Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Regular Springwise readers may recall The Thing, the unconventional magazine we covered back in 2007 in which each issue is literally a different work of art. Operating on much the same premise, California-based Alula offers a yearly subscription service that buys quarterly pieces of limited-edition textile art. Launched this summer with support from Southern Exposure, Alula Editions has already sent out its first work of art, which was a handkerchief and reversible tie created by artist Jason Jägel. Hand silkscreening and sewing were done by Alula Editions in the Bay Area using sustainable fabrics and water-based inks. Alula’s Fall edition will feature a creation from the Headlands Center for the Arts, while Allison Smith and Sara Magenheimer are slated for its Winter and Spring 2011 editions, respectively. All pieces are signed and numbered; pricing for a yearly subscription is USD 200. Curated subscription models are becoming increasingly common, for everything from luxury women’s panties to handmade greeting cards, but curation’s appeal is particularly strong for products like art, where consumers will likely value expert guidance even more. Artists, of course, gain from the increased exposure and revenue. Let all those in the art world take note! 😉 (Related: High-end beauty samples by curated subscriptionSustainable baked goods by weekly subscriptionHandpicked shoes by monthly subscription.) Spotted by: NOTCOT Major brands have a long history of promoting social causes, such as Method’s partnership with Goodwill to facilitate clothing donations. Kraft, however, recently launched an effort that taps multiple brands and multiple social media to involve consumers in fighting hunger. In what Kraft says is its largest multi-brand initiative to date, the company’s Huddle for Hunger program aims to “leverage America’s love for football, food and helping others, by huddling resources, voices and communities around the issue of hunger,” in the company’s own words. Specifically, Kraft has enlisted high-profile partners and personalities like Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana, sports journalist Erin Andrews and celebrity chefs Patrick and Gina Neely to champion the cause. It’s also launched the first-ever Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. And using the power of social media, it’s inviting consumers to help it give away 20 million meals. Consumers can help by redeeming coupons, “liking” Kraft Foods on Facebook, uploading photos, watching YouTube videos and sending tweets on Twitter, among other online activities, each of which results in the donation of at least one meal. Online maps reveal state-by-state progress. The program, which runs through Jan. 9, will donate a maximum of four million meals through digital and social media. Additional meal-donation initiatives are under way at Kraft brands including Oreo, Ritz, Kraft Cheese and Maxwell House. With 49 million Americans — including 16.7 million children — affected by hunger, it’s hard to imagine a better cause to support. What is *your* brand doing to involve the Generation G masses in changing the world…? Spotted by: Jim Stewart It’s a testament to the ubiquity of niche software that hand-held calculators are now a rarity in the enterprise and scientific worlds. They’re still used in college classes, however, which is why Canadian Renac has been able to build a business on renting them out to students. Rather than buy a graphic or financial calculator for use in just one or two classes, students can save more than 70 percent of the devices’ retail price by renting one instead, Renac says. Six calculators are available on the Renac site, with prices beginning at CAD 1.25 per month for a BA II Plus financial device, for example. Monthly, semester, 10-month, 12-month and two-year plans are available, with lower rates for longer rental periods. When the student is done with the rented calculator, he or she simply puts it in a prepaid return envelope and mails it back to Renac. Launched last month, Renac currently serves transumers on Canadian campuses. Who will bring something like this to the rest of the ownership-averse world…? (Related: Green car-sharing by the hour at Hawaii hotelsToy rental service targets businesses with waiting roomsRental service for kids’ video gamesDesigner dresses for rent (back-up size included)Clothing rental for size-changing dieters.) Spotted by: Heather Buist Nonprofits can always use extra manpower, but it’s often professional skills that they need most. Catchafire is a site that aims to improve the quality of the matches between professionals and the nonprofits that need their help. Now in beta, New York City-based Catchafire is similar in some ways to The Extraordinaries, which we covered this summer. The certified B-corporation begins by matching professionals who want to volunteer with nonprofits and social enterprises that need their skills. Matching is done on a variety of characteristics including skills, cause interests and time availability. By design, Catchafire projects each require 50 hours or less of flexible volunteer time to complete over less than three months; they are discrete, each with a clearly defined deliverable; and they are individual, or designed to be completed by one skilled professional rather than a team. Tasks involved typically include