Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Two-Faced Attempts at Greening Products

There's a great article in the business mag Fast Company this month about Procter & Gamble's new efforts toward greening their products ("P & G's Chemistry Test"). Written by Melanie Warner, it questions the earnestness of P & G's efforts when many other products it makes still contain questionable chemicals like phthalates.

Bottom line? A product like Tide Coldwater is great for reducing our reliance on hot water for washing (and therefore reduces our carbon footprint). But if it's fragranced with chemicals that may be reproductive toxins, the production of which pollutes ground water, is the effort any more than one step forward and two steps back? In other words, is P & G just greenwashing?

It's a strong article and recommended reading for those of you following these important, and under-reported, issues.

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans. Image sourced here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Brooklyn Flea's Stormy Week

The Brooklyn Flea has been cooking along since April at a steady, upbeat pace. But this week, things took a stormy turn.

It seems to me, as a regular vendor, that everyone's happy the Flea has come to Ft. Greene, but evidently there are a select few who feel otherwise. They let their grievances (and their vitriol) be heard at a meeting on Thursday night held at the church across the street from where the Flea is held each Sunday.

Seems like the main complaint is that Flea vendors are taking up all the good street parking spaces that used to be the sole province of locals and parishioners. It also appears that some find the hubbub of non-church activity patently unacceptable on the Christian Sabbath. Mostly, though, it seems like some people just can't deal with change.

The issue has been covered extensively in everything from the New York Times to the Daily News to Gawker. The coverage, some of it laughably one-sided, has produced some amusing headlines. I swear the headline on the clipping from the Daily News circulating among vendors today read "Hipsters vs. Old-timers," but that's not what it says on their website. In any case, they say there's no such thing as bad publicity.

As of now, there is no resolution to the discontent, and efforts by Flea organizers Jonathan Butler and Eric Demby (pictured top) to extend a neighborly hand have been summarily rebuffed.

As if to underline the point, gusty wind and heavy rain swept into Brooklyn at around 2:30 and washed us out early today. It was pretty nasty packing up in midst of the storm, and it resulted in disappointing returns on our efforts for the day.

The wind also lifted the Flea organizer's tent off the ground and blew over the tall fence surrounding the market, landing comically legs up on top of another tent where it couldn't be dislodged. (Wind can be pretty rough on tents if you don't have sandbags or bricks weighing them down.) That's Demby at the left gamely standing atop a table and holding on while others went for help.

So it's been a stormy few days for the Brooklyn Flea. But if what happened to Demby's tent today can be taken as an omen, it will all blow over soon enough...

Posted and bottom image by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.
Top image by the New York Times.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gobal Warming Tried to Wreck My Town

NH was hit by intense storms yesterday, including what appears to be a tornado that went through my hometown of Northwood and up to Lake Winnipesaukee. One woman was killed, a dozen injured, 50-100 houses damaged or destroyed, and countless trees splintered and fallen.

Back up -- tornado?! Yes, Kansas-like weather in New Hampshire.

While one meteorologist quoted by the AP claims one or two small tornadoes touch down in NH every year, no one in that area has ever seen anything like what happened yesterday.

A vivid reminder that erratic weather patterns are a symptom of global warming and climate change. (Much like the very tropical weather we've been having in NYC this summer with strobe-light lightening and ravishing rain.)

I wonder why our country hasn't declared War on Climate Change. If this destruction was the act of a terrorist, or even if it was caused by smoking, you know there'd be a war declared. And this is nothing compared with the devastation caused by recent hurricanes in the south or the floods in the midwest. Can't we organize to fight this too??

Today NH will be filled with the sounds of chainsaws hacking up the fallen trees for firewood as everyone recovers from what one witness described as "three minutes of hell."

We work with a lot of craftspeople who live in those parts, and Jae and I hope everyone's ok.

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.
Image sourced here of a stretch of road a mile near my Dad's house.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Report from ACC Salon - Old School Meets New Wave

Tonight in the crowded library of the American Craft Council, Bruce Metcalf and Chanel Kennebrew met to represent the "old fogies" and the "young whippersnappers" of the larger craft world and discuss the nature of and differences between the Craft Establishment and the DIY Movement.

It was awesome. I took reams of notes. Here are some highlights. The full recording is available as a podcast right here.

