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.

How did your time in Nepal catalyze your interest in social and economic justice? 
In Nepal, we witnessed firsthand the real-world effects of pollution and poverty. We came to realize the needs of our global society where half of our Worlds’s population are living in poverty. They are looking for a way to earn a living and build a future for themselves and their family. We were inspired to find a solution and be part of that solution because the need of over 3 billion people cannot be ignored.

Why is being a B Corp important for El Dot?
Being a B Corp is important to us because it provides a means for transparency and accountability for our work. Besides, it is so awesome to be part of the B Corp tribe and family that are changing the way business is done for the better.

Tree Branch Hook | UncommonGoods

 Tree Branch Wall Hook

Can you tell us more about the artisans you work with?
We started by working with artisans in Nepal and India, both of whom have a traditional culture of working with bamboo. In Nepal, we personally trained all our artisans and worked with them side by side for 4 years. In India, we work with CIBART, an NGO focused on utilizing bamboo to create employment opportunities for a marginalized tribe in South Gujarat. Both regions have their own handcrafting tradition and through studying and incorporating them, unique contemporary product lines have been created that reflect the region. For our local MADE IN USA line, we use FSC certified woods and bamboo ply focusing on efficient designs and production systems for job creation.

How does El Dot bridge the gap between developing and developed countries?
Developing countries have struggling economies and abjectly high rates of unemployment, yet they generally have a very rich craft tradition of some sort. Instead of exploiting this condition, we nurture and combine this craft resource with the technology and infrastructure available in developed countries in ways that poor villages have an opportunity to collaborate with cities to make truly diverse and relevant products. Our work aims to be the bridge for the two worlds.

Where does sustainability manifest in your studio?
Sustainability is designed into every aspect of our business. For every product, we consider the social and environmental impact, including the value our products create for our customers. Sketches are made on recycled paper, production is optimized for efficiency, renewable and nontoxic materials are sourced, and carbon-neutral shipping is preferred.

Set Sail Tealight | UncommonGoodsSet Sail Tealight Holder

How does your work reflect on sustainability in the broader home furnishings industry?
The furniture industry is currently in the top ten industries that produces the most toxic waste and is a major contributor to unhealthy indoor air quality. We want to change that. We are fostering a way forward where furniture is made with honest, renewable, and nontoxic materials that contributes not only towards a healthy home but also a healthy planet. We have been awarded a Gold Exemplary Membership from The Sustainable Furnishing Council for our work and contribution to the American furniture industry.

If you could visit any natural location in the world, where would you go?
Oh! The places you’ll go…. We love traveling. The open road or an airplane is very comforting to us. Most of the time, we like to explore our studio backyard, a 4 acre property with an old forest and a salmon stream as there is so much there and it is always changing. If there is an opportunity to travel outside our backyard, we jump on it, albeit anywhere really.

Harvesting Bamboo

Sustainably Harvesting Bamboo 

Much of the  impact El Dot seeks is centered around one amazing plant- bamboo. Bamboo is well situated to help El Dot achieve it’s dual aim of alleviating socioeconomic disparity and fostering better ecological stewardship in the furnishing industry.

Bamboo is perhaps the most potent renewable alternative to wood in the furniture. Not only does it capture 30% more carbon dioxide than trees, but it is the fastest growing plant on the planet, growing up to 35 inches in a day under the right conditions. Bamboo thus reaches maturity in only 3 to 5 years, meaning that harvesting cycles are shorter and far less damaging to local ecology.

It’s also incredibly abundant, growing particularly well in tropical and sub-tropical areas, most of which are located in developing countries throughout Asia, South America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. This means that under-served communities there are potentially sitting on a vast, renewable natural resource, which – shaped by local craft traditions – can be tapped for the economic benefit of the community. For more on the ways El Dot is using bamboo, check out their B Corp profile and their blog.


See the Collection | UncommonGoods

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