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Uncommon Impact

Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Changing Lives and Cooking Dinner with the Non-Electric Slow Cooker

June 8, 2017

Sarah Collins, inventor of the Non-Electric Slow Cooker

Picture this: You want to cook a meal. In the US, this is an easy enough proposition, if occasionally tiring. You take a trip to the grocery store, prep your ingredients, and leave them to cook, whether in an oven, on a stovetop, or in a slow cooker. Before too long, you sit down and eat. Simple, right?

In rural Africa, no such luck. For many women, making a meal is a long, costly process fraught with danger. Every day, women across the continent spend up to seven hours collecting firewood to use for cooking, walking between 3 and 6 miles, taking away time that could be spent working or bonding with family members, and risking sexual assault and attacks by animals along the way. Those who don’t collect firewood often cook with charcoal, a fuel that eats up a sizable chunk of a rural family’s income—think along the lines of one third. The actual cooking takes hours, and the use woodfuels combined with that of an open flame contributes to potentially deadly levels of indoor air pollution. In providing for their families, these women make sacrifices that are unimaginable to many, risking their health and livelihood for the sake of a single meal. A trip to a packed Trader Joe’s at 6 o’clock on a Tuesday pales in comparison.

For South African entrepreneur Sarah Collins, this was a key problem. Her lifelong mission to empower rural Africans has manifested in many types of work, from conservation to political action, but perhaps her most meaningful contribution has been the invention of the Non-Electric Slow Cooker, also known as the Wonderbag. Now available for purchase from UncommonGoods, Sarah’s slow cooker—made from patterned cotton fabric stuffed with repurposed foam—keeps food brought to a boil cooking for up to 12 hours simply by trapping heat. For every Non-Electric Slow Cooker purchased in the developed world, another is donated to the Wonderbag Foundation, an organization that distributes Sarah’s invention to communities in need throughout Africa. Because the Non-Electric Slow Cooker doesn’t require an open flame to keep food cooking, it reduces pollution and deforestation throughout Africa and keeps rural women and families safer and healthier, freeing up their time and money for work, play, and family bonding.

As a certified B Corp, UncommonGoods is committed to offering sustainable, socially responsible products. When we first heard about the Non-Electric Slow Cooker, we were intrigued—we’d never heard of a slow cooker made out of foam! Once we learned of its impressive effect in Africa, though, we knew we needed to hear more from its inventor. Read on for more of Sarah’s story—including advice on how to contribute to her mission, even from afar.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Rachel Faller’s Ethical Fashion Company Puts People and Planet First

March 15, 2017

Rachel Faller Tonle UncommonGoods

When you pick out a shirt to wear, it’s likely you’re thinking about how it looks with your pants, or if it’s un-stained/not wrinkled enough to be passable – not the amount of water, land, chemicals, and overall carbon footprint that went into making it. You probably aren’t thinking much about who made it, either — like if the factory workers involved in its production had health insurance, or if they were working in a safe environment for a fair wage.

It’s easy to become detached from the clothes we wear, especially when, due to the expansive nature of the fast fashion industry, you can get them cheaper and easier than ever before, with just the click of a mouse or a tap on your phone. Fast fashion seems appealing at first – it adds to our convenience, and it makes a wide variety of styles available at competitive prices. But when you consider the human and environmental costs, fast fashion doesn’t seem so pretty.

Textile expert Rachel Faller took those human and environmental costs to heart when she visited Cambodia in 2007. She met artisans who had similar ideals to her and began to realize that maybe sustainability and style didn’t have to be exclusive of one another.

Recycled Fashion UncommonGoods

The Tree Rings Clutch, Infinity Tassel Scarf, and Recycled Denim Clutch are all Rachel’s designs available at UG

Fast forward to 2017, and Rachel truly has made (and continues to make) an uncommon impact on the ethical fashion world. She employs a team of artisans in Cambodia and provides them with the fair wages and work conditions they deserve. Her stylish designs are made from all sustainable materials and with unique production techniques. In fact, Rachel and her team are now at the point where their processes are completely zero-waste, making use of every last bit of scrap material.

Read on to hear from Rachel directly about how she broke into the eco-friendly fashion world,  how her clothes and accessories maintain their style without harming the environment, and how she sees the future of fast fashion vs. ethical fashion unfolding.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Recycling Books & Spreading Literacy, One Pin at a Time

February 13, 2017

You can never have too many books, right? Well, actually, you kinda can. With hundreds of thousands of new books published each year, and with many library shelves so overwhelmed that librarians are often forced to throw books away, even those of us who feel sentimental about the written word and the pages that hold them have to admit: we’ve got a problem.

So what to do with all of those outdated encyclopedias and forgotten math textbooks? Aren’t there any other options aside from trashing them? Recycling, of course, comes to mind. But the bindings of many books, especially hardcovers, contain adhesives that can’t be recycled. So the inside pages can go, but then what happens to the rest?

Enter Laura Bruland Shields. A long-time book-lover herself and an artist at heart, she’s taken on this wasteful problem and is making beautiful solutions every day – in the form of one-of-a-kind, laser cut accessories made directly from books that would otherwise be thrown away. On top of that, she takes a portion of the proceeds from her business and donates them to benefit literacy and girls’ education around the world.

