Graduation Gift Ideas



You’ve got a graduate in your family.   It’s always fun to see someone mature and move on to the next chapter of their life.   They’ve been fun times and hard times, but have been raised right and care about others, the environment, social justice, and are looking forward to making a difference with their life.   So what sort of a gift might they like?

Fear not.  A graduation gift from Alchemy Goods is not only unique and stylish, but is easy on the environment and made right here in the USA.  We get a lot of questions here at Alchemy Goods about what we’d recommend for graduation gifts.   Here are our top picks for gifts that will be faithful companions for your graduate’s next years:


Bags and Backpacks

Students are tough on gear.   Luckily, Alchemy Goods products are built to stand up to any punishment your student can dish out.   Our bags and backpacks look good while inner tube makes for a durable product that can be spilled on, thrown around, and keeps books and supplies dry on the way to class.   We’ve got options for everyone including the Brooklyn Backpack ($139), Madison Backpack ($129) Dravus Messenger Bag ($159), or Jefferson ($139).

franklin reflective redo


With maturity comes greater financial independence.   With financial independence comes a need to have somewhere to keep your cash.   To avoid a wad of bills, id, and cards getting lost in the laundry, give them a new wallet that will go the distance.   We recommend the stylish Franklin Reflective ($38).  Other options are the Jackson ($44) which is better suited for travelers as it is sized up to accommodate international currency, or the Bryant Money Clip ($24) for minimalists.



Give them confidence and style with the gift of a belt.   Their style will be on point with one of our reversible Delridge belts ($32).  Made from recycled webbing and a reclaimed bicycle inner tube, the military style buckle can be reversed to either wear the Delridge with the unique inner tube side out or to show off the colorful webbing.  Don’t forget to size the belt based on how your graduate wears their pants and how long of a tail they’d like.  Our sizing is based on body measurements from a traditional waist placement.  Size up if your graduate wears their pants lower on the hips or wants extra belt length.  Another option is our venerable Ballard Belt ($42).



elliott green top view


Whether traveling, studying abroad, moving into the dorms, or just moving to a new place, everyone needs a great way to keep their toiletries organized.   The Elliott Toiletry Kit is just that ($38).  Made from durable truck inner tube, the Elliott will stand up to many a trip down the hall to the bathroom.   It comes with a valve stem zipper pull and color matched zipper and lining.  The Elliott Mini ($32) is a smaller version for the minimalist that can also be used as a makeup kit or to organize other small items like chargers and computer cables.   We have several colors available to suit any personality.

What Makes a City Bikeshare Program Work? Could Seattle’s?

Given our dual passions of sustainability and cyclist culture, it makes sense that we’re curious about the rising trend of city bikeshares. It seems that even though they’re largely unprofitable–a word that’s a considerable understatement for cities like New York–they continue to capture the imaginations and infrastructures of more American cities every year. Between private and public bikeshares, there are nearly 100 programs in America, most of which are run by cities or universities, to varying degrees and definitions of success.

What is a Bikeshare?

Almost all city bikeshares follow the same model: bikes are publicly corralled in stations that are strategically placed in high-traffic urban areas. With the swipe of a card, you can pull out a bike from its dock and ride it to whatever station is nearest your destination. Most bikeshare rides are short, especially because many programs offer free rides for trips under 30 minutes. Typically, the program offers annual memberships to users for a fee anywhere between $35 and $150, and allows non-members (like tourists) to rent at a daily or hourly rate.

The Million-Dollar Bikeshare Question


The concept of bikeshares was popularized after Paris’ wildly-successful program Vélib’ launched in 2007. Not only did Vélib’ have 20 million users in the first year alone as well as resounding community support, but it’s also the most profitable bikeshare program in existence, earning Paris about $30 million in profits annually. The program itself was built and managed by the advertising agency JCDecaux in return for exclusive rights to half of Paris’ advertising billboards, an exchange that seems favorable to both the city and the agency.

And yet, even though Paris’ program was the mold from which most other bikeshares have been cast, its success is the exception, not the rule, and even corporate partnerships aren’t often able to keep a bikeshare afloat.

