That Holiday Glow

By Kerry Lachmann and Louise Sloan '88 / November/December 2017
November 3rd, 2017


Your friends and family will be over the moon when they open their presents made by Brown alums. We’ve gathered the best (often at a special discount) so you can sit back and do your seasonal shopping using our Eleventh Annual Gift Guide.

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Like much of his work, “Abalone Fire,” a luminescent ceramic wall sculpture by Andrew Irvine ’03,  plays at the intersection of science and art.  Irvine, who double concentrated in chemistry and studio art, says his deeper understanding of the chemical processes behind ceramics and glazing is behind his “intimate relationship” with the materials. A RISD course in ceramic material science his junior year earned him the name “Crazy Chemist” as he toyed with non-traditional glazing chemicals and ideas from his Brown chem connections. Lately he’s been experimenting with lustrous glazes that involve nano layers of silver and bismuth and a unique raku metal-fuming process. Abalone Fire $500. Use Code: BAM2017 for 15% discount.


“As an interior designer and a dog owner, I was driven to develop something beautiful but practical,” says Elizabeth Backup ’08, “a bed with a removable and washable cover, with an insert that wouldn’t get lumpy or flat, and an aesthetic that you would actually want to display in your home, rather than kick behind the sofa when guests arrive.” Pet Beds $230-$350/Pillow covers starting at $60. Use Code BROWNBEAR for 10% through January 1.  

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Maybe you have shelves full of cocktail recipe books, as Lily Szajnberg ’08 did, but how can you quickly figure out what to make with the few ingredients you have on hand?  Enter the retro-chic cocktail computer, which uses punch cards and cocktail picks to suggest drink recipes based on different combinations of 24 common ingredients. The Cocktail Computer  $59.95. Use Code BROWN17 for 17% discount.

Energized by the Women’s March last January, Erika Leaf ’85 came up with the idea of creating a set of postcards “that would enable anyone to become and remain politically active by writing to their elected officials.” The pack includes tips on effective writing, how to locate addresses, and more. Leaf’s concentration at Brown? “Social Change.” Not much has changed! Democracy Pack and Climate Pack Postcards starting at $6.


A flirty Mad Men style apron—with pockets? “Two hands were just not enough to manage a baby and a business,” explains Riche Holmes Grant ’99. “I knew that I needed something that had the functionality of a tool belt, but at the same time, I also wanted it to have the timeless femininity of an apron. I didn’t realize it then, but I really do think that Brown prepares us all to be designers of some sort through the freedom of the New Curriculum.” Apronini $50.00. Use Code BAM2017 for 10% discount.

(323) 813-1009

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These decadent meringues contain zero egg whites: they’re vegan! “Meringueshop takes a clean, plant-based approach to baking,” says chef Diane Forley ’84. The meringues consist of raw organic sugars and flours, handmade confectioners sugars, plant-based flavors and colors, and aquafaba, a flavorless, protein-rich liquid from chickpeas, instead of eggs. Sugar + Spice Meringue Sampler $32/ One Dozen. Use Code BROWN for free shipping.

>>The summer before starting Brown, Meringueshop owner Diane Forley ’84 interned at the Palace Restaurant, at that time “Manhattan’s most expensive luxury restaurant.” She was hooked. “I was eager to further my kitchen training,” the Literature and Society concentrator says, “and determined to find a balance between school and cooking.” Diving into culinary history was her way of finding that balance academically. Meanwhile, in her off hours, she started exploring Federal Hill and its Italian delicacies. Francis Basso’s nationally acclaimed shop, Providence Cheese, on Atwells Avenue, caught her attention. “I wanted to  learn how to make his hand-pulled breadsticks and signature filled ravioli, and asked to spend time in his kitchen,” says Forley. “Signor Basso’s innovative approach to using alternative grains was a formative experience for me, shifting my attention away from the decadent blown sugar apples and white chocolate mousse that I practiced at the Palace,” Forley adds. “Culinary spectacle re-emerged, however, in my senior thesis: the impact of the nineteenth-century French gastronomic revolution on the work of Balzac and Flaubert.”


“My daughter had a bad case of acid reflux during the first few months of her life,” says Riche Holmes Grant ’99, designer of the Burpa Bib, a clever combination bib and burp cloth. Grant went through scores of standard bibs and burp cloths and was sure there was a better way. So she designed it. Burpa Bib $35.00. Use Code BAM2017 for 10% discount.

(323) 813-1009

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Tropical fruits from her childhood in South China are the inspiration for many of the fabrics that Waverly Wei-Qun Liu ’00 MFA designs and fashions into bags. “Starfruits, sugarcane, bauhinia....” For Liu, sewing continues a tradition of Chinese women in the past century, often fleeing war, their handiwork “providing comfort and warmth for chaotic times.” Carambola Messenger Bag $80. Use Code brown for 10% discount.

