"Alone we can do so little — together we can do so much." — Helen Keller
In a world overloaded with messages like ‘be more’ and ‘do more,’ I often find myself craving simplicity. Every holiday season, my goal is the same – to take a step back and remember what is most important. Yet, every season, the end result is the same – I feel stressed, overwhelmed and stretched too thin. The excess consumerism, business and expectations of the season are like a slow burn that too often leads to holiday fatigue.
This year’s guide is a response to that fatigue. More than a beautifully designed product collection – there are many of those – it is a challenge: a challenge to give with meaning, simplicity and intentionality.
This year, let’s give gifts that are doing good in this world – gifts that benefit the person who receives the gift AND the people who made it. Let go of the stress and pressure, instead embracing simplicity and thoughtfulness. Give, knowing that, perfect or not, we are contributing to something greater than ourselves – we are giving hope, empowerment, education and a future.
For this year’s guide, we have partnered with social enterprise Sudara to curate an extensive list of socially-conscious opportunities that will allow you to use your purchasing power for good. Whether searching for a gift for people who travel or love adventure, who are creative or classic, who want to make healthy, sustainable lifestyle choices, or who just need to know you care… these are a few of our favorite gifts that give good.
Each year, we find inspiring new organizations creating meaningful products and making a positive impact on our world. This year did not disappoint. Here is a collection of rich textures and vibrant shades for the colorful and creative people in your life.
Sudara is a certified B Corp and apparel brand that makes pajamas and loungewear for the whole family. Every purchase helps provide jobs and training for women in India who are at risk or survivors of human trafficking. Even though Sudara’s clothes are made to be worn at home, we think they are too beautiful – especially the kimono-style robes – to just wear indoors. Each item comes in a matching fabric bag that is perfect for gifting, too!
The mission of Zeki Learning is to create high quality learning materials for preschool age children that support cognitive development and language learning. At its artisan center in the West Bank, the organization trains and employs refugee and low-income mothers to make beautifully handcrafted educational products, available to preschools in the US.
Two of our team members have their totes and use them as their go-to, everyday bag for work. The prints and patterns on each bag are unique, vibrant and beautiful; they offer vegan “leather” options, too. One of the things we appreciate the most about JOYN, though, is that everything is created by hand because they believe that the more hands it takes to make the products, the more jobs they are able to create. So, they process, spin and weave the cotton by hand, carve the blocks and print the designs by hand, stitch by hand and process the leather – all by hand. Amazing, right?
Our favorites: Latika Floral Wristlet Wallet, $58 / Ona Ornate Peacock Vegan Backpack, $94.80 / Malti Painted Floral Vegan Crossbody, $46.80
Bittersweet exclusive: Use code 'JOYN4JUSTICE' for 20% off your purchase.
Hiptipico provides dignified job opportunity to artisans in rural Guatemala, aiding in their quest to escape poverty. They are also dedicated to promoting traditional designs authentic to the Mayan people in the highlands of Guatemala. Their items feature sustainable materials and thoughtfully handcrafted styles. We love gifting their embroidered straps to the creatives in our life; their camera straps are perfect for photographers!
Noonday collection is a certified B-Corp that designs and sells an inspired collection of jewelry and accessories made by artisans across the world. They utilize fair-trade practices and empower artisan businesses to grow sustainably, creating dignified jobs for people who need them. Their jewelry and accessories are beautiful AND fun to wear, and we get compliments every time we wear one of their pieces. Bonus: Their founder + co-CEO, Jessica Honegger, recently wrote Imperfect Courage; it’s sure to inspire any book lover on your list.
These blocks are simple, fun, colorful and the kind of toy you'll feel good about keeping around. Tegu blocks are a canvas for the imagination. No instruction manuals or electronics, just toys that inspire limitless creativity across all ages. On top of that, Tegu uses fair trade and sustainable practices (each mature tree is hand-picked by local Honduran cooperatives!) and a portion of the proceeds are donated to replanting efforts.
