Stuff we dig

Stuck for gift ideas? Here’s what caught our eye this year.

| 08 Oct 2021 | 12:02

1. Beeswax Candles
Alysia Mazzella, 32, is a self-taught chandler who sources all her beeswax from independent apiaries in New York State. Her collection includes a pillar candle that showcases high-spirited putti – chubby, angelic babies – picking fruit, playing music, harvesting fruit with innocent joy. “Just the simple things in life. You know, we work hard, get stressed out,” said Mazzella, who makes her candles from her home in Newburgh. “This is a moment for mirth – for joy and happiness and what we work hard to enjoy.” The candles are pure beeswax, with no fragrances but the delightful, subtly honeyed aroma of beeswax.

Most candles, even handmade ones, come from standard molds. Not this one. Mazzella made this custom mold by pouring liquid silicon over an embossed antique bowl she found at a thrift shop. The candle burns 40 hours and comes in a reusable tin. “The bottom line is I just like functional candles – something that’s going to burn, you’re not going to have a lot of leftover wax. It fulfils its purpose: to give light.”

The Black woman-owned business is going into its fifth year, and Mazzella – a brand new mom – has recently begun to teach the ancient art of beeswax candle making to online subscribers. Beeswax, she explained, is more finicky than alternative waxes like soy and paraffin. “If you get one dink in it, if you get a hole, it’s harder to melt,” said Mazzella. “I think I’ll be learning forever.”

Mirth pillar candle $34

2. Lark Adventurewear
Athleisure isn’t just for grown-ups anymore. These buttery soft bamboo basics are lightweight yet super durable, standing up to relentless adventuring day in and day out. The proprietary fabric is soft and stretchy enough to sleep in – and tag-free to boot. The only trouble is getting the kids to take them off long enough to wash them. The all-female-run company was founded in 2017 by mom Pallavi Golla, who couldn’t find activewear that kept her baby cool and dry like her own gear did. The eco-friendly line – independently certified to be free of harmful chemicals that typically sneak into clothing production – includes infant footy pajamas and women’s joggers and tees.

Leggings $22

3. Tee-owel
Maybe you already know about “plopping,” the trick of wrapping wet hair in a t-shirt instead of a towel to reduce breakage and frizz. It’s a game changer, especially for the curly-headed. But when the shirt you’ve got handy is a tank or a long-sleeve, it can get awkward. Enter the Tee-owel, an organic cotton, slightly stretchy wrap made by a Newburgh-based, Black woman-owned business. It feels like a gentle hug and stays firmly in place, locking in moisture while your hair dries, leaving you free to pour your coffee and do your morning thing.


4. Stasher Bags
These endlessly reusable silicon bags can go everywhere: backpack, pantry, refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, microwave, even the oven. Food-safe to the strictest European standards, they come in fun colors and a range of sizes from pocket-sized pouches for a handful of nuts to half-gallon sacks for meal-prepping to a new quart size for a sandwich with all the fixin’s. Textile industry veteran Kat Nouri – whose family moved from Iran to California when she was 10 – designed the first Stasher bag after she’d had enough of packing her three kids’ lunches in single-use plastics. A portion of sales go to high impact nonprofits. The time has come to kiss Ziplocs goodbye forever.

Bags from $7.99; Starter kit 7-pack $92.99, CVS, Target, select health food stores

5. Twig Razor
Even if you avoid disposable razors like the plague, your shave routine is probably leaving behind a trail of plastic, embedded in a mix of materials that makes it hard if not impossible to recycle. But we humans have been shaving since long before plastic came along, strange as it seems now. Fortunately, the safety razor of yesteryear is making a comeback, with a modern twist. Newcomer Leaf Shave makes an elegantly ergonomic, compact Twig razor that unscrews to take a single metal blade. It’s the younger sibling to the company’s signature, triple-blade Leaf razor, ideal for shaving larger areas like legs. Both razors feel like heirlooms in your hand; we were won over by the Twig’s simplicity and travel-friendly size. Unlike a disposable head, the blades are recyclable, through the company or locally. Packaging and shipping is plastic-free, and the Connecticut-based company is carbon neutral and supports climate action nonprofits.