Barcelona’s Bicing, for example, was also launched in 2007 and runs at an annual deficit of around €12 million. London’s system lost $21 million in 2012 and is expected to cost more than 5 times the sponsorship revenues in the next two years. New York’s Citi Bike program–underwritten by CitiBank–is in a financial tailspin, reportedly seeking tens of millions of dollars to keep afloat. Indeed, Citi Bike is often described as the perfect storm of bikeshare problems. It launched late, and during one of the coldest, least bike-able winters in New York history, the Canadian company that supplied its bikes declared bankruptcy, Hurricane Sandy damaged more than $10 million worth of equipment, and it’s been plagued with software problems since its inception. And interestingly, its biggest problem is its popularity with New Yorkers–there were too many locals buying annual passes and not enough tourists, which is where big bucks are.

The Solution: Treat Bike Shares as Public Transit

Capital_Bikeshare_riders_in_Dupont_CircleIt seems that the best success stories of American bike share programs happen when the city treats the bike share as an expected transportation cost rather than a potential source of revenue.

Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare is often cited as one of the most successful city bikeshare programs in America, yet not because it’s turning a profit. It was originally launched not with corporate money but federal grants earmarked for programs that improve air quality. And though Capital Bikeshare plans a $3.5million expansion during 2016, they are able to run at one of narrowest margins of loss in the country (only $392,000 in 2013), have noticeably decreased traffic congestion, provide free passes for low-income riders, and have become a point of city pride.

Why did DC work? Partially because they have no expectation of profit from what is essentially an arm of their public transportation system. As Jim Sebastian, manager of the Active Transportation Branch with the DC DOT told the Washington Post, “It’s great if we can cover some of the costs, and we do…We have good cost recovery, good farebox recovery. But it’s an important transit asset for the the city, and I think we’d be willing to operate it at a subsidy if we had to.”

For example, take a look at this graph from the Rudin Center for Transportation, which clearly shows that bikeshares function as part of a city’s transit system, and even in response to it:



Should Seattle Bail Out Our Bikeshare?

Unfortunately, our city is not enjoying the same success as Washington DC. Seattle’s bikeshare program Pronto has been floundering since it started in 2014. Between October 2014 and October 2015, most bikes were ridden less than once a day on average, and now the Pronto nonprofit is asking Seattle to purchase the bikeshare program for $1.4 million by March 30, 2016, or it will cease to exist. Can Seattle have a successful bike share program?

There are a number of obstacles for us, such as being one of the hilliest major cities in America and having a less bikeable downtown area than we’d like to think. Pronto is also surprisingly unpopular for a city that considers itself so green. In its first year, it logged only 142,832 rides; DC’s Capital bikeshare, in comparison, had over a million rides its first year, despite freezing winters and humid summers. It could also be that if you’re the kind of person to bike in Seattle, you’re already doing it.

And yet, as Councilmen Mike O’Brien and Rob Johnson told The Stranger, they’re leaning toward saving the system because if we let Pronto die, we’ll probably have to return about $1 million in government grants that had supported Pronto, so why not spring for a little more and save it? After all, bikeshares are a civic good in many ways, such as reducing congestion and pollution and promoting healthy, active lifestyles. Perhaps if we were to be publicly funding our bikeshare, we could work on making it accessible to people who can’t afford their own bikes (let alone cars) or have had little introduction to the cycling lifestyle. That seems to be the best reason to fund what may someday be considered a public transportation right.


What do you think, Alchemists? What would a “successful” Seattle bikeshare look like to you, or what is it like in your city?

4 Gorgeous, Sustainable Gift Wrap Ideas

Most people know they should try to find sustainable or up-cycled alternatives to gift wrap for holiday presents, but sometimes it can be hard to give up on the idea of bright, beautiful packages and use drab newsprint instead. Here are a few ideas for wrapping green gifts that will be even lovelier than anything you might buy at the store.

1.) Calendar Pages

wrapping w calendar

This is the perfect wrapping paper solution for this time of year because your old calendars are all about to be outdated! If you have a 2015 calendar—or any other old calendars laying around—use them to wrap gifts. You can have the date side out to circle someone’s special day (or for Christmas, the 25th!) or use the pictured page for glossy imagery.

