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Sustainability

Maker Stories

Judi’s “A Tree Grows” Necklace is in Full Bloom

September 26, 2013

WorkingOnTreeGrowsx

Haven’t we all daydreamed about quitting a job to pursue a creative passion full-time? Some of us only take it as far as that, simply daydreaming, while others actually take that deep plunge into the scary, unknown abyss of no longer being on payroll. Judi Powers was one of those people. She says, “After September 11th I, like so many people, realized that life is too short not to live each day as fully as possible.” Judi had the courage to leave her stable career in publishing, yet she still had no idea where she was going in terms of making a living. She decided to dip her toes into different fields she felt like she’d be passionate about until she finally met her dream career match: jewelry making. “I love the stories individual pieces tell about specific moments in our lives. I still have my first piece of jewelry.” When Judi realized that designing jewelry was her new calling, not once did she look back and regret her choice of leaving her first career.

Inspired by the combination of nature and art history, Judi’s stunning “A Tree Grow” necklace branched out to become our latest jewelry winning design. Read about what Judi did when she first heard the great news, her process of literally making her pieces stronger, and her advice for winning one of UncommonGoods’ design challenges.

What’s an Uncommon fact about yourself and your jewelry?

An Uncommon fact about my jewelry is that much of it is inspired by the paintings, sculptures, and architecture I studied as an art history student. For example, I’m currently working on a series of midi rings inspired by Rogier van der Weyden’s “Portrait of Isabella of Portugal”. And my “A Tree Grows” necklace is informed by nature as much as it is by Whistler’s “Portrait of Mrs. Frederick R. Leyland”. An Uncommon fact about me is that the first time I saw Van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Wedding Portrait”, about nine years ago, I burst into tears. I was overwhelmed by the intricate detail, the vivid color, and the rich texture. I’d only ever seen it in books or presentations and it’s even more spectacular in person. Totally geeky, yet totally true!

atreegrows

What were you doing before you decided to become a jewelry designer and what drove you into the jewelry field?

I had a wonderful first career in book publishing. I handled marketing and publicity for countless amazingly talented authors and illustrators. It was a great proving ground for learning about business, and it was also an incredible environment in which to forge lasting friendships.

After September 11th I, like so many people, realized that life is too short not to live each day as fully as possible. So I started spending more time with friends and taking a variety of classes. We tried dancing (disaster!), flower arranging (wonderful, but too depressing once the flowers wilted), cooking (fabulous but fattening), and lastly, jewelry making.

From my first class at 92Y I was immediately hooked, though initially I took it slowly and took one class a semester or so over 10 years at the Y, SVA, and Jewelry Arts Institute. Once I decided that I wanted to become a professional jewelry maker I quit my publishing career and I attended FIT’s one-year jewelry design program. What drew me to jewelry were the materials, especially metal. I love its malleability, how it can have a huge variety of textures, the way it feels, and that it’s durable!

I have always loved jewelry.  I love the stories individual pieces tell about specific moments in our lives. I still have my first piece of jewelry—a monogrammed silver locket my grandmother gave me for my fifth birthday. It’s my hope that my jewelry will tell special stories for those who wear it. In this way my publishing and jewelry careers truly intersect.

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 What’s the first thing you did after you found out you were the winner of the Jewelry Design Challenge?

I jumped around my apartment, hugged my dog, and then called my mother. My mom has been my biggest champion in pursuing a career as a jewelry maker, and there are no words to express how meaningful her encouragement and belief in me has been.  She and I had endless conversations about whether I should follow my heart and pursue a jewelry career, or whether I should stay in a career that I liked but was emotionally outgrowing. I had a real crisis of conscience while trying to decide. So many people I knew were unemployed and looking for jobs, while I had a good, stable one. I felt both guilty for wanting to walk away from security and terrified to try something new and unstable.  It was during that period that one of the characters on Mad Men said something like, “Stable is that step backwards between successful and failing.” That really resonated with me. Soon after, I knew I would pursue a new career as a jewelry designer, risks and all.

