Kittlemade – Shameless plug for one of my friends, Jordan, who makes leather wallets, bags, and other goods by hand here in Nashville. I own one of his wallets, and aside from the enjoyment I get knowing that wallet will last me for years to come, I also get to smell real leather every time I pay for something or order an alcoholic beverage, so I’m definitely getting my money’s worth on two counts.
Sseko Designs – Shameless plug for myself as a Sseko Fellow who is now selling these gorgeous products. In addition to the totes and wallets (which you can buy from Jordan because I have plenty other goodies to sell), you can find shoes, clutches, jewelry, scarves, sandals, weekend bags, and yoga bags. These products are handmade by women in East Africa who are saving money to attend university. By purchasing a Sseko product, you are investing in the future and livelihood of women in Uganda and Ethiopia, and you are also supporting local artisans and makers because all of the materials are sourced in East Africa as well. I can attest to the quality of their products – I own a pair of loafers and slide sandals and two bags!
Sudara employs women in India who are trafficking survivors. They are most known for their Punjammies – awesome pajama pants and capris for women, men, and kids. They also sell shirts, stuffed animals, totes, and other accessories.
Imagine Goods employs trafficking survivors in Cambodia, empowering women through employment. I have four pieces from this organization – two shirts and two dresses, and they’re some of my favorite pieces. They also sell beautiful aprons for men, women, and kids, napkins, table cloths, men’s and women’s accessories, dresses, shirts, skirts, jewelry, and crossbody bags.
House of Light Goods provides jobs to single mothers who would otherwise be left vulnerable to harsh societal factors in Mexico as they work to provide for their families. Here, you can get scarves, blankets, bags, and they recently introduced throw pillows! House of Light Goods works in partnership with Casa de Luz Children’s Centre in Primo Tapia, Mexico, which provides a safe place for these beautiful children to learn, play, be loved and cared for and thrive. Their Mothers are also able to further their education, start their own businesses through a micro loan program, find suitable employment, begin a journey of healing, and be part of a supportive and encouraging community.
Cuddle & Kind makes the most adorable little dolls of the highest quality, all-natural cotton. For every doll that’s sold, ten free, nutritional meals are provided to children in need. Their goal is to provide 1 million meals a year.
Tegu is an independent toy factory located in Tegucigalpa that creates wooden, magnet based building blocks. Employees are paid a living wage and the employers focus on long-term career goals over task-based jobs. The goal is to bring world-class employment standards to Central America.
Preemptive Love Coalition is a relief organization that works to provide aid to refugees and heart surgeries to children in conflict zones. One of the ways they work to provide for refugees is through employment. They began teaching soap-making to men and women who are seeking ways to save money so that they may one day return home – because we all just want to go home. This year, they’ve also introduces candles and an opportunity for you to invest in the employment of refugees.
Thistle Farms – I can’t say enough about this organization. They’re our hometown ball players that I always have to support. Magadalene, a two-year recovery program for women who have survivied prostitution and addictions provides employment through handmade bath and body products and a local cafe. They have nearly 20 global partners who provide similar empowerment for vulnerable women worldwide for additional products for the home and the family. My favorite products are the healing oils, but I love everything I get there – the lip balm, the lotion, the candles, the room spray, the soaps – they’re all wonderful!
The Citizenry is a collection of home goods produced through direct relationships with artisans around the world. Producers are paid fairly, and the online-only store eliminates industry markups. They provide sustainable grants, comfortable working environments, and of course, fair wages!
Earlywood creates handmade cooking utensils in Western Montana. They’re known for their sauté set, which we own and love. They also create cutting boards, coffee scoops, serving spoons, toddler spoons, and spreaders.
Frostbeard Studio creates book and sci-fi inspired candles in Minneapolis. Owners Roxie and Tom began the company as a ceramics studio, but after finding out how scarce book-scented candles were, they accidentally became candle-makers. I’ve gotten a couple of Harry Potter inspired candles as well as Old Books and Hatter’s Tea Party.
Equal Exchange sells fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate, baking cocoa, snacks, and olive oil. Equal Exchange’s mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through its success, the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world. You can buy in bulk or wholesale, if you’re a business owner. I’ve tried the chocolate chips, olive oil, baking cocoa, and hot chocolate mix, and it’s all delicious.