What I noticed off the bat was how several ACC staffers and Chanel were all donning fabulous brooches and neckpieces by Metcalf, while the jeweler himself sported one of Chanel's screen-printed Ts. Practically a potlatch!

Throughout the hour and a half, Bruce and Chanel were both very smart, earnest, and respectful about their questions and responses, challenging each other and sometimes surprising each other. For the most part, Bruce (cast as both rabble-rouser and elder statesman) sort of interviewed Chanel (cast as the free-thinking ingénue) about what makes her and her peers tick, though the discussion definitely went both ways and there was generous time for audience questions.

They talked about Etsy (Is it just chaos? No, it's very supportive. Isn't it all about consumerism? Well, what's wrong with trying to make a living? Is there a dark side to Etsy? (audience laughter) I don't know, if there is let me know!)

They talked about quality, contrasting exclusionary, quality-obsessed craft fairs with the inclusive Etsy scene where anything goes.

Chanel described that after art school she didn't want to go the prescribed route of becoming an unpaid intern, taking a low-paying job, and having to "wait in line" long enough to get a good job as a designer. She figured, why not just start making and selling her work now instead of waiting? Bruce pointed out that while he must teach to supplement the earning he makes from his high-end art jewelry, Chanel does only her work for a living and doesn’t need a “day job.” There was applause. [Note: I got this a little wrong. Bruce does teach but not so much to make a living.]

Later they took a question e-mailed by someone listening to the live podcast: Why are the DIY movement and the old school so divided? Bruce's response was immediate: the old school feels threatened. The old school is "so invested in the idea of the refined object" that they feel threatened by unfamiliar people who are calling their work “craft” yet are perhaps eschewing traditional standards of quality or aesthetics.

Chanel added that DIY is divided from the old school because DIYers don't want to be criticized, they just want to be themselves and make their stuff, even if maybe that closes them off to anything outside.

Bruce capped it off suggesting that the standards set by the craft establishment have created limits to its own evolution.

Another audience member asked both Bruce and Chanel what they see as the sociological impact of their work. I loved Chanel's response that it's about promoting varied perspectives in the world, a point that reminded me of Sonia Clark's passionate words at the Houston conference describing craft as a counterweight against monoculture.

I fully agree with this perspective, which brings me to final analysis: science shows us that the more diverse the ecosystem, the stronger and more fulfilling it will be. So, the broader we conceive of the craft world, the stronger and more fulfilling IT will be.

In terms of the marketplace (which all this is at least partly about, let’s face it), Etsy came out of nowhere and proved that there’s a market for indie craft. Right now there may not be a lot of crossover between this indie marketplace and, say, the market in action at the American Craft Show (in terms of both audiences or vendors). But it is growing year by year. And we’re already seeing that the larger craft world only benefits from more cooperation and cross-fertilization.

There will always be tensions caused by generational gaps and differing points of view on formal training vs. self-teaching. However through respectful conversations and an effort toward understanding, perhaps we can set aside petty squabbles and get busy making things and offering them to the world from a more unified front.

Props to the ACC for, once again, facilitating an important and stimulating conversation about the identity and experience of Craft and providing an opportunity for people from all corners of the craft world to gather and intermix. Props to Etsy, too, for co-sponsoring and live streaming the event. I look forward to more!


Midway through the talk, they paused to give some background as to why this topic was even brought to the Salon. I knew that the panel discussion Bruce and Andrew Wagner did at the SNAG conference had ignited a huge response (which played out in Anne of Imogene's blog comment section). Most of the reaction came from younger crafters attacking Bruce for being (so they perceived) a retrograde, elitist craft world fogie who thinks all DIYers and craftsters are uneducated hacks. There was vitriol from insulted and threatened old schoolers, too. And there was Bruce explaining himself and trying to make sure everyone was hearing each other clearly and not misunderstanding. After 130+ comments, the ACC decided it would hold this Salon so the discussion could continue in person with everyone, even people listening online, could contribute. Actually, this Salon topic was in the works before the SNAG conference and the conversation it sparked. Thanks, Monica, for the clarification! (There have been over 130 comments, though.)

