2021 Gift Guide
Whether reinventing a room with a bright, textural art quilt or nudging a friend toward a personal style upgrade with a raw emerald ring, this year’s gift guide goes bold.
Forget what you thought you knew about gift-giving. If you’re reaching for a scented candle or a bestseller, just back away. This year’s list has nine ways to gift better than ever—from hiking to visit mountain gorillas in Rwanda to sampling artisan wines from Bolivia.
// By Caite Hamilton
Cindy Grisdela Art Quilts
These days, Cindy Grisdela, MBA ’85, may be recognized in the quilting world for art quilts that display an almost fearless use of color, but it wasn’t always that way. “I made a lot of blue quilts,” she says, “before I felt ready to break out of my comfort zone and explore other color palettes.”
The artist learned to sew when she was 10 years old, making clothes for herself and as gifts into young adulthood, until, while as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary, she picked up a magazine article on quilting and began using the craft as a creative outlet. It was at William and Mary, too, that she discovered the artists—like Henri Matisse, Morris Louis, Paul Klee, Helen Frankenthaler—who would eventually influence her signature style. “Studying modern painters showed me the way,” she says.
At first, Grisdela created traditional pieces to be used, making bed quilts, baby quilts and lap quilts. But over time, she says, “it became important to me to create work that reflected my personal artistic aesthetic.” She turned her focus toward contemporary art quilts, meant to add warmth and texture to the wall in the way a painting or photograph might.
Her work is bold. Unpredictable color palettes combine with improvised composition. That is, when she starts a quilt, she’s never quite sure where it will end up.
“Typically I start with a color palette I want to explore and a few self-directed guidelines to give structure to my project,” she says. “Through this process, I usually come up with a more interesting design that I might have if I had decided ahead of time what the quilt would look like.”
The fiber artist sells her quilts, as well as books she’s published on the topic, on her website, cindygrisdela.com, and at fine art and craft shows nationwide. And she accepts commissions.
But what of all the blue quilts? Her recent works don’t play favorites when it comes to color. Although, she says, “I do love to add lime green and purple any chance I get.”
Tealye Long, BA ’15, hated chardonnay. Until, that is, she tasted the 1750 Chardonnayin Samaipata, Bolivia. A lesser-known wine region (for now, at least), Bolivia’s vineyards are situated anywhere from 5,200 to 7,900 feet above sea level—a claim no other country can make, but one that amounts to an alluvial (read: slate, sandstone, limestone and clay) terroir and a healthier, antioxidant-rich grape.
When Long tasted the 1750 Chardonnay, she was tasting the work of Maria Eldy, the winemaker at the Vinos 1750 winery. Ironically, Vinos 1750 was co-founded by GW alumnus Francisco Roig, BA ’97, from Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Roig married a French woman who inspired his love of wine.
Long had traveled there to help with harvest and learn more about the winemaking process as part of her work with Chufly, an online wine shop and club. What she got was more than just a memorable sip.
“Maria Eldy is one of the most inspiring women I know, and her love for the environment is contagious,” says Long, who is a partner and investor in Chufly. “She taught me how making clean, natural wines challenges our current big market norms and revealed the potential for undiscovered regions.”
That’s the point of Chufly, to connect consumers to high-quality, small-quantity wines in unknown areas. The company—named for Bolivia’s national cocktail—currently focuses on up-and-comer Bolivia but plans to expand to other countries soon.
“Wine has the power to transform entire communities, maybe even an entire country,” says Long. "We believe that wine is magic. It has the ability to transport. One sip can take you to a faraway land while making the world a better place."
Also important to the business is amplifying the voices of women and Indigenous winemakers, and challenging the lack of diversity in an industry controlled almost entirely by five major companies.
“It didn't take long for me to take note of the lack of diversity within those five companies, even in terms of gender,” Long says. “Every time I'm in Bolivia and witnessing our producers growing and experiencing success alongside them is thrilling.”
At chufly.com, you can find featured wines like bestsellers 1750 Tannat and Aranjuez Tannat, bold, smooth reds that master sommelier Ian Cauble described as “the 300-pound pro footballer who works on his agility by taking ballet.”
For most of us, projects we were assigned in high school were completed in haste and then forgotten. But Brett Guterman, BS ’22, is an overachiever.
As a senior at the Bullis School in Potomac, Md., he participated in an entrepreneurship capstone program and, along with five of his peers, created a diaper bag that converted into a portable bed for a baby to use as a makeshift crib on the go. But, as it turned out, sleeping on the go wasn’t as much of an issue as the team had originally thought.