Humphreys Street Coffee & Soap is local to South Nashville and is the social enterprise of Harvest Hands Community Development Corporation. My church is privileged to be able to work with this organization whenever we get the chance, because it’s truly a phenomenal place accomplishing what no one else is in this area. Harvest Hands provides community programs that include providing job training for vulnerable youth through coffee roasting and soap making. I drink the coffee every Sunday morning at church.
Koinonia Farm has a beautiful story I can’t cover in this space, but it’s more than a place to buy pecans and such. Koinonia began as an intentional community of believers in 1942 that included everyone – regardless of skin color. This naturally brought about many dangers of bombs, bullets, and attempts to be wiped out by the KKK, but they endured. Today they exist to serve others through hospitality. You can visit the farm, to work, or to just rest and be renewed. They’re online shop offers everything from fair trade chocolate and peanuts to t-shirts and jewelry.
Prosperity Candle is a social enterprise that employs women artisans who have resettled in the U.S. from refugee camps. Candles are ethically made and provide a living wage for these women who are working to build a brighter future for themselves and their families.
Yobel Market is another great organization that builds empowerment through employment for those who have been exploited, displaced, and impoverished all over the world. Accessories are available for men and women, and you can also find items for your home and kitchen. I bought my husband a travel toiletry kit for Christmas a couple of years ago, and he loves it.
Ten Thousand Villages connects consumers to the global village that produces their fair trade goods. Many of the brands I’ve mentioned already are available through their online store. They’re a collection of home goods, fair foods, accessories, home accents, and gifts. I’ve bought gifts for many people there before, and they’ve been well-received.
Oliberte is a sustainable brand that supports worker’s rights in Ethiopia. They make mostly boots and shoes, but they also have accessories available such as bags, wallets, and toys for wee ones.
Nisolo Shoes are made in Peru and partner with other factories around the world to provide sustainable living wages, friendly work environments, and employment of a beautiful trade.
Rabbit Room is an intentional creative community providing music, stories, and art. They also publish a small number of books, and their store features music, books, sheet music, clothing, posters, and mugs. The site features forums, a blog, and podcasts, and they host a yearly gathering called Hutchmoot.
Persephone Books is a publisher & bookshop in London that mostly features 20th century women writers. They reprint stories that have been forgotten or neglected, and each cover is a simple grey jacket with endpaper that was taken from a fabric design that fits the era and mood of the book.
Krochet Kids International was started by three guys who learned how to crochet their own headwear for outdoor and snow sports activities. After a while, they eventually were presented with an opportunity to teach crochet to individuals in developing nations who were looking for a means to support themselves and make a living wage. Products are made in Peru and Uganda by individuals who are working toward a better living for themselves and their families. Among the products available are hats, bags, scarves, and tops for men, women, and kids.
Swell was created with the goal of eliminating plastic bottles from the world. These bottles keep drinks cold for 24 hours and hot for 12.
Bought Beautifully is a collection of vendors who provide dignified employment with the goal of rehabilitating those who have survived slavery. You can find products from many of the brands already mentioned that include beauty products, paper goods, clothing, accessories, and home goods.
The Giving Keys employs those who are transitioning out of homelessness. These beautiful necklaces and bracelets feature old keys engraved with inspirational words.
Love41 is an online retail shop that donates 100% of the profits to Africa New Life Ministries which provides sponsorships for those whose lives have been torn apart from genocide in Rwanda. You can find bags, gifts, home goods, and accessories.
The Joy Market publishes children’s book and uses the profits to fund amazing causes around the world – heart surgeries for children in conflict zones, food for children in West Africa. I purchased a book for Willie called The Legend of the Starfish, and it’s one of my favorite books for him so far.
Fruit basket – or veggie basket, or egg basket, or whatever your local farmers have available this season. Support your local farmers in their slowest season. There are still things available in the winter, depending on where you live – eggs, honey, apples, kale, herbs, mushrooms, pecans, turnips, winter squash, sweet potatoes, winter greens, meats. I bet if you did some research, you might be able to put together a pretty fantastic package of local food for your loved ones. (Mississippi State Cheese is a goodie if you can’t find anything in your area.)
