Everything Discarded Is New Again

Buying locally, Wayne shares gift ideas that can be personalized to encourage reading or have been repurposed from discarded items to help the enviroment and communities.

By Wayne Johnson
|  Thursday, Dec 9, 2010  |  Updated 8:14 AM CDT
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Chicago Lost And Found

Wayne Johnson

Wayne's Weekend: Chicago Lost And Found's Mitch Pennell discusses repurposing men's neckties into an intricate holiday tree skirt.

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Unique Local Gifts

Wayne shows us how to find a one-of-a-kind gift for the holidays.

Chicago Lost And Found

Mitch Pennell of Chicago Lost And Found shares his company's mission with Wayne Johnson
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Finding interesting gifts for the holidays can be tough.  The search can be even more challenging when you want to buy locally and focus on unique gifts that are either customizable or environmentally friendly.  Fortunately, I was successful on all counts.  Here are three local businesses whose products include customized books about your family pet, discarded men’s neckties turned into intricately patterned tree skirts, and old street banners fabricated into ladies handbags. 

Story Builders Books

Carolyn Starks was a reporter with the Chicago Tribune for 12 years. She then reinvented herself as a publisher of unique children's books. She tapped some very talented journalists to write and illustrate the books. They are part reading, part writing and geared for tweens, who they hope will learn to like reading and writing as much as we adults do!

The storylines are engaging, the activities are thought-provoking and the illustrations are hilarious because laughter is often the best way to grab a tween’s interest – and keep it.

Getting children to read and write is often a daunting, nagging task.  Story Builders Books' mission is to create books that kids (reluctant and ravenous readers) can’t wait to get their hands on.

Their latest book, Bark. Run. Nap. Repeat, is all about dogs, with lots of great stuff you should know whether you have a dog or are just begging for one.  The books can be customized with a photo of your pet on the cover and a personalized letter on the back. Readers even get to have a great time drawing, jotting down their own ideas about dogs and planning what their next few dogs’ (sorry parents) names will be.

You can find more information about Story Builders Books at www.storybuildersbooks.com

Koru Street

Traveling around the world in 2007 Amy Stretmater ventured through India where she happened upon the new “green” trend there to fashion waste materials into new products and provide employment for an unskilled workforce in the process. Once home, she launched “Koru Street” to bring these amazing products to the U.S. market.

Koru's current line includes three types of products: paper goods and cards, purses and bags, and jewelry.  The paper products are all made from elephant dung, which Stretmater calls "the ultimate in recycling."  Their bags, purses and wallets are made from a variety of products including recycled vinyl banners, plastic bags and inner tubes.  The bracelets, necklaces and earrings are created from handmade paper made only from vegetation fibers. The jewelry is free from toxic substances, its manufacture does not require the felling of trees, and no endangered plant species are used for its production.

You can find more information about Koru Street at www.korustreet.com.

Chicago Lost And Found

Mitch Pennell began Chicago Lost and Found in 2007 because he saw a need. As creative programs continue to disappear and budgets for the arts are cut, Pennell felt compelled to help reverse this tragedy. With limited funds but a lot of passion, he felt he could do his part by using the junk most people throw away. Where most people see trash, he saw beauty.

Chicago Lost and Found is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to creative transformation. They are committed to rescuing the discarded and unwanted. Through re-purposing, they create value, which in turn provides creative opportunities to build and support the community. 

The centerpiece of the organization is the Creative Studio. This is where Chicago Lost and Found provides employment for artists, seamstresses, carpenters and other craftsmen to create art from junk and discarded materials found in alleys, dumpsters, construction and demolition sites or anyplace where refuse hides. Finished works are sold through exclusive retail establishments and the Chicago Lost and Found website. All proceeds fund their educational outreach. The products they create include a tree skirt made from discarded men’s ties, stacked boxes made from picture frames and art pieces made from the deconstruction of old paint by numbers canvases.

They are preparing to initiate new creative programs through the educational outreach at Chicago Lost and Found to launch in early 2011. This rollout will include classes and workshops for children and adults, focusing on reusable products such as plastics, paper, glass, electronic parts, textiles and natural fibers. You can find more information about Chicago Lost and Found at www.chicagolostandfound.com. You can also check out my recent visit to Chicago Lost And Found in the video link on this page.

Big thanks to Amy, Carolyn and Mitch for sharing these products and their efforts with us.  Enjoy shopping locally this holiday season.  If you have any questions or comments, please send me an email at wayne@waynesweekend.com or follow me on facebook.

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