Judi-Mother

It’s unanimous here at UncommonGoods that your “A Tree Grows” necklace is stunning. How did you come up with the idea to design such a realistic branch design for jewelry wear?

Thank you! I’ve always loved trees and branches: their lines are so graceful and elegant and they’re also a bit wild. In my second semester at FIT I took an amazing casting class. I learned that you can cast almost anything only if you can truly envision the outcome in metal and only if you can make the object thick enough to be sturdy.  Years ago, I had tried to model a tree branch in wax but it didn’t have the level of detail that an actual branch has. It just didn’t work. So when I took the casting class, I told my professor that I really wanted to cast a small tree branch and she said: “Go for it! Just be sure you reinforce it and make it durable.” I took her advice, found a small branch in my Brooklyn neighborhood, reinforced it with Mod-Podge, and took it to my caster. When I picked up the piece I was completely amazed!  All of the detail from nature was perfectly preserved. I had this delicate sterling silver branch that looked like the real thing. I actually choked up when I saw it.
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You actually submitted your jewelry into one of our past jewelry design challenges and didn’t make it into the semi-finalist round. You decided to not be discouraged, and submitted an entry again after joining one of our design events. Do you believe winning the challenge the second try was much more satisfying than if you were to win the first time?

The first time I submitted I was hoping to be selected but I didn’t expect it. The design challenge was the first competition outside of school that I’d entered, and I knew there’d be serious competition, both from my FIT classmates and  from countless talented designers whose work I’m still getting to know. After attending the design event, I learned the single-most valuable lesson: submit an image of someone wearing your piece! Winning the challenge was really satisfying, of course, but also really humbling because I was getting both positive and constructive feedback during the voting. I was competing against some extraordinarily beautiful pieces, all of which were so different and so special.

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What’s the biggest advice you can give to our future design contestants after that specific experience?

Attend UncommonGoods’ design events. If you can’t get to them, attend any local events where you can meet professionals and peers. Take notes on what the speakers are saying because their advice will come in handy. Don’t be shy and ask questions! Be open to feedback because it’s all helpful. Take photos of your pieces on a person. Follow up, even if it’s just to say a very simple thank you. Always, and I really mean always, wear a piece of jewelry you’ve made. If you don’t want to wear your work, I think it’s a little unreasonable to expect someone else to want to wear it.

Lulu

Do you have any silly trick or habits you do to keep yourself motivated? 

When I’m struggling to focus, I know it’s time to step away from what I’m doing. Literally. I get up and take my puppy for a nice long walk around my Brooklyn neighborhood and clear my head. In the warmer months, I stop and look at plants and trees for design ideas and in the cooler months I look at architecture and snowflakes for inspiration. I’ve learned the hard way that whenever I try to force something that it just doesn’t work, and jewelry really has to work. I also drink lots of water!

Can you describe the process of what you do to make your necklaces better, stronger, and more wearable. 

I’m so glad you asked this question! Some of the comments I received during the voting were concerns that my necklace looked like it might scratch the skin or bend. I’m glad people brought that up.  For every “A Tree Grows” necklace  I cast, I actually break off the more fragile parts and re-attach them onto the central line of the branch. By doing this I reinforce the structure of the necklace and build on it with a bit of additional solder.  After the branch is reassembled I tumble it first with stainless steel shot. Then I use soft pumice pellets to harden the metal and soften the edges of the leaves and branch ends. I believe jewelry has to be pleasing to wear and I personally road test every piece to make sure it’s both comfortable and has structural integrity. There is a bit of springiness to the metal in the finished piece, which enhances the organic nature of the necklace.

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 Do you mind describing your studio to us and the materials that you use?

I work out of Brooklyn Metal Works, a wonderful, collaborative creative space for jewelers and metal smiths.  The owners, Erin Daley and Brian Weissman, are building a fantastic community there. They have regular exhibits, artists’ lectures, and classes. My personal jewelry education continues to grow there. I love being around other jewelers and artists because we bounce ideas off of one another, brainstorm about construction,  share new tricks and techniques we’ve learned, and we all respect each other. And there’s always great music in the background!

