I’ve had the amazing opportunity over the last several weeks to meet with, learn from, and share about a number of unique, inspiring artists in the Seattle area who are making a difference doing what they love. But today, I’d like to share a story that is both outwardly focused, and at the same time, deeply personal.
This is me, as a kid, living in a small-town suburban neighborhood in East Seattle. Those are my “too-cool-for-school” older brothers, Jeremy and Nathan. We grew up in a place that I now believe is more fitting for a heartwarming Hollywood family drama than real life… It was in many ways just too good to be true. My street mates were my best friends, and daily we’d gather at the corner to shoot hoops, catch crawdads, or play house. The motley crew was made up of 5 rambunctious characters: Kelly (the youngest), Rosie, Kristen (myself), Danny, and Lauren (the eldest, and Kelly’s big sister). Through thick and thin, through talent shows and broken wrists, we stuck together.
But time passes mercilessly, unceasingly, and like everyone else, we had to grow up.
This is me at my wedding, two years ago now. With me stands Dan, Lauren, Kelly and Rosie (somehow I ended up the shortest… ah well). Each of them has an incredible story to tell, and I could write a novel telling the world about the amazing people they have become. But today, I’d like to introduce you to one in particular: her name is Lauren Burman, and she’s incredible.
Since my earliest memory, I have looked up to Lauren, not only because she was my elder in the block-pack, but because she has always embodied a grace and gentleness beyond her years. She was creative and caring, and never one to love lightly. I was in school in California when I first heard about Shirley, Lauren’s grandmother, and her terminal diagnosis. Shirley had cancer, and she wasn’t going to win. I knew then what Lauren reminded me of at our interview this past week: that Shirley was the dearest friend and mentor Lauren could have, and that the process of loving and losing her would be beyond heart breaking. But Lauren endeavored, despite being hundreds of miles away working for AmeriCorps in Austin, Texas, to spend as much time as possible with her grandmother. In addition, she signed up to run her first marathon with the Leukemia Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. The process of preparing for the race gave her something physical to do to contribute to cancer research; a way to channel her emotions into positive change. After the race was over, Lauren was challenged to continue to raise funds for Leukemia Lymphoma Society and wanted to do so “in a mutually beneficial fashion.” Meaning she felt that if she used her creativity to fashion a tangible item that people could buy to support her cause, it would tie them ever more deeply to the mission and vision behind her work. Every time they looked at that piece, or gave it as a gift, or used it in any way, they would be reminded of their combined efforts to cure cancer. This vision came to life in small, hand-crafted vases, glazed in beautiful unique colors. She named them “Little Shirleys” in honor of her grandmother, Shirley Larson, and since the first day that they hit the shelves almost three years ago, they have been touching lives and connecting communities across the city and around the world. “I had shared my story,” Lauren described, “and the story of my grandmother, through these pieces. And I learned it was okay to share. Little Shirley’s made people feel like, ‘It’s okay to share, because someone else has been there.’”
What began as a part-time endeavor for Lauren transformed into her own thriving small business. In 2011 she transitioned full time to Material Good—Something small, tangible, material is indeed changing lives, sharing stories, and benefiting their community. Just this last summer, Material Good moved out of their Lynn Street basement studio to a beautiful new building in downtown Seattle. Lauren’s team of local ceramic artists and entrepreneurs have become “more like a family than anything else,” Lauren beams. They now sell their Little Shirley’s in 58 stores across the country, including Nordstrom. But even with their growth and success, Lauren is still looking outward, seeking new ways to give back to the community and promote positive change through their work. Currently, Material Good donates 10% to fund Cancer Research, and they have partnered with other organizations as well, such as the Hope Heart Institute, to raise awareness and promote change. In addition, Material Good is committed to operating using as much locally-sourced material as possible, and they reuse almost everything.
Beyond all her success, Lauren still finds the most inspirational part of her journey to be the people themselves: the amazing artists she works with, the family and friends who have supported them, and the countless individuals who have been touched by Little Shirley’s story, and have shared their stories in return. “They [the Little Shirley’s] have taken on a life of their own,” Lauren describes. “They have story, a mission, and a power within them all on their own.”
Shirley Larson passed away thirteen months after her diagnosis (nine months longer than they gave her), but her fighting spirit and humble compassion are evident in the life and the work of her granddaughter Lauren. I am proud to call her my friend, and I will always look up to her and the amazing woman she has become. Thanks to Lauren for sharing with me, and for being an inspiration for us all. You are creativity, and you’re changing the world.
Find out more about Material Good on their website, and to give you a better look, here are some pictures from my Material Good studio tour…