Ethical Gifts For Christmas & Birthdays
The Gift of (Ethical) Giving
I often find myself stuck when it comes to gifting. I’m a big fan of gifting experiences over material goods - because I know how much joy I get when spending time with friends or family, it’s something that I really cherish and value.
That said, it’s not always possible to gift someone a city trip or a picnic in the park, so I often find myself stuck for ideas! In this situation, the obvious solution is to gift a material object, but my biggest struggle is finding the balance between gifting something to someone that they actually want (or like!), while at the same time keeping things environmentally-friendly.
Sustainable Supply & Demand
The misconception is that products from sustainable clothing, tech or lifestyle brands aren’t as gift-worthy as those from mainstream brands, but that’s just not true! All it means is that the item you’re gifted, or buying, has been made more mindfully. There are so many familiar shop brands that stock sustainable items, so it’s easy to get hold of them if you have time to look; alternatively, you can usually find them online. The only catch is that they’re generally a little more expensive than non-sustainable or non-eco-friendly products, but if we - the consumers - don’t show there’s a demand for these products, then the prices will never drop. The actions we take today - like making a conscious decision to buy products made in a more eco-friendly manner, will hopefully mean that our children will have easy, low-cost sustainable products accessible to them in their everyday lives.
A Step in the Right Direction - Giving More Thought to Your Gift’s Origin
To show how easy it is to shop more ethically, I’ve compiled some of my favourite gifts for different types of people - I want to show how easy it can be to shop sustainably and how your gift can introduce someone to the world of ethical consumerism. Some of the items on this list are 50% recycled, or partially recyclable, but it’s a big leap from the throw-away culture of gift-giving we’re used to. If you’re looking for a gift list that is 100% eco-friendly, I’d recommend taking a trip to an out-of-London town and having a root through the charity shops. The most environmentally-friendly things you can do are (a) not gift at all, or (b) shop second-hand. This isn’t an (a) or (b) list; it’s for people who would usually Christmas shop gifts at face value - it’s a list of ideas for people who don’t have time to research the ethics behind the gifts they’re about to give.
I’ve broken the list down to suit different ‘types of people’ (foodies, relatives, etc), and for each section I’ve featured a gift under £20 as well as a gift over £20 - usually £60 upwards, for that special someone - mum, dad, sister, brother, husband, wife and so on!
Before we get into the list, I wanted to mention the gifting of Christmas Cards or Birthday Cards, these are often very beautifully put together however most of the time only end up in the bin! A good alternative for this is a digital card, Paperless Post offer a range of digital greetings cards which are perfect for a range of occasions!
Here’s my Christmas 2018 (and birthday 2019!) gifting guide for a step towards a more ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly celebration.
Serena Lee’s Guide to Introducing Ethical, Sustainable & Eco-Friendly Gifts - Without Compromising on Quality, Excitement or Time
Sustainable Gifts For Creatives
Here are two options for creatives - one option allows your creative friends or family to plan their next adventure, next project or future business, and the other allows them to add a bit of creative flair in their day-to-day.
Small Gift: LUSH Knot Wraps
We all know about the gift of giving, but how about the gift of wrapping? LUSH’s Knot Wraps are 50cm x50cm or 70cm x 70cm square pieces of fabric made from either organic cotton or recycled bottles, which allow you to wrap up gifts for your friends & family members while saving the waste that comes with wrapping paper, sellotape and so on. You’re effectively gifting reusable wrapping paper and, while you might not be able to wrap your gift up as neatly as with wrapping paper, the knot wraps give us all a chance to rethink wrapping. (It can also be used as a hair tie, head scarf or bandana). Gift any item you like, wrap it in a knot wrap and not only create a little less waste, but give your giftee an extra present too!