2.) Marbled Paper

wrapping paper marbled

This is one of the most beautiful techniques for creating one-of-a-kind wrapping sheets, and it’s nowhere near as hard as it looks! You create this paper by filling a pan with a shallow layer of cooking oil, drizzling colors over it (you can use anything from food coloring to oil paint) and then setting a piece of paper against the surface carefully, removing it, and allowing it to dry. You  can also run a toothpick through the color to create designs. We recommend using scrap paper from your home or office and coloring the white side.

3.) Plantable Paper

wrapping plantable-paper-making 2

This technique takes a little more work, but it’s one of the greenest payoffs possible! We love the idea of making your own paper from up-cycled sources, and when you add a handful of seeds, this couldn’t be better! You can make your own paper from discarded newspaper, tissues, printer paper, or construction paper by softening the scraps in water, blending the pulp with a little more water, adding some wildflower or herb seeds, and then spreading the pulp on a screen to dry. You now have lovely handmade paper that can be put right into the ground after use!

4.) Found Paper

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 3.44.28 PM

You can up-cycle paper materials to use as wrapping paper without making your gift look like a pile of trash. For example, we love the idea of using brown paper bags as a base layer and decorating the surface of the bag with colorful found materials, like the package above that uses magazine clippings, wrappers, and a flower bow made from a toilet paper roll.

We hope this list gives you a little inspiration for this season’s gift giving, Alchemists! Of course, if you want to put your present inside some especially cool upcycled wrapping, maybe you should hide it in an Alchemy bag!

How to Be a Conscious Consumer During the Holidays

child at christmas

The holidays are the perfect opportunity to celebrate your loved ones with thoughtful gifts, but we want to encourage all you Alchemists to take a conscientious approach to consumerism this season. Knowing that many of the gifts we give don’t come from sustainable or fair trade sources, how does one participate in the gift-giving ritual of the holidays while remaining mindful of the human and environmental costs that come with so many products?

Take heart, you do have options.   While we think our products are worth considering as a great solution, even if Alchemy Goods isn’t on your shopping list, we hope you’ll consider some of these suggestions for how you can shop more sustainably this season.

Gift the Gift of Donation

Photo by Oxfam

If you’re not sure what to get someone, maybe the best gift is a charitable donation in their name. You might not know what your coworker, white elephant match-up, distant relative, or son’s girlfriend need or want, but there are a lot of other people in the world who are only too easy to shop for. Why not send aid to the refugees in Syria, give livestock or valuable supplies to an international family living in poverty through a site like Oxfam, or make a donation to a homeless shelter in your gift recipient’s community? A charitable gift isn’t a cop-out, and can still be personal—think of a cause that the recipient of the gift is likely to support (are they an animal lover? environmentalist? a mother who might care deeply about shelters specifically for women and children?) and you might be surprised how much it will mean to them.

Keep It Local

If you do want to give a physical present, try to choose something locally-made. The working conditions of the overseas factories producing so many of our holiday purchases
can be very hard on the factory workers.   Low retail prices are often achieved by lowering standards for worker safety and comfort—if gift-giving is about thoughtfulness and kindness, ensuring that all the presents you buy were made fairly and willingly should be a csa tilthpriority. The easiest way to do this is to buy locally! You’re ensuring that 100 percent of the profits not only go back to your community, but are distributed fairly among the people who are actually making the products.

For example, we’ve talked about Community Supported Agriculture before, but it bears repeating—CSAs (weekly boxes of produce from a local farmer) are awesome, and make awesome gifts! Give someone on your list a share in a CSA, and they will get exciting new vegetables every week, which is practical, fun, and lasting, plus bears the peace of mind that comes with local, organic consumption.

Keep It Sustainable

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans throw away 25 percent more trash than the rest of the year, amounting to 25 million tons of garbage. We hope that all you Alchemists look for sustainable alternatives to one-time-use packaging and also choose gifts that were made sustainably and will be enjoyed for a long time.
We love this article from the Seattle Times that contains a number of locals sustainable shopping ideas. For example, did you know that Seattle Seahawks jerseys are made from recycled plastic bottles? Giving your favorite Hawks fan an up-cycled jersey that they’ll proudly wear for years is a great way of putting your dollars towards a team that values the environment. (We also recommend the Seahawks totes from their partnership with Alchemy Goods that raise money for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence!)