What I didn’t know is that it was a comment made by yours truly at the ACC Houston conference that inspired Bruce to start checking out indie craft and DIY and getting to know more about this next generation. Um, sorry Bruce if something I said led you into the way of all this fire, but thanks for all the work you’re doing to foster broader understanding.

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.
Top image by Junnkprints sourced here.
Bottom image by Bruce Metcalf sourced here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Consumer Culture: Is "Handwashing" the New Greenwashing?

You've probably noticed over the past year or so practically every company has declared it's "gone green." From sneakers to cars to clothing and grocery stores, it's all eco-this and enviro-that. And in many cases, this is a good thing.

On the flip side, it is leading to a great deal of "greenwashing." Since green has become the hot new trend, companies are scrambling to highlight the ways in which they fit in, whether their green measures are substantial or not. For instance, a big-box store peddling low-energy light bulbs but handing them to you in non-recyclable plastic bags? Total greenwashing.

Well, I read a bit in Grist today about how such marketing trends tend to have 18-month life-cycles, which means all these suddenly "green" businesses must now start finding new ways to further distinguish themselves and appeal to what consumers crave.

And I wonder if I didn't see a hint of the next big marketing trend today on the cover of the graphic design magazine HOW: "Incorporating Handmade Elements." They actually call it "Design 2.0" suggesting the techie look is out and the handmade look is in.

We saw it in the opening credits of Juno, countless music videos, and anything by Michel Gondry. We see it in TV commercials like these. And I have a feeling we'll be seeing it everywhere else soon enough, too. It's the Moment for the Aesthetic of the Handmade.

Why? I think perhaps because handmade makes us feel safe, and makes huge corporations seem kinder and gentler. And in today's struggling economy, those companies that can make consumers feel warm and fuzzy will have a huge advantage.

But what is sure to follow are simulated versions of handmade, kind of like the quirky blue-ink printed "handwriting" font that spells out my address on fund-raising letters from the DNC. The handmade equivalent to greenwashing.

I'm going to call it "handwashing."

There's certainly nothing wrong with employing talented graphic designers to make handmade typography. That's completely awesome and I love the idea that creative hands will be in high demand. But if this trend becomes contorted by simulated effects, won't that cheapen the value of truly handmade work? Or will it actually raise the profile of the truly handmade over the simulated?

In any case, my prediction is that we'll be seeing a good deal of "handwashing" in the coming years if this next trend takes hold. For better or for worse, let's see how it plays out...!

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Craft Identity Throw-down this Thursday at ACC!

Come to the ACC this Thursday night for a craft identity throw-down!

"Connet/(Dis)Connet" will pit the old school with the new wave, featuring speakers Bruce Metcalf (jeweler, educator, writer) and Chanel Kennebrew (indie craft artist, graphic designer, Etsy seller). Metcalf's talk at a recent conference sparked a firestorm debate that you can check out right here, or read my blog coverage of it here.

That's this Thursday (July 24th), at the American Craft Council's library (72 Spring St.), for the second of three events in their annual Summer Salon Series. It's free but you need to RSVP.

The match starts at 6pm sharp, with reception to follow at 7.

It's gonna be spicy!! Be there!!

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans. Image sourced here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Berea College in the New York Times

Berea College in Kentucky is not your typical university, and today's New York Times is giving Berea some well-deserved attention ("With No Frills or Tuition, a College Draws Notice").

For one thing, Berea has a wonderful work-study program where students work 10-20 hours per week in traditional craft workshops learning to make beautiful brooms, weavings, baskets, metalwork, and pottery in exchange for tuition.

Berea is also committed to environmentalism and a recently completed building on campus was the first LEED-certified building in Kentucky.

We have been offering Berea's brooms, baskets, and woven work at Greenjeans for years, and customers love how functional and beautiful they are. Customers also like that they're supporting this great program.

We don't have their brooms in the webshop -- they're too cumbersome to ship -- but we will have them at the Brooklyn Flea this weekend if you would like one for yourself.

And congrats to Berea for the great publicity!

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.
Top image by Greenjeans.
Bottom image sourced here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Studio Visit: Susan Pratt Smith & Gary Haven Smith

At the end of a long wooded driveway off a side road in Northwood, NH, there is a sunny clearing populated by lithe granite sculptures, an energetic terrier named Misty, and the home and studios of Susan Pratt Smith and Gary Haven Smith.