marketing, PR, design, social media, strategy and finance. The matching service is free for volunteers; nonprofits and social enterprises, meanwhile, are charged less than 5 percent of the cost that they would normally pay for the professional skills they gain, Catchafire says. The organization also helps corporations offer skills-based volunteer opportunities to their employees. Since the soft launch of Catchafire in May, it has matched more than 70 organizations with professionals who have volunteered more than 3,000 hours to provide over USD 500,000 in services. Currently, however, the company serves only organizations in the Greater New York City area. One to partner with or emulate to boost volunteership in your part of the world…? Spotted by: Margarita Barry We’ve been watching Belgian Dinner in the Sky for years as it’s expanded to offer live entertainment, weddings and other special events. The company has now hosted more than 1,000 events 50 meters above cities in 40 countries around the world, but we couldn’t resist sharing news that just last week it launched a brand-new platform. Whereas participants in the original Dinner in the Sky events all sat around a central table capable of accommodating 22 people in roller coaster-style seats, the new generation of Dinner in the Sky is designed more like a real restaurant. Specifically, there are eight lighted tables for four situated around a central bar, and the seats are more like those on an airplane. The new platform’s flexible configuration enables not just greater intimacy, but also more customisation. The company explains: “This new platform lets you share a dinner or a glass of G.H. Mumm champagne with friends while listening to the sounds of Ghanaian drummers; arrange a match of bridge or poker; sip Chivas while enjoying a fine Havana cigar; play a round of baccarat while being entertained by French cancan dancers; participate in a quiz or a talk show broadcast live from the stars; attend a DJ jam session … all from an altitude of 50 meters.” Is there any sign that the experience economy is fading away? Nope. The sky’s the limit — or not! 😉 (Related: Yellow Treehouse: pop-up restaurant, 10m up a tree.) Much the way UK retailer Marks & Spencer has been working with Oxfam to reward consumers for recycling their gently used clothes, so the New Zealand Red Cross recently launched a like-minded effort in partnership with clothing retailer Country Road. Typically, only a very small proportion of donated clothes are of high enough quality to be resold through the New Zealand Red Cross’s 38 stores, the relief organization says. Aiming in part to remedy that problem, the new “Fashion Trade” effort is designed to encourage donation of better clothing. So, as of July, New Zealand consumers who include at least one pre-loved Country Road item in a donation of clothing or accessories to a participating Red Cross shop will receive a NZD 10 voucher for use towards their next purchase of NZD 50 or more at Country Road stores. The donated clothing and accessories are sold by Red Cross shops to support the organization’s relief work, including its Breakfast in Schools program for school kids who would otherwise go without. Red Cross and Country Road in Australia also participate in the Fashion Trade program. With benefits for consumers, the organizations involved and the environment — since presumably fewer items of clothing will end up in landfills — the Fashion Trade effort promises the kind of win-win-win we all seek. Fashion retailers and nonprofits: when will *your* recycling effort launch…? (Related: Method’s mobile laundry truck facilitates clothing donationsRetailer recycles customers’ old sex toysIncentive-based recycling.) Spotted by: Paul Scoringe It’s been a few years since we covered Kidfresh, the New York store that sells organic and natural prepared foods for kids. Just recently we got word, however, that Kidfresh has now begun selling frozen versions of its kids’ meals in US supermarkets. For kids who object to veggies, the meals contain ‘hidden’ vegetables that are puréed and, as Kidfresh puts it, snuck in. Currently available in Northeastern US retailers, Kidfresh frozen meals are coming soon to supermarkets nationwide. The company’s healthful selections — including 100 percent natural macaroni and cheese or pasta with meatballs — are rich in vegetables but include no artificial additives, flavors, colors, preservatives, trans fats or high fructose corn syrup. Even the company’s packaging meets the highest safety standards, with no BPA, phthalates or other potentially harmful chemicals. A store locator is available to help parents find the nearest retailer. Pricing is USD 3.99 or less in most stores, Kidfresh says. With childhood obesity a persistent problem and the school year under way, it seems a pretty safe bet parents will be looking for convenient but healthy options. Grocers around the globe: one to add to your healthful line…? (Related: Fresh and frozen gourmet baby foodTasting bar for babiesSwedish hotels serve healthy meals for kids, courtesy of Jamie OliverHappy healthy meals.) We’ve already seen jewelry made from both reclaimed and sustainably mined materials. Guided by a similarly eco-minded philosophy, Los Angeles-based (and Florence-born) WeWood crafts wooden watches and plants a new tree for every watch it sells. WeWood timepieces offer Miyota movements