In 2021, the founders of East Third Collective set out to do one thing—make it easier to give thoughtful, meaningful gifts.
“We are all gifters by nature,” Darcie (Lehmann) Cohn, BS’99, says of her co-founders Nicole “Nikki” (Porter) Lapidus, BGS’99, MS’07; Renee (Panicco) McGrath, BS’00; and Kathleen “Kat” (Stewart) McPeek, BA’99. “The problem was the process of it all.”
The women disliked the idea of sending gifts piecemeal without a card or pretty packaging. They also found it counterproductive to send the gifts to themselves, wrap everything, and pay shipping fees twice.
After years of discussing business ideas over wine, the four IU alums settled on an online gift shop, a place where customers could build their own gift boxes filled with goodies from small businesses around the country. As for the name, it pays homage to where they first met—the Delta Delta Delta sorority house on East Third Street in Bloomington, Ind.
Visit the East Third Collective website and you’ll find gifts for every occasion—Valentine’s Day, a housewarming party, or the birth of a new baby.
“We want to be your best friend, the person that you come to for [gift] recommendations or inspiration,” Lapidus says.
Cohn adds that they’re focused on working with brands that are putting good out into the world.
“We want to highlight vendors with great missions,” she says. “A lot of [our vendors] are women-owned or BIPOC-owned.”
From her house just outside of Cincinnati, McPeek handles all order fulfillment, including each gift’s handwritten note.
“We’re detail-oriented people, so I love being able to see it exactly the way I want it to look before it goes out the door,” she says. “Obviously, in the next scale of things, we’ll be hiring people and training people to do that piece of it, but for right now, I like having my hands on every box.”
ETC also offers group and corporate gift consulting.
“Typically, [corporate gifts] are a place to throw a bunch of junk into a box,” Cohn says, “but we’re really thoughtful and intentional. The items are always usable, never tossable.”
The way they achieve an unforgettable gift box is by following their three-step method to becoming a gifted giver.
“The first thing is to think about your person,” McPeek says. “A lot of times we think of things that we’d want to receive, instead of what the recipient might like.”
The next step is to pick your “yes” gift. This item is the centerpiece of your gift box.
“It’s the thing that you see when you’re combing the store and you’re like, ‘Yes, that’s it! That’s something that they’ll love,’” McPeek says. “And [lastly], you’ll add in a couple [smaller] items to round out the gift itself.”
The women of East Third Collective go on to emphasize that a good gift box doesn’t have to be expensive or include a large number of items.
“For Christmas, I gave my kids’ teachers a jar of honey and a note that said, ‘How sweet it is to be taught by you,’” Lapidus says. “And to me, that’s a complete gift.”
Cohn chimes in: “I always think a great gift is something you wouldn’t necessarily buy for yourself but it makes you smile. [For example], I would love to get a pair of socks in the mail that comes in cute packaging with a sweet note. That would be enough to make me smile.”