The wood-frame buildings, all built by Gary, are efficient and neat with lush flower boxes and plenty of windows. Behind the house is a stone-paved patio with a pretty koi pond and towering pink gladiolas. A large stone table rests beneath trellised wisteria.

It was here in this pleasant shady spot that Jae, my Dad, and I had an alfresco lunch with Susan and Gary on a recent July afternoon.

Susan works in glass, creating pieces as elaborate as church windows and as tiny as a pair of earrings. Working in a highly technical medium like glass requires equal measures of craftsmanship and artistry, and Susan is generously gifted with both. Her work can be expressive and personal, or it can be skillfully built to an architect’s specifications. In either case, it is always very beautiful, and she is constantly busy with new commissions and orders.

Pictured here is a stained glass door Susan was commissioned to make for a local family, and jewelry available at Greenjeans. Our Webshop offers a limited selection; contact us for more. Larger pieces are available by commission.

In the adjacent studio, Gary transforms huge granite stones into lyrical sculpture. The rocky New Hampshire terrain provides an endless supply of raw materials, and with the aid of computer models and an impressive stone carving rig, he shaves and carves rough rock into supple works of art. (My favorite forms are the impossibly thin curls my Dad aptly described as granite apple peels.)

Gary's work may be found at Reeves Contemporary in NYC and McGowan Fine Art in Concord, NH, as well as in many public and private collections.

After our long lunch, I roamed around and took some pictures to share with you… Thank you, Susan and Gary!

Click here to view the entire Virtual Studio Visit...

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.
Images by Amy Shaw except picture of the stained glass door, sourced here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Find Us Sunday at the Flea

Come to Ft. Greene this Sunday to get your fix of Greenjeans!

Jae and I will be set up in our booth at the Brooklyn Flea from 10-5, rain or shine (though the forecast is very sunny -- yay!)

We'll be offering lots of ceramics (that aren't in the webshop), wooden cutting/serving boards, Tecate coasters, and of course wooden toys.

And we'll be in a NEW LOCATION directly across from the main entrance.

Also note that this Sunday, the Flea launches a new weekly feature, the Flea Scavenger Hunt! The first person to find the items posted on their website gets to keep 'em for free!

We miss you! Hope to see you there!!

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.
Photo by Lumin Wakoa.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Reminder: Upload Your Pics to Greenjeans Flickr Pool

Handmade espresso cups lining your bookshelf...

A raku finger puppet gracing your desk...

Your walnut cutting/serving board in action in the kitchen...

We want to see how YOU live with the things you love from Greenjeans!

Upload your pictures to the "Greenjeans at Home" Flickr Pool and share them with the Greenjeans community. You may do so anonymously, or you can tell a whole story about your favorite mug, necklace, or wooden toy -- we just want to see Greenjeans in action!

You can visit the Greenjeans at Home pool anytime -- just go to the blog and click "Flickr Pool" in the right sidebar.

If you're uncertain how to upload photos, just send them to me as an email attachment and I'll post them for you.

Thank you for participating!

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.
Top image by Melania and bottom image by Amy from Greenjeans Flickr Pool -- thank you!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Consumer Culture: Peeking Underneath Campaign Tee-Shirts

There's no use hiding the fact that I'm head-over-heels for Obama. I love what he says, I love how he says it, I love dreaming about the kind of administration he'd create. I LOVED the fist bump and totally believed it was unrehearsed. I could practically be the Obama Girl!

While I've got the Obama bug, but there's one thing I don't got: an Obama tee-shirt. (Is that like being patriotic but not wearing a flag pin?)

This occurred to me the other day, when a friend mentioned seeing a tee-shirt that says "Obama Says Knock You Out" and I immediately decided I needed one. (The slogan is a pop culture reference remixed in this You Tube video.)

But then I started wondering, where's it made? What would my dollars really be going toward? Wouldn't it be better to buy directly from the campaign, cast my dollar vote where it counts?

So I did some cruising around the 'net looking to see what other kind of wearable Obama propaganda is available out there. Obama's official campaign webstore offers some nice options, stylish cuts for women, clean graphics. But nothing too fun. Their cleverest design plays off the over-imitated "got milk?" campaign, but to me the phrase "got hope?" isn't that appealing at all, even if the price is cute ($20.08).

