Friday, December 07, 2007

shoppingsmycardio interviews:'s genius gift-givers

from the first time i stumbled onto violet, it has become my number one go-to for unique gift ideas. so, when founders bonnie cohen and amy barnett offered to chat with us about their best gifting tips and tricks, i jumped at the chance! with the calendar counting down to the 25th a little too quickly for my taste this year, i think you'll find the ideas from these fabulous ladies inspiring, and maybe even a little bit life-saving.

shoppingsmycardio: I adore violet – it’s genius! How did the idea come together? And how did the two of you come together?

Bonnie & Amy: We’ve known each other for many years. When we first met, we discovered that we owned a lot of identical stuff. So right off the bat, we admired each other’s style!

Bonnie has a background in Merchandising and Visual Design and Amy is an Electrical Engineer, so for us, the Web is a natural venue.

SMC: You have such a knack for finding gift ideas that really are off the beaten path. How do you come up with the items on your site? Are you sent ideas, or do you spend your days out shopping for great additions to the site? (and if so, how do I sign up for that gig!?)

Bonnie: I am constantly on the lookout for merchandise, and I source product everywhere I go! There’s lots of amazing stuff out there, but for Violet, I focus on the question, “What makes a great gift?”. Then I try to find things that are really fresh or totally timeless.

SMC: What is your absolute favorite item on the site right now?

Bonnie: I have a 3-way tie for favorite product: the American Honey Flight, the Retread Purse, and the Aviary Desk Set. The American Honey Flight has a gorgeous presentation, and producing it is a Labor of Love. The Retread Purse is “Eco-Couture” - constructed from tire inner tubes, it could be right at home in the front row during Fashion Week. The Aviary Desk Set harkens back to a time when manners and etiquette were revered. I’m a little nostalgic for that era; in this electronic era, I try to "reach out and touch" my friends with paper as much as I can.

SMC: Okay, I’m going to put you guys on the spot now – would you be willing to answer a few “what should I give this person” questions? Around the holidays, I’m always looking for a classic “works for everyone” gift – something to take to cocktail parties, give to clients, etc. It has to be classy and unique, but not too pricey...and I hate giving the standard bottle of wine. What ideas would you have for that?

B&A: the Who’s Wine-ing System. Solves the “Which glass is mine?” problem. Six color-coded tags slip onto glass stems; you can even write names on the tags (they wipe clean with a damp cloth). The tags are stored in a clever cube that fits on the neck of a wine bottle. For $14, it’s a great way to present a bottle of wine.

SMC: I think dads (and men in general) are the toughest to buy for. Either you buy for a hobby (hello, personalized golf tees), or you buy those super-boring traditional boy gifts: ties, cologne, or gadgets. What’s your best no-fail gift idea for men?

B&A: Men are definitely tough. These are our "field goals":
1) The Astronaut Pen. Invented for the Apollo 7 Space mission (engineering requirement: must defy gravity). It is a design classic. Sleek and techie.
2) The Dinobite Bottle Opener. This is equal parts beast and sculpture -- and it opens beer bottles. Genius.
3) The Fantasy Post-it System. Tear Post-It’s to fit any size thought. Also looks handsome and impressive on the desk.

SMC: What are your favorite websites/designers to check out for fabulous new ideas (other than your own, of course!)?

B&A: This is our hot list:
* Mahar Drygoods: Specialty kids merchandise, mainly vintage and artist-crafted.
* Rose and Radish: Unique, well-edited, themed collections. Lots of European designers.
* Charles and Marie: An interesting selection of off-the-grid, high-design products.
* Composition: Modern merchandise (and site design!).
* Papa Stour: Mostly hand crafted, contemporary products from Scotland. Beautiful things, and the photography is so evocative and dreamy.
And -- we Etsy-hunt like crazy! So many cool finds from independent designers all over the globe!

SMC: What is the worst gift you’ve ever received?

Amy: Art. Terrible gift. 99% chance it’s not your “thing”. Your friend expects it to be prominently displayed; you have to manage storing it until they visit.

SMC: And the best?

Bonnie: Probably my very fabulous Best of Flair book that Amy bought me for my birthday one year.

Amy: Thanks, Bonnie!

SMC: What one gift-buying secret do you wish you could teach everyone out there?

B&A: When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with something that’s consumable!
a huge, huge thanks to the ladies over at violet - i know they've given me loads of ideas for gifting to others, not to mention myself (that "best of flair" book is my next must-buy item!).