Three views of a model wearing white blouses from 2019 Gift Guide
Photographs by Joel Benjamin
Business & Entrepreneurship

This season’s best ideas for gifts—and giving—from businesses and nonprofits founded by Brown alums

By Kerry Lachmann, Pippa Jack, and Louise Sloan ’88 / November/December 2019
November 6th, 2019
19GG:earrings and yarn

At top of page:

Three years ago, Althea Simons ’07 lost everything in a fire. Replacing her wardrobe with the “iconic essentials” she craved led the neuroscience concentrator to launch Grammar, a sustainable fashion company.

Left: Antecedent Shirt $285
Center: Conjunction Shirt $265
Right: Dangling Modifier Tunic $325
25% off with code BROWNBEAR

The jewelry Page Sargisson ’97 makes is handcrafted in NYC using recycled materials. From these tiny, colorful earrings made of chrysoprase wrapped in gold wire to conflict-free and environmentally sourced custom diamond rings, Sargisson’s creations are each unique and collectible.

$240/kite earrings

A love of all things colorful inspired Cary Drew Weigner ’84 to dye her own merino wool. Hand-dipped skeins are available in different weights; the vibrant dyes are all environmentally friendly.

10% off with code BRUNOYARN

19GG: cookies and ceramic owls

Lebkuchen is a traditional German holiday gingerbread, full of nuts, marzipan, and citron. Sandy Lee ’97 discovered it at a Christmas market in Berlin and became obsessed. Back in NYC, she opened Leckerlee to offer the sweets in the U.S.

$35/large tin
$25/small tin
15% off with code BROWN15

These porcelain owl cups by Vicki Finkel ’88 typify the form-meets-function combination of wheel work and whimsical hand-building that fills Finkel’s Etsy store.

$185/set of 2
10% off, contact

19GG: wooly sneakers

Textiles take center stage in the shoes that Jessica Singer ’06 manufactures in a family-run factory in Portugal. This snappy pair of low tops are from her Italy collection, using wool from Tuscany.

$225/Casentino low top
10% off with code BROWN

19GG: barbecue apron and jarred food

Ever wipe your hands on your backside while cooking? Doug Donaldson ’85 created a practical answer to his messy habit with Grill Cheeks, a washable, one-size-fits-all “butt apron.” It’s “perfect for the man who loves to grill and the woman who wants comfort and flexibility,” he says.

10% off with code BAM10

After bowel surgery for cancer, Matt McClelland ’97 planted a veggie garden to take control of what he was eating. He gathered old family recipes to preserve the harvest and now, as cofounder of The Backyard Food Company, offers 18 products, from pickles to jams, that
feature the same simple ingredients he used at home.

$5 off 3-pack and free shipping with code EverTrue

19GG: toaster and tote

Build a better toaster? Tom Klaff ’88 and his team have invented a smart, touchscreen toaster that uses a patented new heating system to toast in under a minute.

20% off with code Bruno180

“I’m not a backpack person,” says Canopy Verde designer Linda Wong ’96—so she set out to design one that looked more like a tote and that could convert to one by tucking the straps away. Organic cotton, PVC-free polyurethane, eco-friendly dyes.

$179/Greenpoint Vegan Backpack
Free $38 pouch with purchase over $99 use code BAM2019

19GG: coffee beans

The Roaster’s Pride story box collection by Coffee By Design, cofounded by Mary Allen Lindemann ’82 in Portland, Maine, 25 years ago, features three coffees: an anniversary blend, a dry processed coffee from Burundi, and an all-time-favorite estate grown bean from Costa Rica.

$21/gift box set
10% off with code BROWN10

19GG: obi purse and alphabet print

Let’s glam up the fanny pack: Helene Goudeau Florence ’90 AM uses recycled kimonos to make these gorgeous purses. Each Helene Florence New Orleans bag comes with a removable sash that can be worn alone as a scarf or used to secure the bag around the waist or across the body. 

$80/obi belt bags
10% of Brown sales donated to Florence’s local Women Build team for Habitat for Humanity.

When her friends started having children, watercolorist Sally King McBride ’07 says she “struggled to find a meaningful baby gift.” She hit on watercolor alphabets,now available in a number of different styles.

$175/framed print (16.5”x20.5”)
10% off with code BROWNBEARS

Give Good

Move over, merch: BAM’s holiday list of alumni nonprofits

This season, the BAM is inaugurating a new annual Holiday Gift Guide tradition: In addition to featuring a selection of amazing giftable objects from Brown entrepreneurs, we’re listing interesting nonprofits founded or run by alums who are out to build a better world—with your help. Consider making a donation in someone’s name, or including these organizations in your year-end charitable giving. Take a look at this year’s featured nonprofits and more fantastic organizations on our Brown Alumni Nonprofits page. If you’re behind an alumni nonprofit or know of one we haven’t yet heard of, let us know so we can add it to the list!