Diapering on the go, however, presented parents with many challenges.
“We came up with a portable diaper bag that folds open to form a contiguous changing pad so parents can change their baby anytime, anywhere,” Guterman says.
The team won the school’s Shark Tank-style competition and used the pre-seed money to manufacture a first small run of bags and apply for a utility patent. But after going off to college, most of his teammates lost interest in pursuing the company—so Guterman bought them out.
As CEO of OTGbaby, he made two big moves: He hired his mom, seasoned entrepreneur Barbara Guterman, as president and COO, and worked toward mass-producing the bags with updated feedback from consumers in mind. Meanwhile, they built up an audience, creating giveaways, reaching out to influencers and launching a Kickstarter campaign that only took one week to achieve full funding.
What’s so special about the bag? According to Guterman, its main feature: the patented changing pad. Larger (36 inches long) and more padded (2 inch thick) than other portable changing pads on the market, the OTG (“on the go”) bag looks like a typical backpack on the outside but unzips into a water-repellant, wipe-clean pad. The bag, which can be found on otgbaby.com and on Amazon, also has seven pockets of storage for diapers, baby wipes or bottles, including a sleeve for a laptop or blanket.
“The Go Bag truly functions as an all-in-one device that puts parents in control of diaper-changing anytime, anywhere,” says Guterman.
The company’s utility patent was granted in July 2020—a moment Guterman had been waiting for since 2018. “It was an incredible moment for me to see something that we started in high school truly come to life,” he says.
Use code ONTHEGO25 for 25 percent off your purchase
It was a cold and damp February night in Copenhagen. There was no menu outside Sankt Annae, a small restaurant Patrick Karsu, MBA ’16, and his partner Firat Karsu, MBA ’16, had stumbled upon, so they stepped inside asking to see one. The chef said she was preparing chicken, so chicken they ate.
“The overall feeling was that we were sharing a meal in someone’s home. Not a fancy meal, but something someone had put together just for us,” Patrick Karsu says. “There was a small assortment of tables and everything was super local, from the pâté to the beer that was brewed in a farmhouse down the street.”
It’s this feeling—the way food (and food memories) can transport you, connect you to a person or a place—that Karsu aims to recreate with Et Oliva, a spices and provisions company that delivers the tools to create a special moment around the table.
“We have traveled the Mediterranean visiting family and friends and everywhere we go, food is important,” Karsu writes on his website. “It is important in communities and it is important in sharing each other's stories and histories.”
Karsu’s own story is varied: From his background in fine art and a culinary degree, to an MBA and, later, an internship with the World Wildlife Fund analyzing food waste in major hotel brands, the entrepreneur always knew he wanted to start his own business. It wasn’t until the pandemic, however, isolated from friends and family and absent a time-consuming commute, that he felt free to brainstorm.
What blossomed was Et Oliva, a collection of hand-crafted spice blends (like the Aegean with fennel, thyme, oregano, cumin, coriander and sweet paprika) and provisions (like bestseller olive tapenade, which Karsu likes because of its delicacy—“It is not just a big smack of briny olive flavors,” he says).
“We want to transport our customers to the sun-dappled shores of the Aegean through every bite, so they can enjoy what makes these places so unique and special,” says Karsu, who is also working with Washington, D.C., food business accelerator Union Kitchen to promote the Et Oliva brand.
Find the products at etoliva.com, along with recipes—from hamsi to circassian chicken—to let them shine on your own table.
Use code 20FORME for 20 percent off your first purchase.
On her 10th birthday, after opening the rest of her presents, Cheryl Gossman, BS ’83, MHA ’86, received a special package from her mother.
“I thought I was done getting gifts,” she says. “Then my mom brought out a paper bag that moved.” Inside was a kitten named Heidi, who would turn out to be Gossman’s companion and confidante for the next 14 years. “Heidi brought me so much joy and happiness.”
Gossman’s mother, Marilyn Henry, had a knack for making people feel special. She worked for nearly 20 years in GW's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and, as Gossman tells it, would make others feel cherished “through kindness, empathy and encouragement.” It was this quality that Gossman, herself a health care administrator, wanted to honor after her mother passed away from cancer. She launched Marilyn’s Gift with the help of two college friends, Maggie Bergin, BA ’82, and Laura McIntosh Simmons, BA ’86. Together, the three women aim to make it easy to send something special to help someone feel special, with themed boxes for each season or occasion.
