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Uncommon Impact

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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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Amie & Matt Van Susteren–Spreading Sustainable Holiday Cheer

December 7, 2015

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.

Filling Snowflake Boxes

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. Meet the owners of Nestled Pines Woodworking, Amie and Matt Van Susteren — who make Maple (and Cherry) Wood Personalized Snowflake Ornaments — and see the ways that they’re helping preserve forests.

Living in Lone Rock, Wisconsin — about an hour west of Madison — is inspiration enough to make sustainable art, Amie tells us. “We’re on the Wisconsin River nestled in a valley. There are coyotes wandering through the backyard. It’s everything idyllic you can imagine about Wisconsin,” she says. “It’s beautiful, and there are so many resources here to be inspired by and pull from.”

Amie and Matt Van Susteren

Amie and Matt Van Susteren 

Seven years ago, the couple decided they wanted to change their lives and embark on a creative endeavor together — but they wanted to make sure any eco footprint from their business would be small. “That part was a no-brainer,” says Amie. “I can’t even imagine not moving forward under this philosophy.” Next, the painter and her hardwood-floor-making husband looked around to see what was at their disposal. “You’re sustainable by using what you have,” she explains. “That’s our motto.”

Forests are plentiful in their area, so it’s not a surprise that, as Amie says, “the wood came first.” Establishing their source material helped them see the laser wood cutter they’d recently acquired in a different light. “It was, ‘Well, we have this and we have this — what can we do with it?’” The answer: intricate wooden ornaments. “There’s a market for crafts in the U.S. and holiday ornaments always feel special,” says Amie. “There’s that sensation you have when you pull your ornaments out every year and they’re new all over again. We want our customers to get as much joy out of the product as we get out of making the work.”

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: From Laos with Love–Clearing Bombs, Crafting Beauty, Creating Hope

December 1, 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.

Laos A village in Laos, Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Suda

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.

In the case of Elizabeth Suda, founder of Article 22, making a positive impact is, in part, about helping to heal the negative impact the imposed on Laos  during the Vietnam War. The Peacebomb Jewelry designs produced by Article 22 aren’t just fashionable accessories, they’re also symbols of hope.

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Practical Design Meets Practicing Better Business

October 1, 2015

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.

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.

Meet Lishu and Leonardo Rodriguez, founders of fellow B Corp El Dot Designs, which specializes in mindfully-sourced home furnishings that have a positive impact on the lives of the people who make them. Their work is as much about sustaining the environment as it is about providing economic opportunity for disadvantaged women and minority artisans, all the while nurturing the traditional craftsmanship behind practical modern designs.

Lishu and Leo Rodriguez

 Lishu and Leo Rodriguez 

Where does the natural environment find a place in the inspiration for and impact of your work?
Nature is our teacher and our muse. We believe in our symbiotic relationship with the natural environment. Our work nurtures this relationship where humanity and the natural environment benefit form one another.

How do craft traditions and modern practicality merge in your designs?
Craft is based on necessity dating back to the beginnings of technology. Our designs appreciate this evolution towards efficiency and durability while maintaining that human touch and our heritage of making with our bare hands.

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