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  • Jim Bessman

HHPLIFT wins NY NOW Diversity Advocate Award while introducing new ecoLIFT TM product line


HHPLIFT's 1 eleven® employment program


HHPLIFT’s experience at this month’s NY NOW home/lifestyle/handmade/gift market trade show’s Winter 2021 Digital Market Week was especially memorable.


Not only did it successfully introduce its new ecoLIFT TM line of vegan felt and paper leather goods, but it won the NY NOW Diversity Advocate Award, which reflects the NY NOW principles of diverse creation, thought and design in honoring a company that has demonstrated commitment to advancing the career of minority-owned designers and brands.


“We hire people with barriers to employment, and provide economic independence through workforce development,” explained HHPLIFT’s national retail account manager/creative director Kelley Shields. “It makes for a wonderful work environment.”


Founded in 2007 as Helping Hand Partners, the name was later shortened to HHP, with LIFT added to reflect “how we all lift each other up,” noted Shields. The Chicago non-profit works as a social enterprise whose mission is building a movement through social impact products: It curates goods from around the world, and makes its own products as a means of fostering economic independence for people with disadvantages when it comes to finding work.


HHPLIFT products, then, are handcrafted by both global artisans in underserved communities, and program participants in the HHPLIFT 1 eleven® Program in Chicago, where individuals with developmental, opportunity, and/or physical obstacles to job-seeking are trained to produce, design, and market LIFT products like its luxe brand of bath, spa and personal care products.


Its Smateria “bags with a soul” line offers a good example on the global end. The bags are handmade in Cambodia from industrial net and other unique materials, and satisfy HHPLIFT’s mission in employing Cambodian workers in a fair and sustainable way--with priority given to the employment of women and mothers.


In Chicago, HHPLIFT, via its 1 eleven® Program, is an employment partner of five top workforce development programs, most notably the Cara job development and placement program for people affected by poverty. The program is named for the temperature—111-degrees—at which wax begins to transform, and “transform” is a key word at HHPLIFT.


“Our products transform lives—and the workforce,” said Shields, noting that program participants include people re-entering society, as well as those otherwise hindered by housing instability, single motherhood, incarceration and violence--in addition to developmental and physical challenges.


HHPLIFT also provides educational and professional development, leadership training, and one-on-one mentorship, and promotes health and wellness at its facility with on-site yoga and a dog-friendly workplace.


At NY NOW, meanwhile, HHPLIFT showed its expansion from its initial LIFT product line of candles and soaps: Its new ecoLIFT TM brand of home, office, and personal accessories items are made of paper leather and vegan felt.


“It’s cruelty-free and vegan-friendly,” said HHPLIFT social enterprise manager Catherine Cox of the ecoLIFT TM line of product including coasters, notebooks and beverage holders, all made from Kraft paper fabric--an eco-friendly paper-based leather alternative.


“The double eyeglasses case is perfect for swapping out your sunnies and readers,” added Shields.


“The unique material looks, feels, and wears like leather, but can be sewn, cut, and washed like fabric. It can even be thrown in the dryer and ironed. It’s durable, lightweight, cruelty-free, and recyclable. Comes in plain and washed—which is more textured.”


Shields continued: “The heavy felt is another eco-friendly material made of corn and wood-based polyester and synthetic fibers. All products are certified vegan-friendly: ecoLIFT TM is changing the way we think about materials, sustainability, and style.”


Designed in HHPLIFT’s Chicago studio, the ecoLIFT TM product is also made by refugee women.


“We’d seen product like that made in Vietnam, and did some digging and found a U.S. company selling it,” Cox said of the ecoLIFT TM product material. “Almost anything can be termed vegan--which is buzzy. But it’s important for us that it’s a natural material, and while paper leather is not recycled, it can be.”


Cox recently came to HHPLIFT after many years of product development for big-box corporations (she’s happy now to be “doing it for good instead of evil!”), “but I’ve never done a wallet or drink sleeve or folder!” she said. She noted that the Smateria wallets were tested by men in the office, who made comments from which the item was tweaked. And she said that paper leather can be debossed with custom logos and text.


“It’s a fun material,” she said. “It comes stiff, but I put it in the washing machine to soften it. It has all the properties of fabric.”


And speaking of drink sleeves, Shields notes that ecoLIFT’s TM coasters, beer koozies and beverage sleeves fit in well with today’s “cocktail culture.”


“Cocktails and accoutrements go eco!” she said.


“Craft cocktail makers, breweries and small-batch vodka and bourbon distilleries are doing sustainable and organic ingredients, so why not mesh with the barware--drink sleeves, coasters and koozies—that we have?”


Or as the HHPLIFT slogan states, “Buy What You Believe In! TM”

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