in a variety of designs that are completely devoid of artificial and toxic materials, the company says. Several wood varieties are used in WeWood’s watches, including Maple, Ebony and Guaiaco, a tree native to South America. A fourth type — called Red Wing Celtis — is typically used for flooring, and WeWood draws its supply from the industrial waste that would otherwise result. Perhaps best of all is that — much like Vermont’s Naked Table workshops — WeWood plants a new tree for every watch sold thanks to a partnership with American Forests and Global Releaf. Each WeWood watch is priced at USD 119. With their focus on sustainability and the use of story-laden reclaimed materials, WeWood’s watches offer a new eco-iconic time-telling option for green-minded consumers. Eco-minded retailers around the globe: this one’s for you!(Related: Furniture with a story, crafted from salvaged sailing dhowsEco-friendly gift cards & hotel key cardsBoxes made of cardboard laden with seeds.) Spotted by: Jasmine We’ve seen crowdsourcing applied to graphic design, publishing and car development, to name just a few, but typically such efforts are wide open as to the crowd members who can be involved. Edge Amsterdam, on the other hand, bills itself as “elite sourcing,” whereby an invitation-only scheme determines who can be part of the contributing crowds. Now in beta, Edge is “an international offline and online platform that works with the best international young creative talent and brands to develop product and brand innovations,” in the site’s own words. To make that possible, the company recruits select young talent by invitation only via art schools and other connections to help create product and brand innovations. Experienced creative professionals in the Edge network ensure quality output through guidance and coaching; assignments can be related to marketing communications, where output is used directly, or innovation and trend concepts, where output can be used for further development. Recent assignments have come from the investment funds industry, PICNIC (Holland’s largest creative/tech conference) and surf and lifestyle brand O’Neill. If clients’ greatest risk in employing a crowdsourcing strategy is the potential lack of high-quality results, limiting the pool of contributors to those with known capabilities seems like the logical next step. What other crowdsourcing efforts might benefit from a little externally imposed quality control…? Fashion is all about the new, so it’s no surprise the clothing industry is a hotbed of innovation, as can be seen from the new ideas in our Fashion & Beauty database. And the fashionistas are no slouches when it comes to making use of new technology. Here are five examples of what happens when geek meets chic: 1. FITS.ME — Many consumers are discouraged from shopping for clothes online because they can’t try before they buy. And those consumers who do take the plunge will often pick the wrong fit—meaning online clothes retailers suffer a high rate of returns. The techies at Estonian startup believe they have the solution in the form of a shape-shifting robotic mannequin that replicates thousands of different body shapes. On clothes retail sites that feature a “virtual fitting room”, consumers follow an interactive guide to enter their personal dimensions. They’re then shown how the shirt they’re dreaming of would really look on a body just like theirs. 2. LEVI’S CURVE ID — In another use of technology to get just the right fit, jeans maker Levi’s has teamed up with Korea’s i-Fashion Technology Center to promote Levi’s new Curve ID line, which are made in three fits inspired by research into body shape, rather than just size. At a pop-up store in Seoul (pictures here), customers were given a free 3D body scan and a report about their body shape, with—of course—recommendations for which Curve ID fit would suit them best. The measurements were then used to create an onscreen avatar of the shopper, which could quickly and conveniently model combinations of clothes on sale in the store. 3. DIESEL CAM — In-store tech initiatives can even feature real people wearing real clothes. Diesel stores in Spain are introducing touchscreen workstations in dressing rooms that let customers take (Diesel-branded) photos of themselves and instantly upload them to Facebook. It means the wearers can get real-time feedback and comments about their outfit from friends. Or just show off. 4. FITS — Fits is an iPhone app that’s ostensibly designed to help people buy the right size bras for their girlfriends, but it’s likely to appeal also to a somewhat less romantic crowd. With a frontal photo (or better still, a frontal and profile) of the lucky lady, the user manipulates a silhouette to match her outline, manoeuvres a sample bra image into the correct position, and finally keys in her height. The app will now estimate the subject’s bra measurements. 5. IFROCKUP — Another fashion-related iPhone app, iFrockUp lets people get input from friends when deciding on the right look for a big event such as a ball or prom. Users set a deadline and upload pictures and details about possible dresses, shoes, hairstyles and accessories. The information can be shared on Facebook and Twitter, allowing contacts to vote on each item and help identify the perfect outfit. Spotted by John Greene, Natalie Lee, Maria Dahl Jørgensen, Nitzan, and Mandy Stevens