When I’m sketching and designing, I work from home at my father’s antique drafting table. It’s scarred with hundreds of pin holes where old blueprints had once been tacked. I’ve added a few more holes to it, as well as some paint splotches and ink stains! I love that it’s a piece that he, I, and others have used as a tool to support creativity. And he’s really proud that I’m using it, too.

In terms of materials, I use recycled metals in all my cast pieces and I source as much recycled material as possible for the pieces I fabricate.  I’m happy that I’m a professional jeweler now because I have ready access to recycled material. Ten years ago when I was first starting, that just wasn’t the case.  I save every shaving, filing, and sprue and recycle all of my scrap metals.

DadsDraftingTable

What’s one of your all-time favorite inspirational quotes? 

I have so many of them! It’s too difficult to pick only one, so here are two:

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” -Paulo Coehlo

And this one by Rabindranath Tagore always resonates with me: “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”

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 What does your jewelry illustrate about yourself?

My jewelry mirrors my two great loves: art and nature. I don’t have a specific philosophy per se, but I do want every piece to be wearable and beautiful. And because my own jewelry stories give me such joy, I sincerely hope that my customers will have their own happy stories to tell about my pieces for years, even decades, to come!

 

Design

Upcycling Design Challenge

September 5, 2013

UPCYCLING Design Challenge

Reuse! Reclaim! Upcycle! Sustainability is certainly value of ours, and we believe it’s an important value of our customers and community as well. We’ve all heard the popular saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” And we absolutely stand by that quote here at UncommonGoods because we  love all of our upcycled products we feature on our site!  We’re a fan of old things turned anew, from old records to bicycle tubes to recycled glass made into framed art, purses, or jewelry. Even though we already have a great selection of upcycled products, we are still searching for more fun and interesting items to feature!

If you have a special upcycled product design that you would like UncommonGoods to take a look at, enter into this month’s featured contest! You’ll have a chance to win $500 and a vendor contract with us.

To submit your upcycling designs and for the complete contest rules visit our Upcycling Design Challenge page.

 

Maker Stories

Finding Security in Reclaimed Art – Meet Sarah Nicole Phillips

May 30, 2013

After an overwhelming response in March, we decided to keep our Art Contest running all year round. With twelve months to send in artwork, I was worried that the well might run dry with new ideas and exciting designs. Our first month proved me wrong with a collection of amazing submissions.

Our interim art buyer Melissa chose Security Blue Grass from the top voted semifinalists for its aesthetic, originality, and use of reclaimed materials. Those three elements make its designer, Sarah Nicole Phillips, the ideal Uncommon artist. Meet our newest artist and help us welcome her to our vendor family!

What is one uncommon fact about you?
After high school, I traveled for two and a half years straight, during which all my possessions fit into a backpack.

When did you first realize you’re an artist?
I knew I had become an artist when I purchased a used 54” 5-Drawer Steel Flat File from a guy on Craig’s List, to store my art. In New York City, space is a precious resource so my bed is lofted on top of the flat files. I do not believe this sleeping arrangement has affected my dreams.

Where do you get inspiration for your art?
I draw inspiration from observing the tensions, conflicts and contradictions of contemporary life. I spend a lot of time consuming news media, but just as important is placing myself in situations where lives are smashing up against each other like crowded subways and commercial streetscapes at rush hour. I always carry a small notebook with me to jot down something I see, or draw something that catches my eye. I am conscious of the waste we create and how we manage it.

I have attended several artist residencies in bucolic, rural settings. These quiet places allow for ideas simmering on the back burner to boil over, but I need the background hum of a city to stimulate ideas for new bodies of work.

