Every year, I can’t quite believe how much money I spend on Christmas presents. I’m one of those people for whom all rational thought goes out of the window and I just want everything to be tinselly and treat-filled for my nearest and dearest. However, even the smallest gift seems to cost so much money. So, the one thing I am sensible about is making sure – as far as possible – that my money is being spent on products whose provenance I know and respect, or – without being too revoltingly smug about it – things that will somehow improve the lives of the people who made them (rather than exploit their time and effort) as well as the person receiving it. And I know I’m not alone. It’s kind of a no-brainer to spend our money in ways that will keep our consciences clear and I’m very happy to report that, this year, we are spoilt for choice. This is not a case of buying second-best, or compromising on quality or aesthetics. Quite the opposite, in fact. Here’s my guide to shopping better this Christmas.
Be the life and soul of the party
Just don’t do it in sequins. If you already have a dress that sparkles like a disco ball, don’t worry. Just make sure you wear it until it falls apart – or look after it, so you can pass it on to someone else when you’ve finished with it. Sequins are an ecological disaster – all those tiny discs of polyester that will take centuries to biodegrade. Do, however, think seriously about buying vintage or second-hand. Party dresses are worn lightly and make for good charity-shop finds. Oxfam has a great eveningwear section in its online shop. Or try Depop on Instagram, a great place to buy (or sell) your old clothes. If you just want something new, try to go for something that you can wear again – that will still look cool next Christmas as well. I’m the first to admit that more specialist "eco" eveningwear brands can be expensive. Fashion made in smaller quantities at a slower pace than the high street is inevitably more expensive. Buy sparingly. Despite the recent bad press, ASOS is worth a browse. Look for the Made In Kenya collection in association with the SOKO social enterprise factory.
Trust your shop
Sometimes, it’s just about knowing where to shop. Once you get there, you don’t need to question whether something has been made in the right way. Increasingly, there is a new breed of retailers who ask those questions before they buy their stock. One such shop is the online boutique The Acey. If I had to choose one thing from their carefully curated Thoughtful Gift Shop, it would be their very beautiful Peace Silk Travel Often scarf, £75. Made by Kiss & Tell, which is a brand based in Amsterdam (the website gives you all the background you want to know on each product), the slubby silk is made without harming the silk worms. Instead of being boiled alive in their cocoons, these silkworms have spread their wings and left before the silk is collected and handwoven in India. All the karma you need in one special scarf!
Another online retailer that prides itself on making the right choices so you don’t have to is Rêve En Vert, where you can find organic llama wool jumpers, £330, by Danish brand Aiayu, a pair of recycled silver hoop earrings, £75, by Melissa Joy Manning, or a seaweed and fennel hand cleanser, £24, by the locally sourced beauty brand Haeckels.
People Tree prides itself on producing ethical, fairtrade fashion and proves that shopping well doesn’t have to break the bank. Their organic cotton pyjamas, £25, are great, as are their brightly coloured friendship bracelets, currently reduced from £12 to £6.40.
Explore your local market
Farmers’ markets are a wonderful hunting ground for local independent makers (and you can find many of the makers online, too). It’s not just food (though I wouldn’t be upset if I was given a jar of Hackney’s finest Newton & Pott chutney on Christmas Day), but handmade cards, knitted socks (Catherine Tough’s Fair Isle socks, made by a family-run factory in Portugal, £24, are delicious), the prettiest lingerie (Miss Crofton sells her delicate smalls on Broadway Market every Saturday) and other hand-crafted accessories. Every market has its treasure and your money goes direct to the maker, rather than on unnecessary branding and gratuitous packaging.
Make it yourself
Katie Jones won the Selfridges Bright New Things award last January with her joyful approach to crochet and knitting that makes use of recycled yarn and her mission to engage communities of older knitters as part of her workforce (for a bit of woolly luxury, check out Katie’s crochet pompom decorated knits at Selfridges). Katie is unstoppably upbeat – everyone needs a dose of that around Christmas. She is hosting workshops at her studio in Cockpit Arts in Deptford this Friday and Saturday, making Christmas wreaths out of pompoms and crochet baubles and, if you want to try something at home yourself, she has created a knitting pattern for a Christmas stocking which you can download for free from the online design-led living retailer Bouf.com. There’s much to be said for staying at home with a pan of mulled wine and a mince pie, spending quality time making your Christmas cards and gifts, rather than battling the crowds and overspending on stuff you don’t really need.
Another great make-it-yourself brand is Wool And The Gang, where you can buy a kit to make something for someone or simply give the kit itself. New this Christmas are their cool macramé Top Of The Pots plant pot hangers, £19.95.
The gift of giving
The only thing better than giving a mindful present is receiving one. A few Christmases ago, my brother-in-law gave me $25 to spend on kiva.org, the micro financing website that helps alleviate global poverty by financing entrepreneurs in developing nations. It allowed me to choose how I wanted to invest my $25 on an endless list of small business ventures around the world. My first investment was to Mary In Ghana. She was looking for a loan of $725 to finance her accessories shop. She has since paid back her loan and I was able to reinvest in another business. I tend to choose to lend to women in the textiles industry. You can choose your own personal interest and country. It’s a brilliant present because it really does keep on giving. Every time a loan is repaid, the money appears back in your account to reinvest. It makes you feel a little more connected to the bigger world – and gives you a slight feeling of being one of the dragons in the den.
Wrap up well
We all like our presents wrapped in perfect seasonal patterned paper, beautifully finished with ribbons and bows. But, ultimately – and at the risk of sounding like Scrooge – it’s such a waste! Apparently, the UK generates enough waste wrapping paper each Christmas to stretch to the moon. I’m not sure how scientific that is, but you get the gist. So, here are some tips. Gift bags are easier to reuse than wrapping paper. Avoid foil paper, as it can’t be recycled. Don’t bother with the foil rosettes. Try making your own paper, using Christmas stamps and newspaper (a good messy Christmas crafting session is always a joy). Use vintage scarves that can be worn afterwards. And, if you must buy wrapping paper (and I confess I will be), at least make sure it’s recycled. Paperchase sells rolls of recycled Kraft paper that you can decorate as you like or, for a touch of festive austerity, just leave plain and tie with hemp string.