Editor's Note: We're rolling out 10 Days of Indie Merchant Gifts, in our annual celebration of the artists, craftspeople, designers and other independent merchants who make one-of-a-kind products. See yesterday's list of gifts for pets.
In choosing our top picks (all priced under $50), we gave a lot of weight to the stories behind the products. After all, the story is how independent merchants can stand out from the mass-produced big guys. How often, when shopping in a big-box store, do you hear how an artist was inspired to create a pair of pretty earrings, or a dangly necklace? Probably never. So we factored in our merchants' tale of inspiration, plus we chose items for their uniqueness and value.
Product: Planet Mars stud earrings
While shopping, Brittany Bevelle of Gulfport, Miss., who graduated in 2011 from the University of Alabama with a degree in computer science, had trouble finding "high-quality accessories for geeky girls." Unfortunately, "there is a huge market full of stereotypical clothing and accessories about video games and computing hardware," she says, but most lack "real scientic substance." So she decided to take matters into her own hands and -- inspired by pictures from NASA's Hubble Telescope -- decided to create these "Planet Mars" stud earrings. "Just in case you didn't know, space is so awesome," she says. These accessories are "perfect for anyone (especially any girl) who wants to proudly say their earrings are from Mars," she says.
Editors' comment: These earrings, which capture the Red Planet's dynamic surface, have a subtle, other-wordly sort of glow. Plus we like a gift that might inspire young ladies to study science.
Morse Code Bracelet
Product: Morse Code bracelet
Amanda Landesberg of Sarasota, Fla., says her Morse Code bracelets "combine my love of words and my love of jewelry" and the result is "a sparkly bracelet with soul." The bracelet pictured here uses smokey quartz (a semi-precious stone) and hand-dyed purple silk to spell out the word “wish” in Morse Code. The sterling silver charm is also hand-stamped with the word “wish." Landesberg adds: "I don't believe in having many things, but I strongly believe in loving the things you have."
Editors' comment: We have a soft spot for geeky yet beautiful things. So a sparkly bracelet that sends a message in Morse Code? One word: dash dot dash dash - dot - dot dot dot (YES).
Product: Origin "Purpose" bracelet
Paul Gloyer and his teenage daughter began making and selling bracelets at shows after being displaced form Hurricane Katrina. "It was something we enjoyed doing together," he says. As the business grew, his daughter was inspired to create the Origin bracelet, a light and stretchy piece that slips right over the wrist with no clasps to snag or break. Customers love that they can run, hike and surf with them on, he says. The bracelet, made from anodized aluminum and latex-free rubber, can be personalized with a charm. It's "designed to not only appeal to active women, but also empower them to pursue their passions," he says, and a portion of proceeds is donated to the National Women’s Health Network.
Editors' comment: In a category dominated by female merchants, we gave Gloyer props for being a dad who designs. We liked the bracelet's durability, and the fact that it's geared toward active women.
Product: 1940s vintage African coin "Mabel" earrings
Meah Tweh of Detroit has dubbed these earrings "Mabel" after her enterprising paternal grandmother, who, despite club feet, trekked into the African bush in the 1940s to find flowers and herbs to adorn the handcrafted clay pots she sold. "These earrings embody the entrepreneurial spirit of my grandmother, and all others that delve into their creativity, pouring out their crafts to the world out of the need to create, regardless of the monetary gain," she says. The made-to-order earrings feature vintage copper-nickel coins with a Star of David on one side and Arabic text on the other, which were circulated in West African territories. "Imagine how far and wide these coins were traded," she says.
Editors' comment: Go Grandma! We like that these earrings capture the spirit of a strong woman, and the rareness makes them truly unique.
Harris Casey Designs
Product: Thorn necklace
Jivita Harris Casey of Long Beach, Calif., says she's had rose bushes at every home she has ever lived. "I love the scent of roses wafting through the air and the delicate beauty and vivid colors of the cut flower," she says. A jeweler, she decided to make a cast from a real rose thorn from her backyard to create this necklace. The intriguing thorn "makes the rose a little rock-and-roll," she says.
Editors' comment: We liked that each necklace comes with a handcrafted card that reads "those that want the rose must respect the thorn."
Product: Alzheimer Awarness "Unnamed Cry" ring
TaShonda Tucker of Marietta, Ga., lost her paternal grandmother, Evelyn, to Alzheimer's disease in 2010. Since that time, an aunt and an uncle have also been diagnosed with the same illness. "I have completed walks and made donations to the Alzheimer's Association but wanted a way to provide continuous support for the organization's effort," she says. Her On the EVE of a Cure line was created, and 30% of proceeds go the association. The "Unnamed Cry" ring is "a representation of all the people who have been and will be affected by this devastating disease," she says.
Editors' comment: We liked that the ring, which features forget-me-nots, is not only beautiful, but a way to support a worthy cause.
Product: Organic cotton jersey necklaces
"Growing up, my family and I moved around the U.S. and overseas just about every two to three years," says Pam Stroffolino of Dallas. "I enjoyed every single second of it…being exposed to new cultures, styles and adapting to the gypsy mindset." With that memory in mind, Stroffolino sought to design jewelry made out of comfortable organic cotton jersey material that she could wear every day. "I grab one and just throw it over my head as I'm on my way out the door," she says. "Super easy, no brainer, instant style."
Editors' comment: The jewelry line seems easy-going, and we liked how this necklace is adjustable, too, by knotting or tying to any length.
Product: Typewriter key jewelry
Jeanne Cherry of Pittsburgh, who previously owned an antique store, says typewriters were not selling. So "I used my imagination to come up with a unique way to utilize them," she says, and turned the keys into jewelry. "Each key necklace is a small antique you can wear around your neck. Just imagine who could have touched those keys all those years ago." The graphic is a modern styling, and a juxtaposition of old and new, she says.
Editors' comment: As editors, we're partial to typewriters -- even if it's been a long time since we actually used one. We liked the nostalgic feel of this jewelry.
Product: Original HypnoEars
When Olivia Thompson's career as a hair stylist was put on hold due to mandatory bed rest during pregnancy, the Smyrna, Ga., mom-to-be was worried about how to make ends meet. "Instead of giving in to the challenges that come with bed rest, I started creating HypnoEars as a creative outlet," she says. A few years later, she turned her penchant for making "unique funky earrings" into a full-time business, and recently hired another former bed-rest mother to help. HypnoEars are designed to "hynoptize and mesmerize" and are the "perfect gift for the woman who is not afraid to stand out and be original," she says.
Editors' comment: Customers can choose their own colors and designs, which we think is cool. But we most liked Thom's positive attitude and her desire to help another mom in the same predicament.
Product: Swarovski Crystal Boutonniere
Anastacia Santspree says this Swarovski crystal boutonnière was originally created for her husband. The piece "adds contemporary flair and James Bond style to any distinguished gentleman, dapper groom, or partner-to-be," she says. It's also "an elegant choice for holiday adornment."
Editors' comment: Jewelry isn't just for the ladies. We liked the timeless style of this piece, and could see Daniel Craig possibly wearing one.