Large Gift: ThreeSixFive Diary / Notebook
ThreeSixFive is the dreamy creation of Tiffany Watson, Made in Chelsea babe and ethical vegan. All of their products are vegan, (diaries, planners and phone cases), with an aim to help girls achieve their goals, by writing them down in one place - one planner to rule them all! (That’s a Lord Of The Rings quote. I had to ask Peppe…)
The 2019 diaries are now available, as well as a new range of planners engraved with motivational quotes.
Sustainable Gifts For New Parents
Being a new parent can be overwhelming, let alone trying to introduce baby into the world while keeping your lifestyle sustainable! These two items however are a great introduction to a more eco-friendly way of living.
Small Gift: Bambino Mio’s Reusable Nappy
Bambino Mio produce reusable nappies, meaning they can be washed and worn time and time again, saving baby’s dirty nappies from ending up in landfill. Reusable nappies are a good first step into the world of reducing waste and would make a great gift for new parents. Who knows - maybe it’ll inspire them to build a collection! I use Bambino Mio reusable nappies with my daughter - we use them when we know we’re going to wash a laundry load that day. I always keep a reusable nappy in my baby bag in case I find myself caught short for whatever reason, and I love their prints too! Bambino Mio’s nappies not only perform really well, but I prefer cloth touching my daughter’s skin all day to disposable nappies. The one-size-fits-all nappies drastically reduce day-to-day waste and for that reason, they’re my go-to gift for new parents.
Large Gift: H&M Conscious Range
Hear me out on this one! High street brand H&M is rapidly increasing its Conscious range, which is great to see. The collection, available worldwide (I even found some in Kuala Lumpur’s H&M), uses recycled and organic materials to reflect the brand’s shift to delivering more eco-friendly clothing to the world. I’m aware that H&M’s ethics as an overall company aren’t an A+, but stocking clothing made more consciously is a step in the right direction. Again, second-hand is best, and after this, ethical companies like Boody, Frugi and Little Green Radicals - I’m just mindful that these companies are more expensive and the budget for baby gifts might be a bit lower than gifts for adults. H&M Conscious is a good alternative if, for example, you’ve been browsing the H&M website but didn’t know that some of their range is more sustainably produced. They stock a range of lovely children’s clothes at affordable prices - just make sure it has the ‘Conscious’ tag on it when buying!
Sustainable Gifts For Toddlers
Whenever buying toys for my daughter, I really try to avoid non-recyclable plastics, as I don’t think it’s good for the environment or for a baby who will bite and chew on toys! It can be extra effort to find eco-friendly toys, but they are out there.
Small Gift: 50-Block Set
Plan Toys sell a range of no-nonsense wooden toys. This 50-block set is free from harsh chemicals and uses safe, water-based dyes, allowing children to use their imagination to build and create a plethora of structures. You can buy these online, but I’ve found the easiest online vendor to buy through is Babipur, who stock a super range of eco-friendly toys and baby-related products.
Large Gift: Grimm’s Rainbow Set
Handmade in Europe in selected workshops and finished in Germany, this beautiful 10 piece wooden stacking toy allows little ones to be creative, guiding them through the process with a thoughtful and unhurried approach to stack & sort play time. Children can build structures, bridges and combine the set with other building sets too. Grimm uses natural colours and oils so there are no nasties for teething kids!
Sustainable Gifts For Dads
Here’s a big one: what do you get for the archetypal ‘dad’? My husband Peppe asks his dad this every year and each time he gets the same reply, “A pair of socks will do just fine”. Okay, let’s run with that! I won’t change anything, but I’ll show you how to give classic ‘dad’ gifts in a sustainable and eco-friendly way.
Small Gift: Komodo Organic Socks
Komodo is an eco-friendly, GOTS-certified partner of the Ethical Fashion Forum and a big supporter of Fashion Revolution, advocating greater transparency in the fashion industry. Komodo has been making eco-friendly clothes for 30 years, working with fairtrade factories across Asia, and I think their socks are great. My husband loves them (he was gifted some last Christmas), so they make the list. Why not start your foray into a more sustainable living by transitioning in with eco-friendly socks?
