Every day we come together with the inventors, the big thinkers, and the gadgeteers—the small businesses bringing back the joy of discovering something you never knew you wanted, but now can’t live without. In our September catalog, we’re going in-depth with some of these small business owners and telling the stories about how their products came to be.
Made To Last In Chicago
Lifelong friends Tedd Strom and John Litwinski grew up in the 1980’s when many local Chicago factories were closing and American manufacturing was on the decline. This frustrated the pair who knew that well-made—American-made—products of days gone by stood the test of time. “A half-century ago, companies actually made products with the idea they should endure,” said Tedd.
Like the Chicago manufacturing scene, metal combs started to disappear over time, tossed aside for cheaper plastic ones. “We wanted to make the comb as treasured as a beautifully crafted razor,” Tedd said.
So for a year they threw themselves into the process. They learned everything they could about metal fabrication and finishing—perfecting the design for their first prototype. “We were laser focused in bringing a completely unique product and product story to market,” Tedd explained.
The result is an heirloom-quality comb precisely cut from Kentucky stainless steel and Ohio titanium. Each is made to last a lifetime, and made with the core principles of using only US-sourced materials and local production. “We’re firmly integrated into the local maker community. From the sourcing of the leather at Horween leather, working with a local packaging company, and our finishing of the combs. All is done within the local community.”
Creativity In Bloom
Sierra Steifman is the owner of a New York floral house where she creates stunning floral arrangements and hosts floral design workshops. It was at these workshops that Sierra first noticed a shift in who was attending.
Her workshops were usually made up of designers learning the tools of the trade. But more recently they’ve been attended by beginners, people looking to flowers as a creative outlet and a way to add beauty to their space. Sierra had always thought about developing a product line and this customer insight plus the birth of her daughter made her realize the time to start was now.
“We set out to create an accessible line of products that would encourage everyone to try their hand at floral design,” Sierra said about expanding her small business. Her ceramic “frog” vase provides the support—literally—to create a beautiful arrangement in your home. Hidden holes inside make flowers stand up—and stand out.
The vases are inspired by vintage designs and create an easy approach to floral design. “I want to share our knowledge and joy of nature, floral arranging, and gardening with everyone in a way that feels approachable. Working with flowers over the past 12 years has contributed to my joy for life and I want to share that with everyone.”
Engineered To Do Good
Vinh Lieu’s move from Vietnam to the US highlighted for him the different ways the two countries cared for its respective environments. Meanwhile, growing up in America’s heartland, Seth Inyang was taught that doing for others mattered most. These experiences primed this pair of engineers to team up in 2016 with a simple-sounding but weighty mission: to make reusable products that could better sustain the environment and improve lives.
Seth and Vinh realized that when working together, their skill sets balanced perfectly—Seth excelled at creativity, while Vinh preferred the technical side of things—to start making progress on that lofty mission. They began their small business by focusing on enhancing people’s everyday lives without causing any negative impact on the earth.
Their triple-walled stainless steel and ceramic tumbler does its small part to achieve both parts of this team’s goal. It is insulated to maintain the temperature of hot or cold drinks and its ceramic lid helps contain spills, all while working to eliminate to-go cup plastic waste.
A Truer Reflection
Before creating a daylight-mimicking makeup mirror, UK-based Andrea Alli worked as a software and design engineer. When she played back a video of a speaking engagement she was surprised by what she saw—what she thought was perfectly presentable makeup actually wasn’t. She enlisted the help of marketer and makeup enthusiast Leah Wright-Williams to develop a foolproof way for women to get a flawless finish.
Turns out, as Andrea and Leah learned, the yellowish color of household lights can’t identify all the colors in a light spectrum, which is why makeup can look quite different when you step outside. Now that they had identified the cause, they got to work creating a way to simulate natural daylight.
The solution is the LED makeup mirror that mimics daylight to give you a truer reflection and show the true color of makeup. It’s ten times brighter than other lighted mirrors and it’s a testament to Andrea and Leah’s belief that, “Everyone should have the best tools available to help them own their spotlight moments”.
Meditation In Harmony
Michael Joly and Alene Sibley combined their knowledge of audio engineering and intuitive coaching to create a mindfulness experience unlike any you’ve heard. The partners dove into the teachings of Pythagorean tuning and the way sound production works in the natural world. They understood that these sounds can have a relaxing result on the mind and body and that’s something they want everyone to be able to experience—if only for a few moments.
“My partner and co-developer had the aha moment that we could make meditation easier, just by listening,” Michael explained. They immersed themselves into a year of discovery, discussions, and endless experiments which led to the creation of these sleek, palm-sized speakers. Together they play three-minute sequences of peaceful sounds that play randomly on each speaker. Every session is a new arrangement you haven’t heard before. They call it New Origin Waveforms, or N.O.W.
The system is a culmination of the duo’s passion for audio and well-being. Michael shared, “I love N.O.W. for how it makes me feel when I use it, after I use it, and the positive changes it continues to bring to me over time. I want to share this joy with others.”
Building The Foundation
As a carpenter and homebuilder, Matthew Thomas made his living working with wood and enjoyed woodworking in his spare time. But a workplace accident ended his homebuilding career and put his woodworking skills to the test as he needed to find a way to support his young family.
“With the assistance of developmental agencies in West Virginia, my adopted home, I was able to turn a hobby into a new career. With ample time on my hands while I recuperated, I developed a variety of handmade wood products, and the marketing materials to promote them,” Matthew explained the start of his small business.
His handcrafted valet is a beautiful spot for all your essentials, like your wallet, keys, and headphones, with smart features like being a phone dock and speaker amplifier. But it’s the stunning craftsmanship and care that really make the difference. “We source all of our hardwood lumber from local, sustainably harvesting suppliers. Keeping money local is a win-win for us and our local sawmills.”
Matthew’s greatest joy is being able to support and be surrounded by his family, and the thought that, as he reflected, ”I can build a business that my own children could take over and live comfortably in this little slice of heaven in rural West Virginia.”
Learning more about each of these small businesses helps us all make those important connections to each other and also highlights some pretty outstanding products. We hope you check them all out in our September catalog. You never know what you’ll find, and that’s the fun of it really. We do promise you this. Whenever you visit The Grommet, it will always be exciting, worthy of your time, and a mighty good way to shop.
Learn more about the ways small businesses impact our communities here.