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Summer

Maker Stories

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

April 3, 2015

Do Good Hammock Maker Story | 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!” affirmed I.

 

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

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?

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?