Items that are made from up-cycled materials are often as practical and pleasing as any comparable items you might buy, but allow you to make a difference by reducing waste instead of contributing another item to a future landfill. Another option is to buy pre-used items in the first place—finding a cool vintage sweater in a second-hand shop repurposes something that’s already been created and also winds up being a lot more unique and thoughtful than another sweater from Macy’s. We especially encourage jewelry shoppers to buy antiques or pre-owned pieces, given the painful human and environmental costs of most mining operations.

Happy Holidays, Alchemists! We hope you’re able to find conscientious gifts for everyone on your list this year. Even when the trees are bare, we want the season to be as green as possible.











Photo Credit; Photo Credit; Photo Credit

Build Community through Farm to Table Living this Harvest Season

farmer-826912_1280Most of us lead lives pretty far removed from the cycles of agriculture. Fiscal quarters, school semesters, or paydays are the rhythm to which our clocks tick, but agriculture is all around us! There are small, family-owned farms and community gardens contributing products to almost every community in America.

Harvest season is upon us, which is traditionally the time to celebrate the bounty of local farms. Alchemy Goods would like to recognize some of the efforts in America to preserve and support our farmlands, and give you Alchemists a few guidelines as to how you can purchase produce directly from the people creating it.


The American family farm is an endangered species, and we want to encourage every Alchemist to help support local agriculture this harvest season. According to the American Farmland Trust, 57 percent of America’s farmers are over 55, and struggling to maintain the purpose of their land—as a result, over 50 acres of US farm and ranch land are lost every hour. Local farmers are not only the primary source of quality organic produce, but also our first defenders against soil erosion, water conservation, and climate change, and hopefully we can reverse the process of their disappearance and help them thrive.

National: American Farmland Trust

American Farmland Trust is one of the most important organizations working to save our disappearing farmland and promote voluntary conservation practices. Helping farmers buy back their land from threatening development projects saves thousands of acres of America’s best soil from cement—show your support with a free bumpersticker to shout the cause, your help donate!

Some Pictures from their farms:

Local: Washington’s PCC Farmland Trust

We’re losing Washington farmland at a rate of 45,000 acres a year, and the PCC Farmland Trust is a non-profit dedicated to preserving our diminishing farmlands by helping farms become declared conservation easements. As with the American Farmland Trust, this prevents any future real estate development and ensures that the land will be used for farmer-operated agriculture. The PCC Farmland Trust helps negotiate land sale and use between farmers, saving land that would otherwise exit agricultural use forever.

So far, PCC Farmland Trust has saved eleven farms all over Washington State! Alchemy Goods is a Seattle company that takes great pride in the sustainable, local products that come from our state and region, and we encourage any local Alchemists to set their tables this fall with the bounty of a PCC Farmland Trust farm!

PCC Farmland Trust's first farm saved was Nash Huber’s organic farm in Sequim

PCC Farmland Trust’s first farm saved was Nash Huber’s organic farm in Sequim


There are nearly two million American farms, and about 80 percent of those are small and family owned, and often rely on avenues of selling their products directly to the public. Though land trusts like the ones discussed above help, the real battle is fought every day at the supermarket. We want to urge all the Alchemists out there to be conscientious of where they’re getting their food this harvest season.

How can you patronize these small farms, especially now that farmer’s market season is wrapping up? Try getting a CSA!

What’s a CSA?

“CSA” stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a way of buying produce directly from the farmers who grow it. For a relatively small weekly fee, you’ll get a box of produce either delivered to your home or a central pick-up location that contains an assortment of whatever crops are currently in season on the farm you’ve chosen to support.