Describe your artistic process.
The process begins with me scribbling sketches in my notebook. Most of these sketches are fragments of ideas blurted onto paper and are never realized into final pieces. Once I hone in on an image I’d like to create into a collage, I make a full scale drawing that serves as an image template. I search through my supply of patterned security envelopes and select which ones I will use to construct the collage. I have several bankers’ boxes full of envelopes to choose from, sorted into categories according to imagery, color, tone, and other characteristics. The envelopes come from myriad sources; friends and family and sometimes strangers bring me discarded envelopes generated from their workplace or home office. I arrange a “dry assemble” before using adhesive to stick all the pieces down. The final step is to run the collage through an etching press to ensure the thousands of individual pieces are never going to become unstuck.

Describe your work space.
I have a bright, airy, live-work space on the edge of the industrial neighborhood of Gowanus in Brooklyn, NY. Source photographs and sketches are tacked onto the walls. I work sitting at a long table, and pin works-in-progress onto a big white wall that I can stare at, or glance at passively as I walk by to refill my coffee mug. My indispensable tools are a self-healing cutting mat, metal rulers and various cutting blades. The windows are open, as long as the wind isn’t strong enough to blow apart works-in-progress. Public radio or podcasts are always playing.

What advice would you give to another artist interested in entering one of our design challenges?
Submit work that you not only know is strong, but that you are genuinely proud of. If selected as a finalist, you’ll be discussing the design challenge with your with friends and colleagues; it’s much easier to talk about your work with enthusiasm when you feel truly engaged with the work.

The Uncommon Life

Celebrate Cycling for National Bike Month

May 17, 2013

Since May is National Bike Month, and today is is Bike to Work Day, we’re celebrating by sharing some stats about how our team gets our bike on.

In NYC, biking to and from work is among one of the regularities of city living. When the subway stations are too hot, humid and crowded during the summer, it’s not too uncommon to see bikers out enjoying the breeze as they cruise through the boroughs to work. Actually, NYC has ranked #7 on the Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities list and have you heard about the new Citi Bike Membership program? Awesome.

Jessica McDonough, Associate Art Director, on a cruise.

Here are some quick facts about UG bike riders:

How we get to work.

Lee Griffin, Operations Manager, walking his bike through the warehouse to his office.

The time we spend riding to work.

Mindy Wilson, Human Resources Manager, gives biking a thumbs up.

Who’s biking by department.

And the top three UGooders (combining commute in miles, commute in minutes and frequency) are…

#3 – Laura Frost, Customer Service Assistant Manager
8 miles, 60 minutes, Average of 4 – 6 times per month

#2 – Erin Fergusson, Senior Manager – Merchandising
8 miles, 40 minutes, Average of 3 times per week

And, our #1 bike commuter is…
Dave Bolotsky, Founder and CEO
8 miles, 35 minutes, Average of 3 – 4 days per week

The Uncommon Life

How UncommonGoods Celebrated Earth Day 2013

April 23, 2013

One of the most inspiring things that gets me excited to come to work are the people that work here, but mostly their passion, enthusiasm and spirit to be part of something great.

I’m the first person (or maybe second, next to our security guard) that all new team members meet when they walk in on their first day. One of the questions I am always curious to ask is “so what brought you to UncommonGoods?” And the most popular replies include something with “B Corp,” “Better to Give” and “sustainability.”

When I sat down with the HR Manager (my boss) a few weeks ago, it didn’t take us too long to map out how the UncommonGoods team could participate in Earth Day. We knew that with our team members’ dedication we could accomplish anything… So that’s why we presented Earth Week. Why NOT celebrate the Earth for more than one day?!

With Earth Week, we presented five day’s worth of challenges for our team members to partake in, and on the fifth day, we would celebrate our efforts, encourage lasting green-behaviors and feast over our accomplishments!

We didn’t necessarily set specific days for each task, but allowed team member’s to work at their own pace. Here’s how our week panned out.

#1 – Ride your bike to work or walk from the 45th Street station
Goal: 10 bike riders and 20 walkers

This was by far the easiest goal for our team member’s to reach. We have many people located close to our headquarters in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, so commuting via a green mode of transportation is pretty popular every day. Not only did we have our usual bikers participate, but we also had teams walk to and from the subway station together. Almost all exceeding our set goal of 45th Street (we are located at the 59th Street subway stop).

