Aimee Heckel The Boulder and the Beautiful
Aimee Heckel The Boulder and the Beautiful

The surest way to tarnish a gift, even a good gift, is to pressure the receiver to open it while everyone watches. You never can respond correctly. If you don't immediately break into a jig, you look ungrateful. If you try to force a satisfactory response, the pressure to appropriately improvise eloquent gratitude detracts from your ability to truly appreciate it. Either that, or you're faking it. And that just feels yucky.

If that gift is especially thoughtful, the social expectations grow. If it's homemade, you'd better be able to do a toe-touch. If it's homemade by a thoughtful, impoverished refugee who lives in a mud hut and earns 33 cents a day — well, you're on a one-way trip to hell if you don't burst into tears of gratitude.

I did cry. But my tears were complicated.

You see, I did love the dress my friend gifted me on my final day in Uganda. I was astounded by how perfectly it fit, without a tape measure. I'd never owned a handmade, authentic African dress before. I was honored and humbled by the thoughtfulness.

But you see, the thing is, the pattern. I've never been a wild-pattern-kinda-gal, beyond stripes, dots, flowers, houndstooth and paisley. And this dress was stitched out of head-to-toe, oversized, cartoonish yellow umbrellas.

Oh! I was speechless. Confused. Tickled. I had no idea how to feel. Or how to accessorize it. With raindrop-cut earrings? A rainbow necklace? I needed a soul-searching moment in private to process the surprise. But I was on center stage, in front of the entire refugee camp.

So I wept.

In America, our array of patterns is sadly limited; travel the world, and your fashion brain will blow. You'll see clothing made out of anything (coconut bark, recycled paper, rope, leaves), adorned with prints of anything, with any possible color combo, and for any occasion. In fact, my umbrella dress was my bridesmaid-equivalent gown for an African wedding. Yes, it matched others.

A Serengetee backpack.
A Serengetee backpack. (Serengetee's Facebook page / Courtesy photo)

Americans need more patterns in our wardrobes. But patterns are also personal. That's why I love the concept behind Serengetee.com.

A handful of students started this clothing line while studying abroad. They began collecting interesting fabrics around the world and brought them back to their dorms to turn into small chest pockets on T-shirts.

In two years, Serengetee has grown to become one of the fastest-growing clothing brands in the world and was recently selected as a contender for Mashable's America's Most Social Small Business.

Search patterns by colors, regions or even cause; each pattern is paired with a good cause, and 5 to 15 percent of sales go to help different charitable causes around the world, says Dee Liang, a University of Colorado-Boulder senior who is one of the local campus reps for the company.

She says her favorite pattern is the Colorado flag and one from Indonesia covered in elephants.

I think this line works because you get a funky pattern — but only a small pop, as a pocket on your tank or backpack or the front pocket on a hoody.

It's a safe way to play with patterns. At least until someone can help me figure out how to accessorize a head-to-toe crazy print.

Although now that I think about it, my teardrops were kind of the perfect complement to my umbrella garb.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Aimee Heckel at 303-473-1359, heckela@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/Aimeemay.