Here’s a description of what you might expect in each box for a typical fall CSA from Seattle’s own Tilth, a non-profit organization that runs a series of farms and community gardens and offers lessons in farming and gardening to youth, refugee and immigrant families, and curious adults. You’ll get a week’s supply of:tilth CSA

  • one leafy green (like kale, chard or collards)
  • an allium (like onion, garlic or leek)
  • potatoes (including fingerlings, red, purple, and gold varieties)
  • a root crop (like turnips, carrots, parsnips or beets)
  • an additional item that are fresh on our farms, like winter squashes, apples and more

CSA’s aren’t just in Seattle—you can find them almost anywhere! The site Local Harvest is a fantastic resource for finding not only CSAs near you, but also local organic farms. Not only will you be supporting your local community’s environment and economy, but you’ll also be doing your body a favor and treating it to a diverse selection of naturally-grown and super-fresh vegetables, and possibly challenging yourself to cook and eat plants you’ve never encountered before!

Local Markets

remlinger farmsIf you don’t want to commit yourself to a CSA, you can always buy your produce and animal products from markets that stock local organic goods! Chains like PCC, Whole Foods, and Metro Market are a good place to start, but we encourage Alchemists to look for locally-owned independent businesses. 

For Seattleites, we love Remlinger Farms, a family owned and operated local farm that started as roadside produce stand and has grown into a 200 acre education and tourist center that sells products from their own farm and others in the area. Remlinger is especially well known for their U-Pick pumpkin field—get your Halloween and Thanksgiving pie pumpkins there!

American farms don’t exist in a vacuum—they need the support of their communities! Halloween and Thanksgiving are great opportunities to set your table with products from local farms, and so is every other day! Harvest is the best time of the year to get in touch with local sources of agriculture—happy harvest season, Alchemists!


More pictures from American Farmland Trust; PCC Farmland Trust photo by Becky Warner and Farmland Trust; Photo by Remlinger Farms

Go Back to School Green

Students everywhere are preparing for the coming school year. For a lot of us, that means a flurry of consumerism—about $17.6 billion dollars worth nationwide—and we hope that you’ll take a mindful approach to your school supplies shopping. There are lots of exciting upcycled or sustainable products that can help make your carbon footprint a little shallower, and most of them wind up looking better and lasting longer than their wasteful alternatives. Here are a few of our favorite sustainably-motivated items for the 2015 school year.

Naked Binders

Not only are most plastic or vinyl binders un-recyclable and produced from synthetic factory-made materials, but they also release dioxins into the atmosphere during the manufacturing process. For anyone else who is sick of tacky, toxic, and short-lived plastic binders that are destined for the landfill, we recommend Naked Binders, which not only out-last other binders but are produced from 100 percent certified post-consumer waste board. They’re also completely recyclable, and thoughtfully designed for superior appearance and function.

Klean Kanteen Water Bottles

A water bottle is a student’s best friend. When you’re at school or on campus all day, you need to stay hydrated, and a reusable water bottle is the perfect way to quench your thirst and stay green. Disposable plastic water bottles are one of the worst environmental offenders—replace it with a Klean Kanteen! Klean Kanteen produced the first 100 percent BPA-free stainless steel water water bottle in 2004, and their commitment to toxin-free reusable stainless steel bottles has lead to a great line of products that last a lifetime. Even their packaging is sustainably designed!

To-Go Ware 2-Tier Lunch Bag

The trash-free lunch is a challenge every student should aspire to meet. The wrappers from pre-packaged foods or single-use items like plastic silverware have an astonishing impact on landfills. You can work toward a trash-free lunch by preparing your own food from whole ingredients, using reusable utensils, containers, and cloth napkins, and drinking from a water bottle. The first step toward a trash-free lunch is a reusable lunch bag—we love To-Go Ware’s Cotton Carrier bag made from cotton scraps collected in India. More sustainable than bags made from virgin materials, this upcycled lunch tote is also completely washable.

TreeSmart Pencils

Every student needs a #2 pencil, if not for note-taking, doodles, or free writes, then for those standardized tests or Scantron sheets. These #2 pencils from TreeSmart are a great upcycled alternative to wooden pencils. TreeSmart makes use of whole sheets of recycled newspaper for pencils that are as sturdy and easy to use or sharpen as wooden ones, but without the toll on our forests. And for the artists out there, they also make colored pencils!

Brooklyn & Madison Backpacks

We don’t want to be too self-serving, but our Brooklyn and Madison backpacks are two of our favorite products—they’re slick, tough, and unique, and can withstand just about anything. Students need a backpack that can protect their books, electronics, notes, cellphones, gym clothes, sandwiches, etc, but factory-produced materials aren’t necessarily the longest-lasting. With an exterior of upcycled bike tire tubes, our Alchemy bags keep contents dry, safe, and secure while re-purposing waste materials. And the lifetime guarantee means that you’ll never have to throw away another bag over a broken zipper or a ripped strap.