Tell someone you love them with a card. Good Paper cards are more than fun graphics and clever sayings -- they are hand-crafted by women who have escaped sex trafficking in the Philippines and young adults orphaned by disease in Rwanda. Each card means employment and opportunity for vulnerable men and women around the world.
Freeset offers tees, bags, and hand-woven fabrics that are ethically-made and support women in West Bengal who are vulnerable to sex trafficking. They have an "upside down" model that turns the normal principles of running a business on their head. Businesses generally choose the best people for a job and pay them the lowest possible wages. At Freeset, women are employed on the basis of their need for freedom, rather than their qualifications - many have had little or no schooling. They are trained and then paid well above the going market rate. The transformation in women's lives is clearly apparent, simply because they've been given a chance.
This story begins with bold billboards destined to sit in a landfill. Rareform intercepts those billboards and repurposes them into completely one-of-a-kind products. Every billboard is carefully cleaned, cut, and sorted before it is sewn together into a unique RAREFORM product. In doing so, every month, 20,000 lbs of billboard vinyl is repurposed into one-of-a-kind, durable, light-weight and eco-friendly products.
Some organizations do simple and clean very well. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to highlight some classics in this year’s list again. These companies have stood the test of time and shown themselves to be committed to excellent and ethical goods.
La Vidacita partners with a collective of women artisans and entrepreneurs in rural Guatemala. The women use the traditional art of back-strap weaving, which has been passed down through generations, to express their cultural identity, create unique and high quality products, and generate an income for their families. After struggling to care for their families, these resilient women joined their resources and skills together and now work as a collective to craft beautiful products while also building a brighter future for their children and community. Today, La Vidacita not only provides meaningful employment for 25 artisans, it has also grown to include scholarship and community investment funds.
Kicheko Goods is about creating beautiful pieces, meaningful engagement, and bridging access to quality education for children who are vulnerable and at risk. Each piece of jewelry funds one month of school for one child. Concepts for the brand’s small batch collections are inspired by geometry, nature, creative conversations and travel. Kicheko's aesthetic shares an unrefined boldness, sophisticated earthiness and playful simplicity. Since its founding, proceeds from Kicheko were used to help construct a six-classroom brick school building for Mango Tree Primary School in Eastern Congo and has provided scholarships to over 150 students in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Root Collective is certified B-Corp that understands that their business is about more than the shoes they sell, it’s about creating positive change. Specifically, they are helping change marginalized communities in Guatemala by partnering with local businesses to grow and create dignified jobs at a fair pay. We love and echo these words from their founder, “We want people to be treated fairly and with kindness. We believe that a job can change lives and empower communities.”
Mulxiply’s mission is to create sustainable change by providing fair-trade employment to women in Nepal. Their jewelry, totes and felted animals are inspired by minimal, modern design and natural materials often sourced in Nepal, ensuring that every element of their designs are created ethically and beautifully. What’s the multiply effect? Fashion + Fairness = Opportunity. We take our Mulxiply backpack everywhere. It holds our tablet, our work folders, our kids snacks, our snacks…everything.
Elevate is a non-profit that believes in creating sustainable job solutions globally that improve lives and transform communities. Each Elevate purchase provides artisans with a safe work environment, fair wages, leadership training and the ability to provide for their families. Any profits are then reinvested to create more opportunities for people who really need them.
Global Goods Partners
Buy handmade, change women's lives. Global Goods Partners is a sustainable lifestyle brand dedicated to empowering women around the globe. Sustainable employment for women is a key indicator for community development and family well-being. GGP taps into the rich well of skill and artistry that is passed from one generation of women to the next to create unique, hand-crafted goods that empower female artisans around the world.
Parker Clay works with artisans in Ethiopia to design timeless, luxury lifestyle goods, creating opportunities for them to become economically independent and prevent prostitution and human trafficking. They also partner with the non-profit Ellilta - Women at Risk to provide women in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa with rehabilitation, counseling and skills training. We absolutely love their collection of bags -- everything from cross-body bags to clutches to overnight bags to carryalls. Each one is thoughtfully designed and “I’ll use this for many, many years” kind of quality.
