Browsing Tag


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. ( 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

Have a Backyard Party!

July 5, 2013

Have a Backyard Party

When it comes to summer entertaining, there’s no better venue than your backyard. With just a few items you can create a fun, laid-back outdoor celebration.

01. Gray Stoneware. Just because you’re eating outside doesn’t mean you have to use paper plates! This stoneware is the perfect combination of rustic and elegant.

02. Stoneware Growler. I love the idea of using beer growlers as an alternative to individual bottles. Set out a few growlers and mugs? Perfect. You’ll save so much room in your fridge, too…

03. Footed Bowl. The cutest bowl ever, right? Fill it with cherries or guacamole. Your guests are going to love it. Definitely a conversation starter.

04. Reclaimed Slate Cheese Board. I’ll be honest, I need a cheese lesson… but until then, there’s this. Thank you, cheese board.

05. Neon Crocodile Planter. Using unexpected items as decor is one of my favorite things about party planning. This little guy would make a great outdoor table or bar accessory.

06. Baguette Slicing Board. This reclaimed cutting board would make the perfect outdoor serving tray.
07. 3D Garden Pinwheels. These sleek and modern pinwheels would make your backyard instantly party-ready.

08. Wine Barrel Serving Tray. Trays and other shallow dishes are the best way to keep a table of food and drinks organized. Use it for appetizers or a place to lay out napkins and utensils.

09. Star Spangled Spatula. So classic! If you’re having an outdoor BBQ this summer, you have to use this spatula.

10. Galapagos Pillows. Use throw pillows on your outdoor furniture to create an even more relaxing party space.

Happy summer entertaining!

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?

Gift Guides

Summer Must Haves

June 14, 2013

This time of year is all about relaxing, having fun, and enjoying the little things. Summer officially begins June 21st. Are you ready? My summer wish list is FULL of items to maximize my summer fun. I just can’t begin this delightful season without these (arguably) crucial items…

Here are my top 10 picks for summertime:

01. Bamboo Sunglasses. Eco-friendly, teal, and super cute? Sold.

02. Succulent Wall Planter Kit. Succulents are huge this summer. Create a display indoors or out with this planter kit. P.S. you can use it as a gorgeous centerpiece OR hang it on the wall. LOVE.

03. Mini Ice Cream Sandwich Press. Enough said, right? How cute are these mini ice cream sandwiches?!

04. Diana Camera. Create soft and dreamy photos of your summer adventures. My #1 summer pick for sure.

05. Perfect Pops. This book has 50 party-ready recipes, from banana malted milkshake to prosecco rose petal pops. I might need to make all of them…

06. The American Cocktail. This is the ultimate guide to American cocktails, featuring over 50 classic and contemporary drink recipes from across the U.S. Check out this free recipe for a southern cocktail that’s sure to please in the summertime!

07. Twiddle White Pitcher. You know, for all those cocktails… or lemonade. This pitcher would also make a gorgeous vase for your favorite long-stemmed flowers.

08. Bicycle Glasses. These little guys just say summer, don’t you think?

09. Love at First Swing Hammock. This hammock is hand-woven from 3.2 miles of soft, vibrant, and weather-resistant cord, which basically means it’s unbelievably comfortable. Let the summer relaxing begin!

10. Magpie Hopscotch. Hopscotch stones for your garden! Genius.

What are some of your must-haves this summer?


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.)

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!

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.

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?

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Mini Ice Cream Sandwich Press

July 25, 2012

Since I am naturally an ice cream mix master (my first job in high school was with Coldstone Creamery!), I chose the Cuisipro Mini Ice Cream Sandwich Press for my experiment. Along with my mastered mixing techniques, I consider ice cream the seventh major food group and live off of the sweet stuff during the summer months.

I think that I can make homemade ice cream sandwiches to cool off on a hot summer day.

I knew this would be a fun project to work on during a hot Sunday afternoon with my brother, Colby. We first brainstormed what cookie and ice cream combinations would be the tastiest. I splurged on an Upstate NY favorite, Stewart’s ice cream. And we cheated a little bit on the cookies.

The first step was making the cookies!

Our little helper needed to take a break during the clean-up.

Once the cookies were out of the oven, we laid them out to cool. Note: I anxiously made the mistake of waiting only five minutes and I had a sloppy mess. You MUST wait for your cookies to be completely cool!

Once completely cooled, we started using our tools. Included in the package are three different sandwich shapes – a heart, a star and a circle. The directions are simple and printed on the back of the box – cut the cookie; scoop up the ice cream; cut the second cookie and twist the handle to press together; twist to release the sandwich.

What a delicious treat! We ended up with lovely heart shaped sugar cookies with black cherry ice cream, peanut buttery overloaded cookies with peanut butter cup ice cream, and star shaped double chocolate chunk cookies with a classic vanilla ice cream. After our sugar crash and hour-long nap from a hard-working afternoon, we went back for seconds!