Large Gift: Elvis & Kresse Wash Bag
Here is one of my favourite picks on this list, a handsome wash bag. Not just any wash bag, but a wash bag made from recycled… fire hose! I thought this was a really cool concept from Elvis & Kresse, who believe the future of luxury is “sustainable, ethical, reclaimed, open, generous and kind”. They also donate 50% of their profit to charities, which is a big plus.
Sustainable Gifts For Mums
Like anyone else, Mums can be hard to shop for too. From my experience with friends and family, it’s either “don’t get me anything” or a very specific list with details and a stern warning not to deviate from said list! That’s fair enough, but here are two gifts that you could try to introduce to the mother figure (or anyone for that matter) in your life. Both are practical, both are well designed and both are vegan and eco-friendly.
Small Gift: Turtle Bags
I love my Turtle Bag - it’s a handy ‘miscellaneous’ string bag. I’ve used it as a grocery bag, a travel bag, a storage bag and I’m sure a few other ways too. The bags are made from organic cotton with a GOTS certification and, while being a great alternative to plastic bags, each bag can apparently hold up to 40kg of weight!
Large Gift: Votch Watch
A few years ago I received a message from a lady called Laura who was starting up her own watch company using vegan leather - it sounded amazing, I went to the product shoot and received one of her watches, and ever since I’ve loved following her brand. Fast forward almost three years and Votch’s business is booming. Votch’s watches are made from highly durable, vegan-friendly ‘leather’ with their strap materials being free from PVC, heavy metals and flame retardants. I had to include them on this list - whether for a Mum, a Dad, a partner or anyone! For the feel-good factor: every 3 months, Votch donates a percentage of their sales to a new charity.
Sustainable Gifts For Outdoor Enthusiasts
One of my favourite type of people to buy gifts for! The outdoor enthusiasts in my life are usually no-nonsense, passionate-about-the-outdoors, ready-to-exercise go-getters, and so whatever I gift them has to pull its punches. I think the following gifts are a fantastic way to show friends and family that sustainable-wear can be rigorously tough and protective while facing the elements.
Small Gift: BAM Socks
I’ve already featured on pair of socks on this list, but bear with me! These BAM ankle socks have been a staple for our active family for the past 4 years. Made from bamboo, the socks have wool-like wicking abilities, keeping you warm when wet - unlike cotton, meaning you can wear them white water rafting like we did recently on the Verdon Gorge in France. On top of this, bamboo is also antibacterial, so your socks won’t smell after a long day hiking or cycling. Don’t believe me? Give it a go and get 10% off by signing up to their mailing list. (Edit: I realise this sounds like an ad - it’s not, even though I’d love to partner with them one day. I just love these socks!)
Large Gift: Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
When looking for sustainable gifts for the outdoor enthusiast, the first port of call is usually Patagonia. Patagonia is big on recycling and using sustainable materials, they have a whole chunk of their website dedicated to this, and I’ve loved their products for a few years now. Patagonia stocks everything for an outdoors adventure from base layers to hats and gloves. This 100% recycled, water-resistant, windproof and ultra snug jacket will be the perfect gift for a hiker, a climber or someone who just enjoys being outdoors.
Sustainable Gifts For The Instagram Generation
We all know someone who is always on their phone, posting photos, uploading Stories, tweeting or on FaceTime. I wasn’t sure what to call these people as, although you’re probably thinking of a ‘millennial’, these gifts are suited for both younger and older generations.
Small (Medium) Gift: Pela Case
Pela are an eco-friendly brand, who create tough, rigid and 100% compostable phone cases. Hearing this, you might think the case is made out of material that degrades quickly or which isn’t very strong - but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve owned a Pela case (second-hand) for a few years and the product is as bold as the claim! Pela make cases for Android, iPhone and Google phones.