Twig razor $59; razor kit $85

6. Superfood Beauty Oil
Judith Beserra’s grandpa harvested wild watercress from the streams of California as he migrated from Mexico to the US in the early 1900’s. Her dad, following in the family line, became a watercress farmer. Judy, a watercress farmer herself, has taken the tradition a step further. Her watercress-based “superfood beauty oil” combines the nutrient-loaded brassica – which research shows promotes the production of collagen – with natural powerhouses like hemp oil and royal jelly to create an ultra-light, deeply moisturizing skin food. The petite dropper bottle would fit in the toe of a stocking, but one ounce goes a long way. Apply a few drops when you need a boost – to your glow or your state of mind.

$48 for 1-ounce bottle

7. Oyster Mushroom Grow Kit
Instant gratification is not typically found in the garden, but mushrooms are a kingdom unto themselves. Simply cut open the bag, spray twice a day, and watch as gourmet oyster mushrooms bubble up in days, doubling in size daily until they’re ready to become dinner. The project doesn’t take up valuable sunny window space, as the mushrooms are happiest in indirect sun. The kits are USA-made by Alan Martinez, the son of a lifelong mushroom farmer. Choose from pink, brown or white oysters (pink is Alan’s favorite). The kit is guaranteed to grow or your money back and lasts months unopened.


8. PATCH Strips
These 100% organic, compostable bamboo strips are a no-brainer swap for plastic Band-Aids that don’t degrade and can irritate sensitive skin. Not only do they come in a cute panda design, but PATCH bandages are upending the unsustainable cycle of the pharma market. Australian founder James Dutton went to work on an alternative after noticing that his son’s skin reacted to typical bandages with redness and swelling. Choose from the basic variety or strips infused with nature’s healers aloe vera, charcoal or coconut oil.

$6.99 for 25 strips or your local drugstore

9. Ash Hopper Handcrafted Soap
Thena Donnelly, 38, started making her own skincare products a decade ago out of desperation. She’d been suffering from an extreme, full-body bout of eczema that left her feeling lizard-like and required topical steroids. She did not want to be dependent on that kind of stuff all her life. From a cream, she moved onto a pine tar soap. “It’s a crazy soap, really smoky,” said Thena. The pitch-black bar worked so well to calm down her eczema that Thena got hooked on the craft.

She and her husband, Matt Donnelly, 37, continued making soap on the side of their day jobs – Thena owned a salon in Goshen and Matt was an MRI tech at a hospital. Then the pandemic hit, stirring things up in terms of daycare, workload and priorities. The couple was financially comfortable, but had long dreamed of building their hobby into a family business, something excellent that their three-year-old son could one day say, “Look at Mom and Dad, look at what they built. You should always bet on yourself,” as Matt put it. “You can make that bold leap.”

Now they’re fledgling entrepreneurs, staying up until two or three in the morning making soap, then getting out early-morning to farmers markets. Their best-seller is still the pine tar bar, but they also make soap out of, well, just about everything. They have a couple bars that incorporate Goshen farmer Dan Madura’s turmeric, ginger and carrots; they’ve done limited runs using Poughkeepsie-based Laughing Gut Kombucha. They’ve collaborated with a local hemp farmer on their CBD-patchouli blend; local coffee roasters Valkyrie in Chester and Trax in Beacon. “We reach out to almost every vendor we find that’s doing something interesting,” said Matt. They’ve even turned the hops from the vines in their backyard into a shampoo bar.

“You should be able to pick up 90% of the things you need to get by at the farmer’s market,” Matt believes. “We’re passionate about growing our local economy, too. If we grow bigger, we can help support local more.” And now, he joked, “We’ve got a little soap box.”

$9 for 5.5-oz bar