I come from an awesome sweet-toothed family that celebrates spring with a party full of deserts, and I plan on making these for next year’s event. What a clever treat and fun activity!

The Uncommon Life

10 Tips for a Sustainable Summer Party with Bekuh of Secondhand Sundays

July 23, 2012

Hello there friends! My name is Bekuh and I’m the creative type behind the blog Secondhand Sundays; my personal blog filled with pretty vintage wares, delicious home cooked meals, crafty handmade goods, and life as a newlywed in Virginia. Most days you’ll find me playing in my studio or outside on the porch with my husband, and our pup Nellie. There is nothing we love to do more than be outside together.

I also love to use seemingly random holidays as an excuse to invite friends onto our porch to dine alfresco for an evening. On Bastille Day this year we threw a grandiose country garden party full of locally sourced food and drink for our friends.

During this first year of marriage Ryan, and I have had many conversations about budgets, and spending money, and to say we are on a tight budget would be an understatement. BUT we are also huge supporters of organic, fair-trade, and locally sourced produce. So, we made a commitment to continue buying our groceries in what we feel is an ethical way, while sticking to a pretty tight grocery budget. What does that have to do with this party you might ask?

Well, Ryan and I decided to buy as much as we could locally with a budget of $70 to feed 20 people, including wine (our guests brought the beer). And yes we succeeded, spending less than our targeted budget for the whole shebang. Here are my secrets to sustainable party success:

Reduce Waste with Cloth Napkins
Instead of using disposable napkins we buy linen dish rags to use in our personal life, so we just set out a giant stack of these beauties for our guests, saving us a lot of paper waste.

Cut the Garbage, Use Your Own Silverware
In the same vein instead of using plastic silverware I find that using our everyday silverware is easy to clean-up, and helps elevate the party into something more intimate, and nice.

Use What You’ve Already Got
When thinking about decor I definitely take the stance that the food comes first, atmosphere second. Because we don’t have enough porch chairs that match for big groups I decided to embrace the mix-matched atmosphere and incorporated lots of color through vintage linens, wild flowers, and brightly colored accents, like the Solar Tealight. It magically all came together in the end and I think embracing the resources you do have is the best way to go.

Homemade Tastes Better Anyway
Another great savings for us was Ryan’s contribution of the homemade bread, bbq sauce, and hummus. Homemade bread costs pennies to make and it’s always a crowd pleaser. The hardest part is waiting for the dough to rise.

Locally Source Your Produce in Bulk
We joined a CSA back in February and with our allotted $10 share that week we were able to pick-up all of the produce we needed for the party, with the exception of a couple of cherry tomatoes, the watermelon, and the peaches. The additional produce we needed to complete the meal came from our local farmer’s market.

Serve Foods that Grow with Your Guests
Foods that seem to grow as the number of people do, like couscous salad, is another great way to feed a lot of people with little monetary waste. Outside of the couscous I only used a small cucumber, about six cherry tomatoes, half a medium sized onion, one red pepper, and a handful of mint and pine nuts for 20 people. Since this is a versatile dish, you can keep adding more ingredients to account for unexpected (or extra hungry) guests. Now that’s economical.

Local Wine Fits the Bill
Local wine can also be surprisingly affordable, and with a lot of great options too. We bought two bottles of Virginia wine for $25. The Rocking Carafe was a great way to show off the wine and encourage people to try some.

Ask for a Contribution
Guests always want to contribute to the get together in one way or another and asking them to bring their favorite summer beverage can save you a lot of pain in trying to pick out something that will please everyone. We are really lucky to have a good friend who home brews some pretty amazing beers. Martin brought two six packs of home brew to share and they were definitely a highlight; all of the guys tried their hand at opening one with the One-Handed Bottle Opener.

Think Outside the Box for Fun
For entertainment we played Pictionary against one of our porch walls, using an old high school projector to draw on. It made it a lot easier for a lot of people to play and see no matter where they were standing. We will definitely be doing this again.

Buy in stages for a Better Deal
My last money saving tip, spread out your grocery shopping over a couple of weeks, buying things in stages. I bought the peaches for our dessert a couple of weeks before when a local farmer had a great deal on them, and froze the sliced peaches until I was ready to bake. You have to seek out the deals.

I truly believe you can feed, and entertain people in an affordable, and sustainable way using fresh local ingredients. It’s easy to do, but takes a commitment on your part to seek out the local markets and farms, make things homemade, and out of simple ingredients. Also, remember to sit back and enjoy your company, they’re only there for a little while. I hope the next time you’re planning a party you’ll look around your neighborhood for inspiration first.

big kiss, bekuh
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!

Pin It on Pinterest