Photos from Double Blind Surprise’s Instagram account are courtesy of Adrienne Cook.
Adrienne Cook said, “I’ve had a lifelong knack for gift-giving. My brother-in-law takes me with him to buy all of the gifts he gets for my sister. We’ve done this for years for Christmas. I considered actually becoming a gift consultant.” But she wasn’t quite sure how to do that.
Cook’s formal schooling had been in printmaking (she has an MFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln), and she has worked as an intern at Penland School of Craft in North Carolina, as an artist, as a teacher, and in a museum. “I met so many artists who didn’t have the right outlet for their work or who didn’t know how to show what they had.”
Last autumn, while pregnant with her first child, Cook brought to life an idea that had been growing within her for years: combine all of the artists she knew with the people who needed gifts. In October 2018, Double Blind Surprise was born, and its business has been steady ever since.
Double Blind Surprise is unique as a business in a number of ways. First, the gift giver has no idea at the time of purchase what they are buying. Second, the items are all handcrafted from artists or provided by small businesses. They are all curated and hand assembled by Cook herself. And third, when the gift arrives, it is a surprise to both the recipient and the gift-giver, hence the business’ name.
Cook said, “…we do gift giving backwards. We think, I have a thing coming up and I’m at Target so maybe I can find something here, as opposed to stopping and thinking what the person likes” and deciding where to go to find that gift.
Gifts should be intended to make recipients feel special, to know that they are getting something unique and created or chosen specifically for them, perhaps even personalized.
“One of my favorite gifts sent out recently to an older man as a thank you for lending his home in Hawaii! You want to let us stay next? 🏝😎”.
Double Blind Surprise’s website walks the gift giver through questions: age range, gender, occasion for the gift, level of maturity (G, PG, PG-13 or R), three things Double Blind Surprise should know about the person, the amount the gift giver wants to spend, date by which the gift needs to be received, and if an optional note or card needs to be added. Once that information has been submitted, Cook searches her inventory of items and determines if anything needs to be commissioned and if there is time to do so. She then e-mails the gift giver with an update. Once the gift is ready to ship, Cook sends an invoice via PayPal.
Cook says she makes a few of the gifts herself. One customer decided to Double Blind Surprise himself, but he didn’t want to spend too much money. The information he provided said he was a “future cat lady” and that his dream job would be being “a sea witch.” Cook painted a skull and the words “poor unfortunate souls” onto a moleskin journal. She paired this with a pin that said, “The future is feline.” The man wrote to her telling her how delighted he was with the gift.
“I’ve been holding off posting pictures of the gifts going out so I don’t ruin any surprises but listen: this job is the most fun I’ve ever had! 🎄🎄🎄”
“One of my favorite gifts I’ve sent out recently went to someone who’s dream job is being a sea witch and he’s planning to be a crazy cat lady.”
Another man, who also bought the surprise for himself, sent her an “unboxing video” of him opening the surprise. His thrill was apparent as he opened the Double Blind Surprise that spoke to his love of art and French fries: part of the gift was a little shadowbox frame with a collage and tiny French fries sculpture made of Shrinky Dinks.
“My piece in all of this is so small,” Cook said. “It’s what the gift giver says about the person that ends up making a good gift.” The questions on her website “get to the relationship between the two people and to what’s important to them,” she said.
I decided to try this firsthand by buying a birthday gift for my friend, Mitch, who I’ve known since kindergarten. The three things about him that I submitted were: 1) doesn’t drink alcohol, 2) likes Alf, Air Supply, Pac-Man, and other things ‘80s, 3) likes risqué things. (Limiting comments to three things was much harder than I thought.)
Double Blind Surprise sent him a DIY arcade that he could build and play three different games on, a laser-cut personalized case to house his games, plus two enamel pins — one of a mix tape and another of a relax pill to mimic the pills Pac-Man eats (also as a reference to the ‘80s “Relax” song by Frankie Goes to Hollywood). Cook said, “My husband also found and added a few more games to the memory card and coded it to have Mitch’s name show up inside the games.”
“A suuuuper fun gift that went out a few weeks ago for an 80s enthusiast and Pac-Man fan. We decided to give him the original clear arcade casing but also make him a personalized laser etched Pac-Man arcade and add a few more games. The gift came from a friend of 44 years so likely they played Pac-Man together! So. Much. Fun!”
Cook admitted that sometimes she gets very difficult submissions, especially since she tries to have a quick turnaround time from the purchase of the surprise to its arrival in the mail. She is always on the lookout for good gifts, especially for men. She also finds it challenging to find things for teenagers, especially small items like enamel pins and patches.
Cook is starting to commission items specifically for her brand. For example, she worked with Indiegogo to make enamel pins under her company’s name, and she’d like to start doing that as well with other items, to make them exclusive. She has been working with the artists in her extensive network, but she is always open to working with new crafters and artists, especially if they design small items for men or for teenagers.
@Regrann from @lisstissbdiss – My friend Adrienne has a new business and it’s such a cool idea. And now that I’ve ordered from her, I am even more converted than I believed I would be. Adrienne has unmatched style and a great creative eye. It was so much fun watching Harper open these gifts and being surprised ourselves. Check out @doubleblindsurprise! Thanks for the amazing finds Adrienne! Harper is having so much fun with all of them 💛”
“For a mom after my own heart. 🐈 On her questionnaire, her daughter wrote: 1. Cats 2. No seriously, cats. 😂 Such a fun Mother’s Day gift!”
She also approaches artists whose work interests her through Instagram. If you’d like to work with her, check out the photos and videos on her website, Facebook, and Instagram so you see what kinds of things she buys wholesale and curates. You can contact Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to being a printmaker, Cook said she was “really into needle felting” during her pregnancy (her daughter is now six months old). “I research and learn from others along the way,” she said. “I’m constantly changing and learning new things,” for all of her artistic endeavors. She also “makes quilts like crazy” and uses new processes like 3D printing and laser cutting to do so.