Large Gift: Veja Wata Canvas Trainers
I wasn’t too sure what to put for this option, but eventually opted for a pair of fresh, white, trainers/sneakers. It can be tricky finding trainers which are vegan-friendly whose aesthetic isn’t questionable, but luckily Veja have managed to create a range of shoes that are a great alternative to mainstream sneakers. The Wata Canvas (wata meaning ‘cotton’ in Japanese) is made out of natural rubber and organic cotton. Sporting a ‘Converse’-type look, these shoes work really well for a teen or young adult looking to take a step forward with their approach to sustainable fashion.
Sustainable Gifts For Plant Lovers
Plant lovers! The obvious answer here is “buy them a house plant”, but I wanted to think a little outside the box, as gifting plants can be tricky - especially as every plant has different needs, and your friend or family member might not be as experienced with new plants as you think.
Small Gift: Paddywax Candles
I know this might sound strange, but my suggestion for a ‘small gift’ for a plant lover is a candle. Paddywax’s soy candles come in a very beautiful containers, so I see this as a double-gift: you get to burn the candle and enjoy the sweet pepper and pomelo scent, and then once the candle is spent you’re also able to use it as a container for a plant! I bought a larger one as a thank-you for my Maid of Honour and the scent is fruity & refreshing. The candle itself is vegan-friendly and, if this specific one doesn’t suit you, Paddywax have a range of other candles available online.
Large Gift: Nkuku’s Noko Seagrass Basket
From my experience, house-plant lovers are always looking for containers to put new plants in. Nkuku’s Noko Seagrass basket is perfect for this and definitely ticks the ethical box, as Nkuku pride themselves on paying fair wages for work done by artisan workers around the world. Alternatively, this basket can also be used for laundry, kids’ toys or even fire kindling!
Sustainable Gifts For Foodies
Aren’t we all food lovers? These gifts should work for both the casual chef and the Instagram foodie. These could be good ideas for vegans who are already conscious of the ethics behind their food, as these gifts focus on the sustainability of the materials used for prepping and consuming food.
Small Gift: Karamba Zero-Waste Metal Straw & Drinking Spoon
This 12-piece-set is ideal for the conscious eater who wants to try to stay away from single-use plastic - a very (importantly) hot topic for 2018! The set includes a combination of straws (with cleaners/brushes) as well as drinking spoons, ideal for loose-leaf teas. With the decline of plastic in fast-food eateries, I can see straw sets becoming very popular in the near future.
Large Gift: Nkuku Bwari Long Marble Board
Another product from Nkuku features on the list! I really love this handmade, natural wood and marble chopping/serving board. Made using traditional tools and sold by a brand who adheres to rigorous Fair Trade standards, Nkuku’s chopping boards are great for working in the kitchen or presenting antipasti to guests. This versatile board should make any food-lover happy on Christmas Day!
Sustainable Gifts For Yogis
As a yoga teacher, I’ve come across a few brands that are really eco-friendly - these range from clothes to towels and everything in between. In my opinion, the western yoga community needs to become open to changing retail habits in order to establish a more sustainable and therefore peaceful world - for example, the most popular brands among yogis who are willing to spend £50+ on yoga leggings unfortunately don’t have great ethics to shout about.
There are some great brands for yogis who are semi-hippies like me (!) - I personally love Teeki and live in harem pants. But I want this list to be a little more approachable than prints named ‘Rebirth’ and ‘Rainbow Priestess’, so here are two gifts I think would be welcomed by any yoga practitioner!
Small (Medium) Gift: 24Bottles
24Bottles’ Clima Bottle is perfect for yogis who want either a warm morning drink with their practice or a cool refreshment after working out. The bottle’s vacuum-insulated technology works like a charm - I tried keeping my bottle in a toasty car on a hot summer’s day, and no temperature change occurred with my drink. 24Bottles uses premium aluminium; their products are BPA-free and contain no plastic. On top of this, the bottles are CO2-emission zero, saving you from releasing 80mg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, (found in process of making plastic bottles) each time you refill your bottle. They also plant forests to help offset the bottles’ production, made up of orange trees, mango trees and coffee bushes.