When we learned about Laura’s story, we knew we had to feature her in our Uncommon Impact series – her values as a maker and ours as a certified B-Corp company are a perfect match. We love that she thinks ethically in the way she makes her products and uses her to success to benefit a cause she’s passionate about.

Read on to hear from Laura directly about her creative process, some of her favorite book-titles-turned-accessories, and how her business is helping to spread a love of reading worldwide.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Sending Light and Love with the SolarPuff

October 17, 2016
SolarPuffs lighting the way

All images and videos courtesy of Solight Designs ™

Some of us take light for granted. The sun goes down, we flip a switch, and our homes are flooded with an electric-energy-fueled sunshine substitute. But for the 1.6 billion people in the world without access to electricity, it’s not that easy.

In many areas around the globe, kerosene is used in place of electricity. Kerosene, like gasoline, is a fossil fuel made from petroleum. It’s expensive, it has to be burned to create energy, and burning it creates air pollution. Unfortunately, many families don’t have access to any other source of light. That makes cooking, studying, or even seeing the face of the loved one sitting right across the room impossible without the aid of kerosine lamps. Use of these lamps can be dangerous. They get hot, they send soot into the air, and in some cases, they even use open flames.

Aiming to bring a safe, clean alternative to kerosene to those living by lamplight, product designer, architect, and Professor of Design and Material Culture at Parsons the New School of Design, Alice Min Soo Chun developed the SolarPuff™— an inexpensive, collapsible light powered by the sun.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Tulianna and Alejandra Garces Design with Sustainability in Mind

September 20, 2016

As a B Corp certified company, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green” – we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best-interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always excited to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.

Resin has long been a popular material that jewelry makers and other artists use to attach items together, coat or cover objects, or to cast. But many of the most commonly used petroleum-based resins are associated with high greenhouse gas emissions due to an unsustainable extraction process. To avoid these harmful effects, mother-daughter jewelry designing duo Tulianna and Alejandra Garces choose to make many of their pieces using plant-based, non-toxic resins. The Heart of Gold Necklace and earrings, the Full Moon Necklace and earrings, and the Gold Bar Necklace are all examples of stunning accessories made from such sustainable materials. We spoke to Tulianna and Alejandra to get a better sense of the uncommon impact they’re making with their eco-friendly designs.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Counting Beads, Caramel, and the IRC

June 22, 2016

As a certified B Corporation, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green”–we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best-interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always eager to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.

While many of our makers rely on sustainable practices at one point or another in their process, we’re especially excited about those who place the wider world at the forefront of their craft–those who are making an uncommon impact.

IRC | Uncommon Impact | UncommonGoods

The International Rescue Committee is providing cash support to women-led households with the greatest need. Here, IRC staff ask a Syrian refugee about how effective she thinks the program is and whether it can be improved. | Photo: Ned Colt/IRC

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The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Impact: UncommonGoods’ Animal-Friendly Choice

February 19, 2016

To date, our Uncommon Impact series has focused on stories of environmental and material sustainability drawn from our many talented makers. But UncommonGoods’ own mission has always focused on a positive effect on people and the planet, inviting us to find uncommon impact in our own history and company culture. One way that we’ve done this is to be an animal-friendly company from our start seventeen years ago. Since then, environmental sustainability has come to the fore even more, and animal-friendly choices, whether personal or commercial, can be a major factor in minimizing our negative impact on the earth.

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Vegetable Parchment Platter

UncommonGoods’ commitment to not carrying items that harm animals stood out for me as a vegetarian for over 20 years. This was a factor when I joined the UncommonGoods team in 2014, a principle that is also important to our founder, Dave Bolotsky. As a vegetarian since 1974, Dave felt it was important to establish a cruelty-free character for the company and its collection, a choice that aligned with our concern for people and the planet and our dedication to sustainability. This extends to our policy of not showing items on our website or in our catalog propped with animal products (only veggies on our grills and kabobs, for example).

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Cork Makes a “Comeback”

December 11, 2015

As a certified B Corporation, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green”—we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always eager to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.

A Cork Oak

A cork oak (Quercus suber)

When you think of cork, you probably think of wine stoppers and bulletin boards. But this amazing, natural material can be used for much more—from watches to umbrellas. Cork has been used for bottle stoppers for thousands of years, dating back to Ancient Egypt. Frank Lloyd Wright gave cork his seal of approval by using it in the bathrooms of his famous Fallingwater. On the more personal (and affordable) side, artelusa (USA) cork company produces a growing line of cork designs crafted by Portuguese artisans from local cork. We spoke with Josh Drucker of artelusa about this fascinating, flexible material, the methods used to work with it, and the sustainable story behind it all.

How do issues of sustainability manifest in your company’s products?

Product sustainability plays a major role in our company’s vision and philosophy. Our entire collection features natural cork fashion products. Cork is the outer bark of the cork tree, a type of oak, which grows primarily in southern Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. The bark of the cork tree is peeled off to prolong the life of the tree. The bark regenerates itself every 7-9 years. We also use other natural resources in our products, such as cotton for the inner lining and vegetable dye for coloring.

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Fragments of harvested cork

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