After a successful career as a clinical pathologist, Robyn Yim Pang ’85 turned to another passion: Sewing.  After “falling in love” with yoga this year, Pang  started crafting yoga bags made from traditional Hawaiian palaka fabric.  Pang cuts and sews the bags herself: “In my garage!” she says.
Quilted Yoga Mat Bag $50.

Whiskey starts with “distiller’s beer,” says Michael Reppucci ’01, cofounder of Sons of Liberty, just named American Craft Producer of the year by Whiskey Magazine. So, “Why is no one distilling single malt whiskeys from the beers we love?” he wanted to know. And, “Why are there so many seasonal beers, but no seasonal whiskeys?” Done and done. (Yes, of course they have pumpkin spice.) Available in R.I., Mass., and Conn., Sample pack $44.99.

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“Pop tennis is probably the closest thing to a smaller version of tennis,” explains Roberto Donati ’87, who has created paddles specifically for the sport, played  with less-bouncy tennis balls on a shorter court. Here, his top of the line model, which has been used by the winners of the last 14 championship games. Pacific Black D2 Series Professional Pop Tennis Paddles $199. Use Code bruindiscount17 for 15% off any paddle on website.

>>Being a Pop tennis pro is awesome, reports L.A. psychotherapist Roberto Donati ’87, who was a top-ranked junior tennis player in his native Mexico but quit competing after high school. “You get to travel, you get to make a little money, and you get to feel like a professional athlete. It’s living a dream.”

“I felt that platform tennis paddles were a little too short for Pop tennis,” explains Donati, who got a manufacturer to create paddles specific to the sport. “I wasn’t getting enough power, the sweet spot was too small, they were too heavy, and they just looked boring,” he adds. “These are more fun.”

“The U.S. Tennis Association  has taken this sport under its wing,” says Donati. “It’s a way to introduce tennis to kids and also to older people. Pop tennis is easier to learn. It’s easier on your body, there’s less running, it’s very social. You can have a great time playing with players of all levels.”

Elizabeth Ruffing ’89 majored in visual art at Brown and started selling and licensing paintings right after graduation. Then she started making art dolls, which segued into plush toys, “for fun,” she says. Ruffing hand-sews these fleece Hug Me Slugs, which are based on her drawings. They come with hang tags that can be personalized with names or messages. Hug Me Slugs  $22-$38.

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Rockflowerpaper, founded by Katie Smith ’80, has donated more than $38k to the Ocean Conservancy through sales of its Blu product line. The latest in the line: reusable stainless steel water bottles in bright colors and chic prints. For each bottle sold, 20 cents goes to the Ocean Conservancy. Blu Bottles, $26.95. Use Code Brown20 for 20% off non-sale items.


“My work is created in the tranquil solitude of my studio in a historic mill that sits on a lake with a waterfall,” says artist Renée S. Soares ’76. “Water, as the creative source of life, instills peace within my spirit and ignites my creative vision.” Her abstract, one-of-a-kind hand-painted China silk scarves take their themes from the natural environment. One, called “orchid,” was inspired by a pink orchid being visited by a pink elephant hawk moth. Hand Painted Silk Scarf  $45.

These sumptuous strawberry meringues are dipped in dark chocolate then flecked with gold leaf and candied organic rose petals, says meringueshop owner  Diane Forley ’84. A fresh take on chocolate covered strawberries, the confections are crisp on the outside with a “slight marshmallow texture” inside. You’d never know they’re vegan—instead of eggs, the meringues are made with aquafaba, a broth made of organic chickpeas that performs just like egg whites.
Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Kisses $48/Double Tier $72. Use Code BROWN for free shipping.

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“I’ve been making jewelry since my junior year at Brown,” says Jenna Wainwright Fennell ’02, who went on to spend 12 years doing metalwork for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and pulls from that broad and varied art background when she designs. All materials are recycled, fair-mined, or sustainably harvested. Black Diamond 18k Gold Ring $330; The Lauretta Chain 18k Gold $960 for 18”/$1060 for 20.” Use Code BAM! for 10% discount.

“I wanted to build a meditation stool that I could take with me when I travel,” says Copenhagen-based designer Joshua Morrison ’09. It was originally intended for his own use, but Morrison and his partner decided it would make a great product. They used Kickstarter to fund the project, which allowed them to build a supply chain that reflects their progressive values.  Sedeo Meditation Stool, $115. Use Code brownalum for 5% discount.