The majority of reporters covering war zones are freelancers, and freelance reporters also make up the majority of combat-zone reporters who are wounded and killed on the job. “Surviving a gunshot or shrapnel wound is often a matter of doing the right thing in the first few minutes,” says Chrissy Heckart ’03, deputy director of Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC), which provides freelancers with four days of free training in battlefield first aid, water disinfection, heat- and cold-related dangers, and more. Graduates receive a first aid kit like those used by medics. Reporters working for media companies get this kind of training from their employers, but freelancers are faced with either paying thousands of dollars for a course—or skipping the crucial training.

Back in 1993, the New England Journal of Medicine published a CDC-funded study that showed that guns in the home were a strong risk factor for homicide in the home. In apparent response, in 1996, NRA-supported legislation reappropriated the 2.6 million that the CDC had invested in gun violence research and stipulated that federal funds could not be used to “advocate or promote gun control.” Enter the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Research in Medicine (AFFIRM), for which Dr. Megan Ranney ’10 MPH, an associate professor at Brown’s Alpert Medical School, serves as chief research officer. AFFIRM, a coalition that includes all major U.S. medical organizations, is dedicated to a nonpartisan search for evidence-based solutions to the nation’s gun violence epidemic.

If you look at clean energy and transportation policy initiatives in the Northeast, there’s often a dotted line to Acadia Center and its president Daniel Sosland ’80.  Originally launched in Maine, it researches, develops, and advocates for innovative policies that tackle environmental challenges in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island, while “promoting sustainable economies.” For example, in 2018, Sosland and Acadia were behind a “Memo to the Next Governor of Connecticut,” a ten page policy-analysis report on what the governor-elect could do: “modernizing transportation only,” the report said, “could produce over $6.9 billion in new economic benefits, add 14,900 new jobs, and create $3.7 billion in public health and other benefits.”

Instead of a 2,000 mile long wall between the U.S. and Mexico, how about envisioning the same length in 40” x 40” handmade throw blankets, intended to welcome new immigrants with something cozy? The Welcome Blanket Project is the latest initiative from Jayna Zweiman ’01, founder of the Pussyhat Project that turned Washington, D.C., into a sea of pink, hand-knit hats during the Women’s March. Zweiman did the math on the border wall and figures that to cover the entire border requires about 3,200 blankets in all. The project blew right past its goal, and now has morphed to “Welcome Blanket On Call,” where crafters can create blankets as needed by various refugee resettlement organizations.

“The ocean is our planet’s life support system,” according to the Marine Conservation Institute: “the oxygen for every second breath we take comes from it.” So to save life in the ocean and human life on earth, the organization has launched an initiative called “Blue Parks” aimed at helping us all by establishing more Marine Protected Areas. The goal is to have 30 percent of the ocean protected by 2030. Director and senior scientist Sarah Olverson Hameed ’01, ’03 MAT—who grew up “exploring the tide pools and coral reefs of Maui,” concentrated in public policy at Brown, holds a PhD in marine ecology from UC Davis, and self-identifies on Twitter as “Marine ecologist, surfer, mom”—joined the Seattle-based institute in 2016 to help launch the Global Ocean Refuge System.

Megan Golden ’87 had a career as a leader in innovative, outcome-based financing to solve social problems in the U.S. So five years after her brother, investment banker Eric Golden ’90, began his struggle with chronic pancreatitis in 2012,  the two siblings decided to direct their expertise toward finding a cure for the condition, in which the inflammation of the pancreas gets progressively worse, causing pain, weight loss, and other debilitating symptoms. There were no treatments, not even a drug in the pipeline, and the disease was poorly understood. Their nonprofit, Mission: Cure, works with donors, scientists, and “impact investors” who want their money to make a difference in people’s health while potentially making a return based on positive patient outcomes.

The year he graduated from Brown, Sebastian Ruth ’97 started a music education and mentoring program in Providence, with startup funding from the Swearer Center. Twenty-two years later, Community Music Works has 13 resident musicians and more than 125 students, who live predominantly in Providence’s South Side neighborhoods. Students receive lessons in violin, viola, and cello. They are given instruments free of charge and participate in a variety of activities, including studio classes and workshops. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama presented Ruth with the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. That same year, Ruth won a MacArthur “genius” grant for his work building CMW. And in 2012, Ruth received an honorary doctorate from Brown.

“What do you want most in the world?” Adam Braun ’06 asked a young boy who was begging in the street in India. “A pencil,” Braun says the boy replied. Braun gave him a pencil and “watched as a wave of possibility washed over him.” For the next five years, Braun backpacked through more than 50 countries, handing out thousands of pens and pencils and talking to parents and children, and, in 2008, founded Pencils of Promise, an education organization that has built 514 schools currently serving 106,862 students. The organization focuses on rural areas of Ghana, Guatemala, and Laos. Pencils of Promise prioritizes local leadership, forging partnerships with communities, providing innovative materials and training to teachers, and teaching kids about potable water, sanitation, and hygiene.

