Our catalog of perfect holiday gifts features products from some of America's fascinating, privately held companies.
Born of and nurtured with passion, these businesses have outwitted such challenges as mass-market competition, disaster, even bad feng shui to carve a place on retail shelves. Their inspired ideas have led to products we wouldn't mind receiving for the holidays.
Founded by Shawn and Jennifer Martin in 1987, custom snowboard maker Donek bounced back from a 2001 fire that destroyed half of its warehouse, investing in a 4,600-square-foot facility in Watkins, Colo. Top competitive riders such as Adam Smith (No. 1 slalom) and Peter Thorndike (No. 1 giant slalom) ride custom Donek decks on race day. Riders can send digital graphics and photos or fabrics for a truly one-of-a-kind deck, which takes between two and four weeks to complete. Gift-givers should submit the height and weight of the recipients and note which terrain and style they like to ride (e.g., freestyle, carving, or slalom). $360-650; www.donek.com; 877-53-DONEK or 303-261-0100
Remember Teddy Ruxpin, the chatty teddy bear that children of the '80s clamored for? Ruxpin's creator, Mark Bradlee, is at it again. At the heart of the plush new Wabi Buddy lies a wireless sound card. By pressing the bear's badge, a child can play an "audio post card." Parents can leave voice messages or select from a menu of children's stories, lullabies, and educational content via telephone and password-protected website; messages are then transmitted to the sound card. The Wabi Buddy offers working parents one way to sing tykes to sleep from afar without battling time zone differences. $69; www.wabi.com
Knock Knock CEO Jen Bilik, 33, developed a passion and an eye for design as an architectural books editor at Rizzoli. Celebrities such as Jerry Bruckheimer and Parker Posey have purchased the wares of her Venice, Calif., paper goods company, which range from a Multiple-Choice Correspondence book (fill-in-the-blank notes tucked into this year's Emmy Awards gift baskets) to organizational Personal Library Kits to gift wrap that departs from holiday clichés. Gift wrap, $6 per roll; correspondence book, $23.95; Personal Library Kits, $24.95; www.knockknock.biz
Jennifer Aniston wore Ming Dynasty-print Bedhead pajamas on Friends, and like Rachel Green's haircut, they became an instant fashion do--even Oprah ordered a pair. CEO and designer Renee Claire started the sleepwear company in her Los Angeles apartment with credit card funding. Today, more than 1,000 stores nationwide carry her made-in-the-U.S.A. luxury jammies. Claire attributes part of the company's success to feng shui; after positioning her desk with the help of an expert, she won a huge order from Nordstrom. "The desk is in the way for a lot of people," admits Claire, who nonetheless refuses to budge. New designs are presented every six weeks, and the company is adding more plus-size sleepwear. $80-135; www.bedheadpjs.com
Croakies made a name for themselves in 1976 with straps made from wetsuit material that keep shades in place during sports activity. Now the company, based in Jackson Hole, Wyo., sells its products in places like Wal-Mart and lodges at major ski resorts. Its latest eye care gizmo? A compact lens-cleaning kit that contains a lens-safe spray and a microfiber, nonscratching cloth for sunglasses that need a swipe after a day on the slopes. $14.99; www.croakies.com
Intellinitiative Inc. pokes fun at generation gaps with decade-centric board games. Three siblings started the company in 2000 when Clay Siegert, CEO and oldest brother, was inspired by an '80s music station during a road trip and called his sister Anne, now EVP, to start writing questions such as: "This Happy Days spinoff starring Erin Moran and Scott Baio premiered on ABC." (Answer: Joanie Loves Chachi, 1982) Spanning the years in trivia, Intellinitiative has sold more than 100,000 total units of the '70s, '80s, and '90s games in the United States through retailers such as Target and Borders. The company also hosts trivia contests online with prizes like genuine Enron stock certificates or vintage cans of New Coke. $32.95; www.the90sgame.com
CamelBak, of Petaluma, Calif., is famous for sport backpacks that store and keep liquids cool, making it easy for athletes and adventurers to stay hydrated. Since the company introduced a military-government division in 1997, the U.S. and many international militaries have made CamelBak hydration packs standard issue equipment, and they are being used in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. New models, some of which hold gear and a day's supply of food and water, are tailored to the ergonomic needs of women (the Isis) or made lightweight for runners (the Catalyst, shown), minimizing cargo movement and lower-back stress. $38-130; www.camelbak.com
After leaving their fashion industry jobs, Susan White and Barbara Benenson Warren, co-founders of White + Warren, took a year off for quality family time before starting their luxury knitwear brand. In the five years since, the fashion concern has seen revenue skyrocket to $18 million. Known for candy-colored cashmere pieces like wraps and sweaters and microfiber T-shirts, New York City-based White + Warren plans to launch a line of yoga and fitness apparel next spring. Every October, a portion of sales of White + Warren's Pink line goes to support Women at Risk (WAR), dedicated to breast cancer awareness and prevention. Gloves, $55; www.whiteandwarren.com
Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma are among the retailers with discerning tastes that carry Bella Cucina's Italian and Mediterranean preservative-free gourmet food products such as artichoke lemon pesto and antipasti olives. CEO Alisa Barry trained as a chef with Chez Panisse goddess Alice Waters in Berkeley, Calif., before opening her own café in Atlanta, then invested its profits in her gourmet gifts company in 1995. Not only has the gift hamper branch grown, she's also written an award-winning cookbook to extend her brand. Gift baskets, $18-175; cookbook, $25; www.bellacucina.com
Renee and David Dillinger, a former flight attendant and commercial pilot, found themselves on furlough amid industry tribulations in 2000. Using their connections with airline executives, they hatched Outside the Box, which makes products to ease the stress of travel. Their first success was the Plane Warm, an antimicrobial blanket onboard major airliners. Now the Charlotte, N.C., company makes Plane Quiet noise-canceling headphones, which feature the same technology found in higher-end models by gold-standard audio brands like Bose at a third of the price. $80; www.planequiet.com