whose parents have or have had cancer, and develops student leaders. It is inspiring, empowering, and all around fun. (Seriously, who wouldn’t want to hang out with amazing children, playing hilarious and fun games for a week in the summer!)

I love water – in a glass, in a pool, in the ocean, as rain, etc. As far back as I can remember my summers revolved around swim team! Go Gorillas! (Yes, my summer swim team’s mascot was a Gorilla. I know that Gorillas are not a water animal, and most likely cannot swim, but I just love the irony!)

Despite a slight aversion to planes, I love to travel. I had the incredible opportunity to travel abroad last summer in Germany. I loved exploring the cities, the history, the culture, and the food!

[I ate this delicious plate of pasta in Germany, the land of schnitzel and bratwurst.]

Speaking of food, I love pasta to the point of it being almost an obsession. I would eat pasta every night for dinner (and probably lunch) if I didn’t think a little variety is good in a healthy diet. Also, shout out to my mom who makes the best spaghetti and meatballs!

Finally, no list of things about me would be complete without an uncommon fact. So, without further ado, I collect wind chimes. I started back when my family used to go to the beach in the summer. I love their peaceful sound and know that they will be the perfect addition to my future house’s sun room or wrap around porch (hey, a girl can dream!).

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