ABLE is a lifestyle brand focused on ending generational poverty through providing economic opportunity for women. ABLE believes in protecting and investing in women because they believe women will heal the world. They also want every customer to know the true impact of their purchase, and believe that can only happen with radical and disruptive transparency. In fact, they recently became the first company that they know of to publish their wages. We love that they are ‘walking the talk’, and inspiring customers to demand more transparency from the companies and places they shop.
Half United is fighting hunger by providing meals and jobs in both the U.S. and Haiti. By supporting after school meal programs, community gardens, disaster relief and packing meals for the hungry, Half United helps provide food for children locally. Through its partnership in Haiti, it helps provide access to food (and ovens for baking!) and meaningful jobs for families in need. Every product purchased from Half United means meals for seven children.
Healthy lifestyle choices contribute to a better future for the next generation. Consider these gift ideas to promote healthy and sustainable living, while supporting organizations working to create a positive impact on our world.
Love heals. Thistle Farms' provides a safe space for women survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction to heal. By providing safe and supportive housing, the opportunity for economic independence and a strong community of advocates and partners, Thistle Farms has created an effective and successful model that empowers vulnerable women and changes lives.
By using old tires that would otherwise pile up in a giant landfill, Brave Soles reduces waste and environmental impact. The discarded tires are upcycled into shoe soles, and ethically-sourced, premium quality leather is used. Each pair of shoes is hand-crafted without any chemical processing and creates meaningful work opportunities for skilled laborers struggling to access global markets.
Buck Naked Soap Co.
When baby Elias, son of Buck Naked founders Rina and John, developed skin irritations from traditional baby products, they soon realized they needed a truly natural alternative. As necessity is the mother of all invention, the Chamomile & Calendula Soap was invented to help soothe the little guy’s skin. Since then, Buck Naked has introduced a full line of all-natural, vegan, handcrafted skin care products — each one chemical-free, using only pure, natural ingredients. If you can't (or shouldn’t) eat it, Buck Naked won't use it. Through a partnership with WE Charity, it also contributes toward clean water in developing communities. Be sure to check out the WE Collection.
A few favorites: Chamomile + Calendula Castile Soap for Babies, $7.95 / Vanilla Chai Holiday Set, $40 / Lavendar + Rosemary Bath Bomb, $6
Bittersweet exclusive: Use code 'BITTERSWEET20' for 20% off your purchase.
Willaby makes minimal, understated pieces that are meant to last -- not to be quickly discarded, but rather passed down or along to the next child. Cotton gauze fabrics that are 100% GOTS-certified organic, unbleached, naturally dyed in-house, and woven in fair trade-certified mills wear and wash up well over time. This level of quality is what sets Willaby apart from other gauze products on the market.
In addition to supporting fair trade-certified textile mills paying a fair wage and providing safe working conditions, willaby practices a no-waste policy, recycling all packaging that comes into the studio, and turning fabric scraps from the manufacturing process into paper for gift wrap. Hand-loomed rugs are upcycled from fabric scraps, too. willaby believes that we can make the world a better place by taking care of our neighbors, our children, and our planet.
A few favorites: Lace Trimmed Organic Baby Blanket, $60 / Organic Teether Blankie, $11.50 / Set of 4 Organic Pillowcases, $24-$56
Bittersweet exclusive: Use code 'BITTERSWEETWILLABY' for 10% off your purchase.
Prosperity Candle is a social enterprise that supports refugees and artisans through candle-making and beautifully crafted vessels that can be easily refilled or repurposed for a lifetime of enjoyment. Every candle is hand-poured by a woman artisan building a brighter future for herself and her family using all-natural soy & coconut waxes, pure cotton and wood wicks, and premium fragrances made with essential oils.
