By Michael Workman
As the holidays creep up on us, it behooves the conscientious consumer to consider the local gift-giving options. Of course, one of the long-standing, binding fair trade ethics of the maker scene in general is the notion of shopping local. From farm-to-table practices, seasonal maker markets, and the sourcing of in-house production of essential ingredients, there are a multiplicity of ways in which chain-of-production efforts ensure more ethically produced, healthy, high-quality artisan consumer goods. As you gear up for the inevitable holiday buying sprees, we offer you here a cross-section of some compelling locally-made products.
First among them is the simple, but thoughtful wood frame works of Owlneck Designs’ Tom Keating, maker of a short line of lovely photo-booth-strip frames. Designed to hold any standard 1.5 x 8-inch strip, these frames are ideal for preserving your favorite shots from that wild night at the Rainbo Club, at a friend’s wedding, or wherever else photo booths may pop up these days. Owlneck’s Etsy page is a convenient way to order online, at etsy.com/shop/OwlneckDesigns.
Of course, any local artisan roundup wouldn’t be complete without a few soap makers! Our recommendation includes the handmade five-ounce bars by Windy City Soaps. Made by the good folks at Abbey Brown, these bars are made with “58% cold pressed virgin Olive Oil, Coconut, Shea Butter, Castor Bean & Jojoba.” Each bar comes pre-wrapped in Chicago-themed paper, often with tags labeled from some line on the El. Great for those with nostalgia for sweet home Chicago. Order online at abbeybrown.com. Another worthwhile brand is the Scratch brand line with everything from soaps, scrubs, oils, butters, masks, laundry soaps and a whole lot more, all of it consciously sourced and produced from “food-grade” materials. Their rose and clay soaps, for instance, are produced from a selection of saponified oils of olive coconut, soybean, castor and almond, and pink Kaolin clays. You can also schedule in-house services, including hand and foot treatments, facial scrubs and more. Every purchase goes to help the Sharing Hope preschool in Mozambique. Their online shop is available at scratchgoods.com.
Speaking of food, here are numerous craft-kitchen producers of delectable goods, produced by locals Scrumptious Pantry in collaboration with Co-op Sauce. The Heirloom brand offers spice lovers a variety of mouth-scorchers, including Chiltepin Pepper and Beaver Dam Pepper. Employing techniques such as barrel-aging and fermentation processes, these sauces are produced right out of the company’s storefront in Rogers Park. Spun off from Co-op Image, a youth arts and entrepreneurship nonprofit founded by Mike Bancroft, the company still donates half of its profits to the charity. Check them out online at coopsauce.com and scrumptiouspantry.com. In addition, we also recommend the locally made Jo Snow brand of beverage syrups, great for doctoring up your coffee, cocktail or soda with a little something extra. Produced by local maker Melissa Yen, who came up with the idea after trying to reproduce the recipe for a favorite coffee drink called Cafe de Olla, Jo Snow offers a wide array of delicious blended flavors including Watermelon Hibiscus Pink peppercorn, Apricot Basil Vanilla, Fig Vanilla Black Pepper and the mysteriously named “Lumberjack” blend. Find out for yourself, and order online at josnowsyrups.com.
Finally, holiday shopping wouldn’t be the same without some selections for kids. Our favorite in recent sightings includes the “90′ Aliens” sticker pack at the Wolfbait and B-Girls shop in Logan Square, made by a seventeen-year-old listed only as “Arianna” from New York, whose image feed at rnindfuck.tumblr.com includes samples of a handful of green-face aliens dressed up in aerobics gear, clothes for shopping or just looking glam, and the occasional backpack or rabbit’s foot thrown in for variety. Strange, fun and unusual, your kids or the kid-in-your-grown-up friend will have no choice but to simply submit to the rad joy of this fun, inventive look back to the last turn-of-the-century.
Ben Schulman is the editor of the design section of Newcity and co-host of “A Lot You Got to Holler,” the Newcity podcast on design, architecture and urbanism. His work with Newcity is one of many ventures he engages in to communicate the value of design and cities. Ben serves as the communications director for Small Change, a real estate crowdfunding platform that works to catalyze the development of transformative real estate projects. Previously, he was the communications director for the Chicago chapter of The American Institute of Architects, editor of Chicago Architect magazine and communications director for the urban think-tank, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). His writing has appeared and been noted in outlets such as ARCHITECT Magazine, Belt Magazine, ICON, New Geography, Streetsblog, The National Review, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pop City Media and as a contributor to The Urbanophile, among others. When not writing about cities, Ben serves as an editorial assistant for the journal New Media + Society, and helps head the Contraphonic Sound Series, an attempt to document cities through sound.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org | Website: benschulman.com