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California’s Holiday Gift Guide

Our list of Cal alumni-produced goods perfect for your present needs

December 14, 2022
by Margie Cullen
Christmas tree with star on top (Margie Cullen)

The holidays are rapidly approaching, and if you’re anything like me, you have no idea what to get your family members. Mom has so many sweaters already, Grandpa has all the cookbooks in the world, and what does a 19-year-old even want? Well, luckily for us, Cal has a wealth of grads who make products perfect for gift giving, be it stocking stuffers or statement presents.


Founder and Haas grad Viola Sutanto ’97 comes from a family whose business is bags, so starting her own line wasn’t too great a leap. But while her family distributes luxury handbags, she wanted to create well-made, everyday products at more reasonable price points. Named after her daughter, Maika offers beautifully designed bags made from recycled canvas, vegan leather, and “eco-friendly pigments.” The company also pledges to donate a portion of its proceeds to a charity each quarter.

Stay True

A book is always a good gift. We wrote about Hua Hsu’s memoir, Stay True, in our Fall Mixed Media, and the New York Times recently picked it as one of the top 10 books of 2022. Hsu ’99 is a staff writer for the New Yorker and a professor at Bard College. His memoir is largely set in Berkeley in the ’90s and tells the tragic and touching story of a friend who is killed in a carjacking.  

Oru Kayaks

Normally, it would be pretty hard to keep a kayak gift a secret. But this one folds into a box! “From Box to Boat in Minutes” reads the Oru Kayak website. Founder Anton Willis, M.Arch. ’07, perfected the art of using “origami technology” to fold custom UV-treated plastic into kayaks that weigh just up to 41 pounds. It’s a great present for your Marie Kondo–stanning, outdoor adventure–craving loved ones. Efficiency and kayaking—what could be better?

She’s Birdie

Have a kid heading to college next year? This isn’t the stocking stuffer they’ll want, but maybe it’s the one they need. Cal alumnae Ali Peters ’90 and Amy Ferber ’85 started She’s Birdie in 2019 to sell personal safety alarms. After each had a child experience sexual assault, they were motivated to come up with a way to help keep women safe on college campuses. Now, there are about 1.5 million people who carry Birdies.

Creations by Clio

If you’re a Cal student or want to support a recent grad, you might consider getting a pair of specially handcrafted origami earrings from Clio (’22). Each earring has an origami creation made from Japanese yuzen paper coated with a water-resistant lacquer. She makes each item to order, and you can get cute stars, leaves, or the original origami swan. 

Mushroom Grow Kit

Who wouldn’t want to grow their own organic mushrooms at home? Even if you’ve never considered it before, cofounders Alejandro Velez ’09 and Nikhil Arora ’09 make it sound cool with Back to the Roots. Their organic gardening company doesn’t just offer mushrooms; it offers many other plants, like lavender, sunflowers, and herbs. You can grow them outside or get them as windowsill planters. There’s even a kids gardening kit for the green-thumbed children in your life. They’re sold at all the usual suspects: Amazon, Home Depot, Walmart, etc.

Sobu Furniture

If you’re in the market for new furniture, Sobu might be the place for you. Whether it’s dining tables, sofas, or beds, Sobu is sure to have a unique design that will last for years. The first design it ever launched was the “Junk in the Trunk” kids bed back in 2011. And where does the company name come from? Husband and wife co-owners Alessandro Latini ’94 and Laleh Latini combined their kids’ names: Sofia + Bruno = Sobu.


Yeah, OK, we know you know about Allbirds. But did you know it was founded by a Cal alum? Joey Zwillinger ’03 studied engineering at Cal. He was passionate about making things from renewable resources, which led him to tackle sustainability in the footwear industry. Made from renewable materials, Allbirds are described as “the world’s most comfortable shoes”—and you probably already know someone who would certainly agree.


In a high tax bracket and looking for something to impress your fashionable loved ones? Sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy founded Rodarte in 2005, just four years after both graduated from Cal, and their designs have been worn by celebrities on red carpets and been featured at museums around the country. Not in the market for a $3,654 red sequin halter gown? Their Radarte collection features more accessible streetwear, with logoed T-shirts and hoodies going for around $200.  

CAA Wine Club

Wine tasting in Napa Valley is always a treat, but as the SF Chronicle reported this year, it’s becoming increasingly out of reach for the average Bay Area resident. Luckily, the CAA Graduate Wine Collective has you covered. It offers three shipments a year of wines selected from companies founded, operated, owned, or managed by Cal alumni. One such alum is Jason Mikami ’92, who took over his grandfather’s farm Mikami Vineyards in Lodi. And to give members a more special tasting experience, each shipment comes with alumni profiles, recipe pairings, and tasting notes. 


Maybe you’re someone who has it all. Or you know someone who has it all. Or maybe you’re a hoarder. In which case, don’t buy more stuff. Instead, consider donating. One idea for animal lovers: Graceland Meadows, founded by Sharlene Ratcliff ’93,  has a mission to save animals from cruel lives and needless deaths. The sanctuary rescues senior, injured, or special needs animals and attempts to create enriched, social environments by allowing species to live amongst each other. If you want to help, you can donate money, food, or supplies; volunteer; or even adopt.

And of course, California magazine would always appreciate a donation or new readers. If you feel so inclined, throw aside the presents and give a gift of thanks for the magazine we work so hard on. 

Still haven’t found anything for that 19-year-old? CAA has put together a list of even more alumni-owned businesses. Happy holidays. 

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