I suggest they do one that says "got change?" instead. It would more accurately echo the campaign's ubiquitous one-word slogan, AND would also be way more funny, as in the recent headline from The Onion: "Black Guy Asks Nation for Change." Hilarious! (I do love the Obama baby onesie, though, and there are some great Obama-themed prints donated by artists. But I digress.)

Though unexciting, I was very pleased to see that the official Obama shirts are all Union Made in the USA. You'd think that would be a foregone conclusion, not worth mentioning. Wouldn't a presidential candidate naturally make sure his or her merch is American made? Well, no. I remember a story from the last election where it turned out that some branded pullovers worn by the Bush people were made in China (which is probably where all those flag pins are made too.)

Anyway, according to the small print, it appears that 100% of your tee-shirt purchase price goes to the Obama campaign, and that's a good reason to buy it too. (Thought I don't get that really. Are they donated? If I bought, say, the ladies baseball jersey, what % of the $25 sale price would actually go toward the campaign? Certainly I'd hope the workers are getting decently paid for making them, that the cotton growers and dye-makers are getting paid, and so on. So how does that work?)

Also, it unfortunately appears that the shirts are made from conventionally-grown fibers, and in fact I don't even see an organic option. I'm disappointed about this. I mean, hello??? This is important!!! C'mon guys, you're supposed to be really involved in making eco-conscious choices!!! (Organic shirts are easy to find elsewhere, though, if you google it.)

Regardless, the Obama Says Knock You Out shirt is the one I really want, and it's not on the official site. Instead I found it's sold by Urban Outfitters, which to me is a careless corporate entity that co-opts the indie spirit and parodies art, fashion, and craft in pursuit of the bottom line. It has stockholders to please, after all.

And as if that weren't enough, it may be that buying an Obama tee-shirt from Urban Outfitters is also casting a dollar vote for some unsavory business practices and political affiliations if this article, this article, and this Wikipedia entry are true. (BTW, the company owns the chain Anthropologie and the label Free People, too.)

There's no way I'm supporting the questionable sourcing of something I don't even really need. That is SO being part of the problem.

So what's a conscientious Obama-loving girl to do if she wants to show her support and remind people to vote?

I guess just straight up donate to the Obama campaign and then embroider my own damn Obama slogan on a plain tee-shirt I already have...

... or maybe I'll volunteer or get the campaign to hire me to consult them on such matters!

'Cause Obama may have my vote on Election Day, but when it comes to dollar votes I'm still undecided.

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans. Image sourced here.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Poem for a Summer Day

The other day on the Writer's Almanac, Garrison Keiller read a poem by Mary Oliver that set me alight.

In honor of Independence Day and the long holiday weekend, here's a great American poem which I hope inspires you to slow down, get with nature, and enjoy the richness of these summer days.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean --
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down --
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

By Mary Oliver, from The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays, Beacon Press, 2008.

[Link to more poems by Mary Oliver.]

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans. Image soured here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Tips for Flea Market Shoppers

Besides craft fairs, summertime means flea markets, and Jennifer Perkins of Naughty Secretary Club has some really smart tips for getting the most out of shopping flea markets.

Watch her nicely constructed video on You Tube [1:35] -- whether you're heading to Brimfield or the Brooklyn Flea you'll glean some good ideas, and Jennifer's delivery will cheer you!

Y'know, flea markets and craft fairs seem to have a certain compatibility. I think it's rooted in the indie spirit they share, a sensibility rooted in the desire to bypass mainstream consumerism.

I know if I needed, say, a new kitchen table, I'd want one hand-crafted by a favorite artisan or designer. Short of that, I'd want to find one second-hand. This could mean buying it at a flea market or antique shop, begging an elder relative for it, or even finding it on the sidewalk and taking it in.

The LAST thing I'd want to do is go the commercial route. (Unless it involves fabric. Couches, mattresses -- they gotta be new!)

I think a lot of us feel this way about things.

In any event, I should come up with my tips about shopping craft fairs... Stay tuned for that...

[Link to 5 Quick Flea Market Tips]

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans. Via Craftzine.