“Most men aren’t rapists,” says Sarah Pierson Beaulieu ’99. Her 2016 TEDx talk on sexual violence starts with the story of her weeping at Brown from the trauma of being molested and raped, and her friend Russ Hammonds ’99 sitting with her, with no idea what to say. Most men, Beaulieu says, are partners and friends wanting to support survivors, and “we are failing to give them the skills, language, and support they need to become instruments of healing and change.” Hammonds stuck with his friend, and  Beaulieu founded The Uncomfortable
Conversation, dedicated to normalizing conversations about sexual violence. The nonprofit has produced more than 50 short-form videos illustrating these conversations in educational, engaging, and often humorous ways.

Most high school seniors are eligible to register or preregister to vote before they graduate, and eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow eligible students to pre-register to vote beginning as early as age 16 or 17. But many high schoolers don’t know this or don’t do it, and many schools don’t help students take advantage of these laws. Enter Laura Brill ’87, founding partner in the L.A. law firm Kendall Brill & Kelley and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Brill founded the national nonprofit The Civics Center to support peer-to-peer high school voter registration and civics education. Resources include online voter registration trainings and “Democracy in a Box” supplies (clipboards, stickers, and more) for a  voter registration event. 

19GG:swim trunks and craft kit

That engineering training has come in handy for Patrick Rynne ’05, founder of Waterlust, as he researches high-performance swimwear fabrics with low environmental impact. His PhD in marine physics and general love of the ocean help, too.

$59/Whale Shark Warrior boardshorts
10% of all profits from Advocate Apparel go to environmental research.

Lauren Venell ’01 partners with artists to create high-quality, one-stop-shopping craft kits like this fabric stamping set for tea towels. Other kits let buyers explore embroidery, ceramics, and macramé.

$40-$150/craft kit

19GG: whiskey

On a 150-year-old farm in the heart of Vermont’s Green Mountains, John Egan ’81 and Mimi Buttenheim ’00 make this four-grain wheated bourbon (70% organic Vermont corn) as well as this toasty rye whiskey from regional rye. All grains are non-GMO.

10% discount with code BAM

19GG:vases and bracelet

In a RISD class her junior year, singer-songwriter Clare Burson ’97 developed a love for ceramics. Her Bumps collection uses a unique glaze to create textured, touchable vases, book ends, and ring and serving dishes, in a range of colors.

$125/Bumpy Toob vase
$155/Bumpy Eggg vase

This stunning but understated 10k gold and diamond bracelet by Page Sargisson ’97 features a pendant impression taken from a carved Chinese wooden plate that’s a family heirloom.

$790/Astrid bracelet

19GG:coasters and workout wear

Ocean and wildlife inspired prints by Jennifer Jones Rashleigh ’02 decorate her 4” by 4” tumbled stone coasters; she also custom paints canvas, pillows, doors, and floors.

$34/set of 2 coasters
15% off with code BROWN15

Sailor and scientist Patrick Rynne ’05 makes functional, beautiful, environmentally responsible clothes he hopes spark conversations about ocean research.

$42/Sun-Kissed Sea top
$65/Sun-Kissed Sea leggings
10% of all profits from Advocate Apparel go to environmental research.

19GG: surf tee and embroidered sneakers

Who would think to use fair-trade textiles from Thailand for handmade sneakers? Human rights worker Jessica Singer ’06, that’s who. Her Thai workshop provides economic opportunity and training to disadvantaged producers.

$285/Gold Bird high top
10% off with code BROWN

After a challenging episode of OCD and depression, Brian Barr ’15 and his brother refocused the cool vibes of their surfwear company by founding a sister nonprofit, Feeling Swell. Their T-shirts aim to uplift those navigating mental health challenges.

$35/long sleeve T-shirt
20% off with code bruno20. A portion of profits supports efforts to reduce stigma associated with mental health issues and to encourage help-seeking.

19GG: wooden blocks

Building blocks of sycamore—reclaimed by Lee Buchanan ’00.5 from a Hollywood street tree— were crafted by someone who is rebuilding their life.

$120/L.A. City Blocks
All proceeds go back to supporting Would Works and their artisans.

19GG: skin products and pants

Stephanie Morimoto ’99 uses organic, natural ingredients for the more than 60 products in her Asutra skin care line. These three anti-aging facial serums include retinol, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid.

$32/3-bottle serum set
15% off with code BROWN15

If you’re 5’4” or shorter, Erika Gomez ’12 is designing for you (and for herself). She launched her new line with pants, “the clothing item petites struggle with most.” Finally: wide legs that don’t overwhelm.

$89/The Gloria Pant
$99/The Sonia Pant
30% off with code BROWN

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Related Issue
November/December 2019