Rebecca van Bergen is the Founder and Executive Director of Nest, a nonprofit building a new handworker economy to advance global workforce inclusivity, women’s wellbeing beyond factories, and cultural preservation.
While 2020 has been replete with challenges, it has also increased our appreciation for the human connectivity we too often took for granted before. We’ve watched more than two million small businesses shutter. But the silver lining is that we’ve also seen first-hand how our purchases from community-oriented small businesses make all the difference, and how meaningful purchases from ethical brands can help ensure fair employment with living wages for people here and around the world.
According to Lyst & Good On You’s 2020 report, since the beginning of this year, there’s been a 37% increase in searches for sustainability-related keywords, and the term “slow fashion” has been responsible for over 90 million social impressions. It seems like being confronted with our impact as individuals and as a collective nation has allowed people to find both time and purpose towards living, and shopping, more intentionally.
In that spirit, here are a few ways I recommend you find gifts with joy and meaning for this holiday season:
A Handmade Holiday Is a Feminist Holiday
Shop gifts that are entirely made by hand. Lose yourself in chunky hand-knit sweaters, bohemian crochet wall hangings, or hand molded ceramics on Etsy. Or roll up your sleeves and pull out the knitting needles you always said you would. Making things with our hands is a great way to unwind and cope with stress. And in today’s digital world, craft carries the added value of connecting you to others through a tactile experience. Most importantly, shopping handmade is an opportunity to support struggling independent artisans, the majority of which are women saddled with dual responsibilities of parenting and work. Just this past September, the Labor Department reported women over twenty have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, dropping out of the workforce at four times the rate of men. For these mothers, crafting is a meaningful way to earn an income from home while maintaining the flexibility to care for their families.
Find Gifts Made Local to You
Small and local businesses, particularly those with retail storefronts, have faced dramatic economic repercussions from the Covid pandemic. Luckily, there are plenty of online resources when it comes to safely supporting locally made products and businesses. Etsy has an entire section of its platform dedicated to locally made products. Live Buy Local is also a reliable marketplace whose mission is centered around creating a community of people that care about what they buy, where it comes from, and who makes it. Or, safely mask up and walk your own main street to support the artisans in your community! Make sure to ask questions about where products are from so that you can feel 100% confident in an ethical purchase — befriending your local shopkeepers is always a good idea (and nowadays, a good way to have a nice non-Zoom conversation).
Support BIPOC Businesses
BIPOC businesses have been chronically under-promoted and face greater barriers to market entry. In the face of such social and economic uncertainty, some industry leaders have found inspiring ways to ensure a more equitable future. Aurora James for example, the founder of sustainable accessories brand Brother Vellies, created the 15 Percent Pledge this year, which asks retailers to devote 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. Last year, designer Tracy Reese launched Hope for Flowers, a sustainable clothing brand in her hometown of Detroit. She is producing part of the collection in a small factory in Flint, Michigan, which employs women who are reentering the workforce and want to learn new skills.
If you are looking to shop great BIPOC products in one place, check out Nest’s BIPOC makers guide featuring US-based artisans. Some of my favorites are Social Justice Jewelry and Ember & Onyx.
Look for Seals
Make this the year you commit to researching your favorite brands and their practices around people and the planet before purchasing. There is a range of seals that adorn products that make it easier to suss out their qualifications:
- The Fair Trade seal is perhaps the most widely known, and when included on packaging, means that one or more of the ingredients in the product were produced and traded in accordance with Fair Trade USA’s standards.
- Rainforest Alliance Certified’s seal represents the commitment to the protection of ecosystems, wildlife, waters while ensuring fair treatment and good working conditions for employees.
- Equal Exchange is a social organization whose seal is trusted and helps farmers and their families gain more control over their economic future while also educating consumers about trade issues affecting farmers.
- For non-perishables, Made Safe’s dependable non-toxic seal certifies that the products you use on your body, with your family, and in your home are made with safe ingredients not known or suspected to harm human health.
- Cradle to Cradle is a globally recognized seal to create safer, more sustainable products made for the economy, working closely with product manufacturers, suppliers, and others in the industry to ensure product transparency and impact.
- Global Organic Textile Standard (also known as GOTS) is one of the leading textile processing standards for organic fibers for brands and products.
- STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX is one of the world’s best-known labels for textiles tested for harmful substances. It stands for customer confidence and high product safety.
- And my personal favorite, Nest’s Seal of Ethical Handcraft is a symbol of assurance letting consumers know that the items they shop, from fashion to furniture, have been ethically handcrafted in a home or small workshop. Nest is working to protect and uplift members of the global handworker economy.
I truly hope this holiday season we see a substantial change in how we go shopping for gifts. With the lack of holiday parties, everyone can take a beat (with a mug of hot cocoa) to reflect on what’s important to us. Everything is connected — by shopping ethically, we can create a ripple effect of positive change.