Good luck in class this year, Alchemists! We hope you’re able to check every box on your back-to-school list with a sustainable product you’ll love for years.

Does Your College Bleed Green?

How green is your campus? Does your dining hall serve local organic produce, does your student body take an active role in sustainability, do you have acres of surrounding woodland? Students take a lot of pride in their school’s athletic and academic achievements, or even in titles like “Hardest Partiers,” but what about their college or university’s environmental performance? Alchemy would like to give a shout out to five of the colleges and universities from around the country we think deserve some applause for their unique approaches to going green. After all, educating the next generation doesn’t count for much if they aren’t going to inherit a healthy planet.

1.) Colorado State (Fort Collins, CO)

Colorado State is a rock-star among public universities and private schools alike, thanks in part to their devotion to a green curriculum. Of their 58 departments, 54 offer at least one course engaging with sustainability issues, and their robust School of Global Environmental Sustainability offers 19 different majors. Their faculty includes hard-hitting environmentalists like Temple Grandin, author and animal welfare revolutionary (who was played by Claire Danes in an eponymous HBO movie). They also have 11 LEED Gold buildings, 15 acres of solar panels, and their tree nursery produces 2 million seedling annually.

2.) Green Mountain College (Poultney, Vermont)

This school was the second in the nation become climate-neutral, getting most of their energy from on-campus wind turbines, solar panels, and their partnership with Cow Power. Cow Power extracts methane gas from manure from Vermont’s dairy farms, converts it to electricity, and sells it to participants. The funds go to to local dairy farmers and the on-farm facilities. Unlike the sources of renewable energy most school turn to for their energy credits, Green Mountain is powered by a local source students can visit and learn about. Further, 46 percent of their graduates pursue careers in green jobs!

3.) Lewis & Clark College

Number one on the Princeton Review’s annual list of the greenest colleges, the green awareness of Lewis and Clark’s student body is outstanding. About 95 percent of the students at the College of Arts & Science voluntarily donate toward the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates. 74 percent of their students take at least one class that includes sustainability learning, and 83 percent of students choose sustainable travel options like bikes. They also offer a unique certification program in Ecopsychology that teaches counseling psychologists to apply ecological research to their mental health practice. And their campus includes 95 acres of woodland to study and explore!

4.) University of California, Santa Barbara

UCSB is considered the greenest public university in the country, and the third greenest college generally. They have led the pack in retrofits, spending $2-3 million annually on efficient HVAC systems, LED lighting, and new insulated windows. Mostly, though, we love their TGIF program. The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) was the first school water-action plan developed in the drought-vulnerable state of California. 90 percent of their landscaping is irrigated with recycled water, saving about 19 million gallons every year, and the seven-person committee has five student seats.

5.) College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, Maine)

This tiny, experimental college only has a few hundred students, and all of them are studying the same niche major: human ecology. Under the umbrella of “human ecology,” students are mostly able to define their own curriculum, planned around their interests and human relationships with the planet. They were the first college to go carbon neutral in 2007. The COA also owns 300 acres of farmland and forrest, and the vegetables, and the organic produce farmed by students comprises about 30 percent of the dining hall meals—and the compost from the dining halls is used on the farm!

Alchemy would also like to give a special shout-out to Pinchot University on Washington’s Bainbridge Island, which we personally know is doing some amazing work—Eli Reich, Alchemy Goods founder, took classes there. Pinchot offers MBAs in Sustainable Business (the first program of its kind in the country!), MBAs in Sustainable Systems, and Certificates in Sustainable Energy. For Seattle locals interested in a green continued education, Alchemy glowingly recommends Pinchot.

To these schools, their students, and all the other people working to combine sustainable practices and education: right on. Thank you. You get it. Green campuses have an impact that goes far beyond their energy or water savings of their campuses—they’re getting an entire generation of graduates interested, engaged, and concerned, and planting some big dreams for how the world could look someday.