>>“We decided that if we were to make a piece of furniture, we would use it as an opportunity to rethink how the furniture industry functioned,” says Joshua Morrison ’09, who with his best friend  Petter Thörne co-founded Fundament, a multidisciplinary design studio. At Brown, Morrison says, he learned to question the systems that he’s a part of, and he developed values that include “stewardship of the environment, reducing social inequity and structured oppression, and nourishing access to high quality life.” But how to do all that in a wooden stool? “Though it is a small product,” Morrison says, their goal for the Sedeo stool was to create something that would never need to be replaced, that would provide meaningful and well-compensated employment to people who need it, and to source materials in a way that supports the health of the ecosystem. Success: The Forest Stewardship Council certified oak is sourced from a forest outside Frankfurt, Germany, that uses some of the best practices in the world, he says. The stools are manufactured in a woodshop that trains people with disabilities to become woodworkers. The boxes are made of recycled material, and the carry cases are made of organic, fair-trade cotton sourced from a weaving cooperative in Kerala, India.  Plus, the stools, which feature collapsible legs, don’t have any metal parts, which are energy-intensive to produce. Instead, they use a system inspired by traditional Japanese joinery. “Close to every friend I have from Brown now has one,” says Morrison. “It is special to have created something that people I love use every day.”

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Prints, colors, and textures from around the globe are at the heart of  rockflowerpaper’s designs—founder Katie Smith ’80 concentrated in international relations.  Here, a Morocco-inspired scarf pairs with a colorful cotton poplin button-down. Kimono scarf in Ophelia Olive, $61.95; button-down shirt in Harlow Olive, $57.95 .  Use Code Brown20 for 20% off non-sale items.

The classic dirty martini takes on a new dimension when served with cat o’ nine tail cocktail picks, made by  Rena Andrews ’99, founder of Lalita, a company that sells “seductively elegant” clothing and accessories, often with S/M-inspired styling.  “I had initially made these picks as a prop for a photo shoot,” Andrews explains, “but everyone had such an incredible reaction that I went on to develop them into a product.” Dirty Martini Picks  $95 Silver, $125 Gold. Use Code Brown20 for 20% discount.

“We collaborate with fine artists around the world to create our unique, lacquered art trays,” says rockflowerpaper founder Katie Smith ’80. This earth-friendly MDF tray, which is moisture, heat, and alcohol resistant, features an etching by artist and printmaker Stephanie Martin. Aspen Bluebird Square Art Tray. $75. Use Code Brown20 for 20% off non-sale items.

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You know when you have a big dog or a heavy package in the front passenger seat of your car and it keeps setting off the “fasten seatbelt” alarm and the beeping starts to drive you completely out of your mind? Daniel J. Spinosa ’05 and his brother Michael Spinosa feel your pain. Their Tikit device, which comes in an assortment of colors and patterns, fits in the slot for the seatbelt, shuts up the alarm—and doubles as a bottle opener. Tikit Seatbelt Alarm Silencer $9.58-$19.95. Use Code GOBRUNO for 20.05% discount.

>>“My brother has a large labradoodle that often rides shotgun with him,” says Daniel Spinosa ’05. “I have two kids. Their full complement of gear often rides shotgun with me. When my brother came to me with his idea for a product that would silence the constant alarm ringing that comes with heavy objects in the passenger seat, I thought it was brilliant.”

The pair “hunted down as many makes and models of cars” as they could find and measured the seatbelt clips. Then they 3-D printed a few designs. After some refinements and the addition of a bottle opener (“Who doesn’t have one on their keyring?” Spinosa asks), they found a factory that would produce the devices in solid steel with a variety of finishes.

That was the easy part. Then came selling the things. “The story was the same every time,” Spinosa says of the retail outlets they originally sold the Tikit through. “After selling incredibly well with a huge positive response from consumers, one of the company lawyers decided they could no longer sell it.  So we said, fine, we’ll give the people what they want directly!”

The company’s online marketing has been met with great enthusiasm—as well as with a slew of online haters and trolls who have targeted the founders, their customers, and even their family, Spinosa says. “Of course people can use this product in illegal ways which we do not condone,” says Spinosa, a serial entrepreneur who says his computer engineering concentration helped him launch his first two companies, the second of which was acquired by Samsung. “But we value our freedom and liberty and think individuals should not have them intruded upon by their vehicle. It makes us super happy that our little product can improve somebody’s drive.”
Wearable software

Electric Sheep’s limited-edition T-shirt designs are made using an algorithm that Scott Draves ’90 developed while at Brown. “This software became a lifelong passion, and because I released it as open source for other artists to use and improve, it’s become a whole genre of art practiced by thousands,” seen on the covers of Paul Simon’s latest album and Stephen Hawking’s latest book. Electron Men’s tapered T-shirt  $60 + 4.95 domestic shipping or $15 international.

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November/December 2017