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Uncommon Impact

Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Paola Delgado’s Handmade, Sustainable Tagua Jewelry

October 23, 2017

It’s a familiar story. Talented woman takes on Wall Street, only to leave four years down the line and discover her true calling: ethical jewelry design. Okay, it’s not that familiar. And besides, the tale of Paola Delgado, Peruvian banker-turned-creative, has a bit more to it, including a pilgrimage to her home country and, of course, a dash of uncommon impact.

Driven by a desire to connect with others and an ambition to find herself, Paola left her job at Goldman Sachs in 2011 in search of a more meaningful path. From New York City, where her business is now headquartered, she traveled to her native Peru, where she delved unexpectedly into a craft she’d enjoyed as a child. You guessed it: We mean jewelry-making. Following a bit of soul-searching, Paola decided to turn her hobby into her job, soliciting artisans in Ecuador and Peru to produce designs in her signature material, tagua seed. Harvested sustainably from pods that fall from local palms, tagua offers a cruelty-free alternative to ivory that minimizes damage to the environment and looks pretty darn good when carved by the artisans in Paola’s employ.

Paola, center, with two members of her all-female roster of artisans

When we first heard Paola’s story, we knew we had to talk to her one on one. Read on for more on Paola’s journey, from the difficulty associated with saying “tupananchiskama” to financial stability to the logic behind her recent choice to work with only women artists, and find out just what makes her creations so special.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Inside
Greyston Bakery

October 18, 2017

Even if you’ve never heard of Greyston Bakery, chances are good that you have, in fact, eaten their baked goods. Ever had a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie, or spooned your way through a full pint of Half Baked? Congratulations! You’ve had a little bit of Greyston in your belly. And it’s no coincidence that both of those flavors made it to Ben & Jerry’s top 10 list last year—Greyston’s brownies, which you can now snag in four flavors at UncommonGoods, are mind-blowingly tasty.

That’s not all, though. Like UncommonGoods (and Ben & Jerry’s), Greyston Bakery is a proud B Corp, and it’s New York state’s first Benefit Corporation, too. Founded by Zen Buddhist Roshi Bernie Glassman in 1982 in Yonkers, New York, Greyston is best known for its unique hiring model, dubbed Open Hiring™. “Open Hiring is simple,” says Ariella Gastel, Greyston’s VP of Marketing and Business Development: “If you want a job, come to the bakery, sign your name on a list, and wait to be called. No questions asked. No resume or interview needed.” Designed to break down barriers for those seeking honest work, Greyston’s policy provides opportunities to Yonkers locals who might otherwise encounter difficulty obtaining a job, whether that means they’re single parents, have trouble speaking English, or once struggled with homelessness. “It is hard to imagine how many people want to work but can’t because of barriers,” says Ariella. “Our mission is [to] create thriving communities through the practice and promotion of Open Hiring.”

Though most of our real live visits are to artist’s studios, we couldn’t resist making the trip up to Yonkers to visit Greyston’s facility ourselves. The promise of brownies, of course, was a draw, but we were equally excited to see Greyston’s mission in action and to have the chance to meet Ariella and longtime team members Cece and Raymond. Armed with questions and juuust enough space in our tummies for a brownie or two, we set off for Yonkers from Grand Central Station, a mere half hour from our final destination.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Sowing
Seeds of Good with Clarissa the
Curious Cat Planter

September 14, 2017

Khalil Ahmed, right, and a fellow metalworker crafting kitties just outside of Moradabad.

Moradabad, India, is a big city. Situated on the banks of the Ramganga River, it boasts a population of nearly 900,000 and an active handicrafts industry that accounts for a significant portion of the country’s artisan exports. Though it’s best known for its brass wares, local workers craft a wide variety of goods for international distribution, from handmade paper notebooks to mosaic vases made from discarded glass. And in the atelier of Khalil Ahmed, an ironworker stationed a mere 12 kilometers from Moradabad proper, Clarissa the Curious Cat Planter comes to life.

When you first lay eyes on Clarissa, you’re probably struck by the cuteness of her little iron nose, or the artful curve of her accompanying tail. What you likely don’t realize is that Clarissa’s cuddly (if metallic) exterior does a whole lot of good beyond the obvious act of putting a smile on your face. Her creator, Khalil, is part of a growing group of local artisans that benefit from the support of an organization known as Noah’s Ark, an international export house that’s been serving the area for nearly 30 years under the watchful eye of Moradabad native Samuel Masih.

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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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