Marketing Associate Rocky Taft and Merchandising Associate Ne’Quana Rollings having fun on their commute to 36 Street


Little did these guys know, they weren’t the only ones that went the extra steps! (From left to right): Cassie Tweten Delaney, Community Moderator; Abi Treut, Marketing Assistant; Rachel Goldstein, Inventory Planning Analyst; Jason Gomer, Purchasing Associate


#2 – Bring in your #5 plastics to recycle through our Take-Five-Drive
Goal: 20 recyclers

NYC has some great recycling programs and anyone can contribute by donating their unwanted #5 plastics to a participating Whole Foods. This plastic is the thicker more durable kind used for yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, aerosal caps, etc. This plastic is recycled for use as a material for every day products, including toothbrushes (my boss’ personal fave).

Although we aimed high with this goal, we landed a bit short of reaching 20 recyclers, however, we had some great donations including deli containers and pill bottles, and we emptied our break room cabinets of unwanted take-out containers, which we are bringing to the recycling center later this week.

#3 – Help weed tree beds and plant flowers around the Brooklyn Army Terminal
Goal: 30 green thumbs

UncommonGoods resides in the historical Brooklyn Army Terminal, which was built in 1918 and was the site of Elvis Presley’s deployment to Germany in 1958 (hence the photo of The King in the lobby). One thing this industrial atmosphere lacks is a lot of green space.

Similar to what we did last Earth Day, we had over 30 volunteers take two hours out of their day to weed tree beds and plant flowers around the trees within and around the Brooklyn Army Terminal. We also watered and mulched around the trees that we planted bulbs around last year – hopefully we will see those beauties sprout within the next few weeks!

Lee Griffin, Area Operations Manager


Giovanna Rosario, Warehouse Team Lead; Kris Keenan, Merchandising Associate


David Anderson, Inbound Operations Coordinator; Nicole Wang, Accounting Assistant


Ray Franco, ITC Associate; Jackie Robinson, Warehouse Associate


Matt Monsees, Marketing Analyst; Matt Disla, Warehouse Team Lead; Morgan Tanner, Production Manager


Lauren Negron, Drop Ship Associate; Jazmin Abreu, Warehouse Associate


#4 – Go to the local greenmarket and earn a $10 reimbursement
Goal: 10 veggie lovers

A task too easy to be considered a challenge!

Another great thing about living in NYC is the array of green markets in every other neighborhood, every other day of the week. The accessibility to local, fresh fruits and veggies is just another perk of city life.

Our team member’s beat this challenge and many of them are wearing the title of “veggie lover” with pride.

#5 – Bring your own non-disposable place setting to our company lunch
Goal: 50 UGooders

On the final day, we asked all team member’s to bring a plate, cup and cutlery to our monthly company lunch, in replace of our sustainable disposable products. It was great to see our break room sink piled over in dishes and the bathroom sinks filled with soapsuds (despite our maintenance team’s short grumbles).

For this Earth-inspired company lunch, we chose to go all vegetarian and local as a direct effort to minimize our carbon footprint. We (my boss and I – foodie connoisseur and foodie novice) traveled to our favorite Brooklyn spots to fill the Mediterranean-inspired menu: Damascus Bread for pita and falafel, Sahadi’s for fresh feta and hummus, and Tanoreen for the main course of mini pies and vegetarian eggplant.

On the day of the event, we set out a Flower Wreath of Wishes for our team member’s to dedicate to Earth Day 2013. They were asked to write out a promise on a flower petal and place them on the wreath, which will soon be hung in our community break room as a reminder.

Kira Snyder, Marketing Analyst

Some of the most inspiring promises our team member’s made were:

“I will plant a tree.”

“I will request fewer samples from vendors.”

“I will try to use cloth diapers for Ben for at least one week!”

And one of my faves…

“Vegan for life!”

With another Earth Day in the UncommonGoods books, I am already pondering up ways for the team to celebrate in 2014. Have any suggestions? Share your thoughts below!