Plants – Do you have someone in your life who doesn’t really need any stuff, but still might appreciate a small gesture of your relationship? Plants are always a safe choice for that. They’re beautiful and you can just let them sit there, and they’ll still do amazing things for your home – purify the air, calm the senses, entertain the cat. You can go seasonal with the poinsettias, but peace lilies are always a good choice and easy to take care of as well as succulents and aloe.
Local art – I know there are people in your own community (or even you) who can produce some pretty amazing art. Pottery, fabric art, oil, water color, metal art, wood art, graphic design – someone you know can do any of these things. I know people who can do all of these things. Support a local artist and purchase a special and unique piece that will make the home of your loved one special and unique. Almost every decorative piece in our home is an heirloom, art by people we know and love, or art that was bought locally.
Local shops – This one’s a biggie, actually. It’s always good to support organizations that provide some much-needed, fair employment in parts of the world that need it most, but your local culture directly affects you. Every town has small gift shops that rely on the community for support. These are people you can see every day and know that your purchase is feeding their kids, who live in your town and paying their bills, for services provided in your town. But don’t just buy your gifts locally – try to buy everything locally as best you can.
Local drinks – Vineyards, breweries, distilleries – if you have any of those nearby and you’re not quite sure what to get someone, this one’s usually a safe bet.
Professional talents – Are you a photographer, mechanic, seamstress, or some other master-of-a-trade? Provide something of your expertise for free. Offer to do a photo shoot for your friend’s kids. Give a free oil change. Repair someone’s clothes so they don’t have to buy new ones. Maybe you can teach these skills to someone.
Acts of service – Childcare, yardwork, housework, errands, prepared dinner – if there is someone in your life who would much prefer a break over fancy cheeses, consider offering your time. We all, unfortunately, at some point in our lives, know someone affected by cancer. We all know someone who is a new mama. We all know someone who is an exasperated mama. We all know someone who’s having a hard time of it, whatever the reason may be. The gift of your time can be more precious than any of the above tangible things, so look for those in your life who might be more interested in a helping hand, companionship, or solidarity. Maybe pay their utility bill or take their car to get serviced and cleaned.
Make something – This is the age of Pinterest, everyone, we all know how to make jellies, breads, pastries, hand soap, candles, shave butter, infused salts and syrups and liquors and oils and sugars, and even art. Make a quilt or a scarf or hat or a weaving or something out of wood.
Fortunately, there are countless more vendors, shops, companies, and organizations that offer well-made, sustainable goods. I’ve recently discovered several small batch makers of kids clothes and goods through Instagram. There’s just no way to list everything that’s available, and that’s a good thing. It means that more and more people are taking it upon themselves to break out of the mindless consumption of goods manufactured through unknowable means to provide it themselves. Of course, as terrible as the working conditions are, for many people, that’s their only means available for a living.
That’s why I like to keep a balance of supporting local merchants and finding ethical producers around the world for my needs and gifts. We need to encourage local sustainability, but at the same time, I believe that to whom much is given, much is expected. Because I live in America, I am unbelievably privileged, no matter how poor I may think I am, so I have a responsibility to share what I have with those who have little or nothing, and I choose to do that through organizations that are working to create and promote self-sustaining communities. Sometimes, though, that may require a little bit of outside help on the front end, and I’m happy to give it.
If you know of any companies or organizations or small batch makers that are not on this list, please let us know so that we can expand our options for a better method of consumption.
Finally, I want everyone to know that I know that there are always those in need of a new TV or computer or some other such gadget. Sometimes the local offerings don’t always provide what we or those in our lives need. Sometimes that book that your kid really wants is only available to you through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The important thing is to simply be aware of the purchases we make. Anything given out of love is the most precious gift, so we all (I) need to make sure that we (I) don’t get a big head about it. Especially since a lot of this stuff is SPENSIVE. That’s why I like to recommend things like food and plants and acts of service.
Finally-finally, we all have those in our lives who, no matter how ethical or fair trade or sustainable or beautiful or homemade the gift is, still don’t want or need any stuff. Later on I’ll post a list of well-rated organizations you can donate to in honor of someone.