Here’s how it works: Gossman hand-selects each item—socks, hand lotion or even puzzles, for example—for the boxes, ranging from the Soothe Box (for those who need to de-stress) to the Happy Birthday box (filled with treats, a banner and a birthday hat). Each box, sold at marilyns.gift, contains four to six items, plus a personalized note from the sender. “We don’t put anything in the box that we wouldn’t send ourselves,” Gossman says.
She notes that the seasonal subscription boxes—sent quarterly—are a bestseller, customized to convey a theme. The Serenity box, for example, was filled with lavender-based items, to promote calm and relaxation. But the company will customize boxes, too, to include special products tailored to the recipient.
“We really do believe in making the people who get the box feel loved, cherished and cared for,” she says.
These days, that’s more important than ever.
“Loneliness has been such a huge health concern and has increased during COVID,” Gossman says. “It has been especially impactful for those older individuals who can become easily isolated. We wanted to make it easy to send something out that lets the person know they are not forgotten. It’s about keeping those connections strong,” Gossman says. That truly was Marilyn’s gift.
For 15 percent off a one-year subscription or a one-time box, use code GW2021. The price of the boxes includes free shipping.
It was a raw emerald ring—a brilliantly green, craggy gemstone fused to gold and brass atop a base of cow’s horn—that let Gabriela Guaracao, MA ’16, know her company had traction. Even before she officially launched accessories and fashion brand Americae, the designer would wear the prototype and it never failed to attract plenty of positive attention.
“Whether the compliments were coming from a more preppy, classically styled woman or a female interested in a more folksy or bohemian touch,” Guaracao says, “it was such a signal of its potential.”
The ring has become somewhat of an emblem for the company—raw emeralds feature prominently in the heritage of Guaracao’s native Colombia—and she gives them partial credit for inspiring her to launch her business.
But it was also the early part of her career, spent in newsrooms, that inspired a pivot. Hoping to “tell a new story through the lens of e-commerce, experiential retail and exciting fabrics and materials,” she launched Americae in 2018.
“My career and education has been a trail of characteristics that I've woven together to found a company that requires business expertise, international trade literacy, socio-political know-how and a creative design focus,” she says.
Americae tells its story through magical realism. Its driving ethos, #realityisextraordinary, is a rally cry, as Guaracao puts it, to pursue your own version of extraordinary right now. “It’s a call to use your imagination to find the magic in the everyday,” she says.
And the products reflect that. Like the raw emerald ring, the collection, sold at americae.com, is entirely fantastic, pushing the boundaries of color and texture. Current bestsellers include a classic T-shirt in the company’s signature chartreuse and the Ellipse Bucket Bag, a small oval handbag inspired by gothic architecture. Guaracao recalls a “pinch me” moment when one of the company’s suits (also in its signature chartreuse) appeared on “The TODAY Show”. Other products have been featured everywhere from Men’s Health to Town & Country magazines.
Guaracao designs each of the pieces herself, and works exclusively with female artisans and manufacturers in New York City and Colombia to hand-craft them. In the end, Americae is about empowerment.
“Our ready-to-wear, jewelry, handbags and retail activations reflects what moves us: color, inventive thinking, vibrancy and celebrating the extraordinariness of every woman,” says Guaracao.
Use code GWxAMERICAE for 20 percent off at americae.com.
In elementary school, Christine Schmidt, who earned a BFA from the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design in 2001, won a coloring contest filling in a picture of a fruit cart for the local grocery store. Her prize? A “beautiful but useless” fire-engine red racing bike—for an adult male. It wasn’t much of a trophy (for a 7-year-old, anyway), but, as she puts it, “Really I was just fortunate to have a mother who was an art teacher who always supported my creative efforts.”
So when Schmidt found a small hand-crank press on Craigslist, she quickly started putting it to use. While working as a cake decorator and personal assistant, she crafted a small batch of greeting cards and dropped them off at local stores. Soon the stores were placing orders for more, and more still. Eventually Schmidt needed to hire a team, and Yellow Owl Workshop was born.
She’s spent the past 14 years growing her San Francisco-based company and honing her aesthetic. It’s bright, fun and often a little cheeky (see: the company’s risograph cards, like one that says “So ducking grateful for you” overtop a baby duck), but it’s not exactly what she envisioned. In fact, she didn’t envision anything at all.
“I’m not much of a planner or even a dreamer, really,” she says. “I came into running and owning my own creative business really slowly and organically, and right now I’m pretty pleased with it because I get to explore lots of different production processes.”