Large Gift: CorkYogis’ Premium Cork Yoga Mat
This cork mat is great for outdoor yoga and uneven surfaces too, protecting your knees and hands with a bit of extra padding. Made from natural cork, the anti-bacterial properties mean that it won’t start to smell as easily as other mats can. Another reason I like this mat is because, with each purchase, CorkYogis make a contribution to help women in India get out of the sex trade. This London-based brand can definitely provide a welcome gift on Christmas morning!
Sustainable Gifts For Travellers
Travel accessories can make a huge difference when on the go, but items that make your transit run smoother and provide a more stress-free experience are often not eco-friendly. Below are two products that I think would make great gifts - both are made largely from recycled materials, making your travel experience a more sustainable one.
Small Gift: Smateria Compass Pouch
I’ve been a fan of Smateria for a few years. I bought their laptop sleeve from Amnesty’s website in 2015 and love the principles behind the brand. Smateria works with recycled fishing nets, upcycled PU leather and plastic bags, and each product is lined with upcycled fabrics from various factories in Cambodia. They have a great track record with their employment standard - 80% of their employees are women, and the company offers a free childcare centre on site - on top of English lessons, double maternity and family support leave and health insurance. Workers are allowed to only work 5 days a week, a maximum of 8 hours of work per day, with sick leave granted too. These are very raw-looking products - a talking point and so much more than you can buy at Paperchase, and their code of conduct and the good that comes about from their operations give me that feeling of Christmas warmth! The ‘Compass’ pouch is great for travellers looking to keep their important belongings in one place - passports, tickets, phones and more. It’s a great size for light travel and would make a lovely gift for someone who is used to checking in and out of hotels, or travelling regularly on coaches, trains or planes.
Large Gift: Millican The Maverick’s - Smith The Roll Pack
Millican’s 15L The Maverick’s: Smith The Roll Pack is a great grab-and-go bag/backpack, ideal for short trips or the daily commute. It’s pretty much a versatile but simple roll bag that allows you to transport your day-to-day belongings or a few extra sets of clothes for a weekend trip. The backpack is made from 60% recycled canvas with a 100% recycled polyester lining, and buckles are made from metal instead of plastic to keep the eco-friendliness of this bag on level with the rest of the parts used - this is one of the most eco-friendly bags I’ve managed to find out there and it looks great too, plus they’re based in the UK.
Additional Gifting Suggestions
A few other items didn’t make it onto the list above for one reason or another - but they shouldn’t be overlooked!
Who Gives A Crap - Toilet Paper. Recycled toilet paper, stronger, cheaper (in bulk) and more eco-friendly than most store-bought loo rolls. They’re also delivered to your door (plastic-free), so no bulky shopping needed. Perfect for the ‘practical’ friend - we all have one!
Dock & Bay - Cabana Shorts. Made from 100% recycled bottles (six bottles per pair of shorts), these shorts dry faster than your average pair of trunks (our friend has a pair and loves them). Dock & Bay have also introduced biodegradable wrapping for all their products,which is a nice touch.
Fjallraven - Re-Kanken Backpack. Made from recycled bottles and a dying technique that saves water, energy and other resources, the Re-Kanken is a more eco-friendly version of Fjallraven’s Kanken bag. A great choice for those looking to keep up with trends (wow I sound like such a mum!) whilst not compromising on ethics. I’ve had the dark khaki coloured one since 2016 and use it almost daily.
Thought - Runda Modal Waterfall Pocket Jacket. ‘Thought’, formerly Braintree Clothing, is a lovely brand that has a growing range of vegan clothing. While they aren’t a 100% vegan brand, they do think a lot more ethically than many other clothing brands out there. They have a good range of choice for men and women (I love their socks!) and are worth checking out - their Waterfall Pocket Jacket would be a good present for my mum, for example.
Do you have any favourite brands that offer great ethical Christmas gifts? Have you tried out any of the products in this list?
Thanks for reading and have a lovely Christmas!