Yellow Owl’s line, sold at yellowowlworkshop.com and in stores across the world, runs the gamut—you’ll find socks printed with hot sauce next to award ribbons for things like “Somebody likes me enough to not just text” or “So extra.” And there’s a DIY component: Learn how to carve a stamp or create lapel pins with the company’s crafting kits. (Also on the site are Schmidt’s how-to books—she’s written three—for at-home art work.) It’s a diverse and energetic product line, owing much to Schmidt’s curious and creative mind.
“My jam is jumping into new products, to learn something new,” she says. “Each season I like to try on a different style or mode of making. I just aim to have the most unique and colorful things that I want myself.”
Use code GWMAG for 20 percent off your next purchase.
She was working in Ethiopia for the Frankfurt Zoological Society when Eliza Richman, who earned a professional certificate in sustainable tourism destination management from GW in 2017, had a great idea: She had been afforded a lot of exposure to local food and attractions thanks to her job writing guidebooks and developing website content. Why not set up a tour company?
“My partner and I had done a food tour in Europe and thought it would be a hit in Ethiopia because the food is so fantastic,” she says. With her co-founder Xavier Curtis, Richman launched Go Addis Tours in January 2013 with food tours in Addis Ababa, then began offering curated trips throughout Ethiopia. In 2016, they expanded again, moving to Rwanda and opening a second branch of the company, Go Kigali Tours.
How does it work? The team includes locals and experts in their fields—a.k.a. folks who know the area—who can provide guests with an authentic experience exploring the area, food and culture of the city. In Addis Ababa, for example, food guides take clients to five stops: three different restaurants (a vegetarian restaurant, a fish restaurant and a meat restaurant), a coffee house and a juice house.
“The tours are not just about great food but use cuisine as a lens to explore and learn about the culture of Ethiopia in just four hours,” she says. And for those who have a little more time to kill in either Addis or Kigali, the company also offers city tours, market tours, day trips, and private custom tours, from a whirlwind helicopter ride to two weeks visiting every corner of Rwanda. Richman’s personal favorite, a 10-night trip that starts in Kigali and ends in Kampala, Uganda, includes a hike to visit with critically endangered mountain gorillas.
In the eight years since it launched, the company’s built a positive reputation, earning a spot in the TripAdvisor Hall of Fame and more than 700 five-star reviews between Go Addis and Go Kigali. They even worked with the late Anthony Bourdain, helping to plan a few of the restaurant stops for the Ethiopia episode of Parts Unknown (a career highlight, if you ask Richman).
Lisa Friedman Clark and her twin sons, Daniel and Mike Friedman, always knew it would be a tall order to repay the kindness they received following the death of their family’s patriarch, Andrew Friedman, BA ’79. After he died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, “it was overwhelming how much people in the community helped us,” Clark says.
Still, they knew they had to try to pay it forward. In his 44 years, Friedman had built a legacy of kindness and generosity, coaching his kids’ sports teams and encouraging them to give part of their allowance to charity.
“When crisis strikes it’s so important to be outwardly instead of inwardly focused,” Clark says. “If you channel your energy toward helping other people rather than ruminating in your own grief, it just feels better.”
After graduating from college, the twins entered the corporate world, Dan at Bloomberg Financial and Mike in commercial lending. But in 2015, they both returned home wishing they were able to do something different. Something more. They thought back to the weeks after the Twin Towers fell, when their mother took them into the city to deliver socks to the first responders.
“‘Not everybody has gone through the trauma we've gone through,’” Clark recalls her sons saying. “‘And we feel like we want to do something that has more of a social impact.’ And that's kind of how Tall Order was born.”
The company specializes in socks for men of all sizes, from regular to XXL. At 6’9” and 6’11”, Dan and Mike had experienced firsthand how difficult it could be to find socks for larger feet, and they knew there was a hole in the market. Their line, sold at tallorder.com, includes everything from low-cut ankle socks to extra-cushioned dress socks with patterns ranging from soccer balls to martinis. And they name a lot of them after Andrew’s closest friends who he met in Thurston Hall freshman year—the David features golf balls and tees, the Scott features the American flag. They will also be introducing briefs and tees soon.
With orders from FedEx, the PGA and Hilton Hotels inked, Clark knows they’ve hit on something big. But, still, it’s important to her and her sons that they give back even bigger. Ten percent of their profits are given to Tuesday’s Children, a nonprofit that provides support for families impacted by terrorism, mass violence or military conflict. And the company donates money to support other causes, from the Aaron Judge All Rise Foundation to the American Kidney Fund.
“We give money to everybody,” Clark says. “We haven’t made very much yet, but that’s OK. We’re doing the right thing.”
Use code GWUSIGNUP to buy one pair of socks and get another free.