Approximately 80% of working youth aged 15-24 have inconsistent or casual employment in rural Kenya. A formal education is an asset, but even those highly educated struggle to find a job. JusTea invests in these young people by training them in tea and employing them at sustainable, fair wages. By creating new jobs, and keeping profits in the community, JusTea hope to positively impact many tea farming villages throughout Kenya.
Cuddle + Kind
These are the gifts for any and all kids in your life. Cuddle + Kind has adorable, ethically produced, hand-knit dolls that help feed children in need. Each doll is hand knit in Peru by talented artisans with premium cotton. They also offer adorable prints that are perfect for decorating a nursery or playroom.
For every SoapBox product you purchase, a bar of soap is donated to someone in need. These bars of soap are made from recycled bars from hotels that have been shaved down, sanitized and reformed to make a brand new bar. Donations are also paired with hygiene education, and when possible, SoapBox works with local soap makers to generate employment opportunities alongside the donations. Its soaps and shampoos are naturally-derived, paraben-free, and made with 100% recyclable packaging.
The Citizenry believes their products are only as beautiful as the environments they spring from. And every purchase supports fair wages, safe working environments, and a direct investment into their artisan entrepreneurs. They also invest 10% of proceeds directly back into artisan communities through Entrepreneur Development Grants. These grants help their partners take their businesses to new places. Even beyond the good work they are doing, their home collections are what dreams are made of -- modern, beautiful, functional… did we mention perfect? One of our team members recently bought a bed blanket; she can’t stop talking about it. If there’s someone on your list who loves home decor and is always looking for that special piece to complete a room, they will love The Citizenry.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.” Be it the thrill of adventure or the simple joys of nature, we can all find inspiration in the great outdoors. Find something for the explorer in your life and support organizations working to create social change.
For every item purchase, Mitscoots Outfitters gives an equal quality item to someone in need. The company also employs the transitioning homeless to get each and every style packaged up and ready to go. Mitscoot’s approach can be boiled down to this: GET + GIVE + EMPLOY. By partnering with local homeless shelters, the company is working to help transition homeless individuals into steady employment and stable homes. (Note: Be sure to check out the moisture wicking performance socks for the marathoner or triathlete in your life.)
Apolis was founded on the belief that commerce holds the power to improve people’s lives and create long-lasting social change. Whether it means partnering with manufacturers in Uganda, Peru, Bangladesh, or Los Angeles, Apolis empowers people to determine their own futures. Becoming a Certified B Corporation means it has met higher standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. Apples produces high-quality products with a conviction to create lasting social change by investing in people.
Krochet Kids teaches the art of crocheting to women living in poverty and empowers them with the resources to rise above poverty. Today, over 150 people in Uganda and Peru are working, receiving education, and being mentored toward a brighter future in creating gifts that give back. Below are a few favorites for the little explorers in your life, but be sure to check out the Men’s and Women’s headwear collections as well.
Cotopaxi creates innovative outdoor products and experiences that help alleviate poverty, move people to do good, and inspire adventure. They are committed to inspiring social and environmental change as a means to improve the human condition and increase social consciousness through their core values and giving initiatives. We love that their Del Día products are made in the Philippines by an employee who has total creative control over the pack's colorway; no two are the same!
Hide & Drink
Hide & Drink is a vertically integrated community driven brand dedicated to support the local community in La Antigua, Guatemala. Its product is designed, sourced, and manufactured by local artisans for the benefit of local residents. In addition to creating jobs through the manufacturing and sale of its products, Hide & Drink contributes 5% of its Gross Profits to a non-profit (Niños de Guatemala) working to break the cycle of poverty by providing quality education to those who need it most.
Whether you’re gardening, cooking, camping or exploring, Barebones products will help you create a more enjoyable connection with nature and those around you. By practicing sustainability, using ethical labor, minimizing its environmental impact, and providing opportunity for at-risk kids, Barebones actively strives to be a force for good in the marketplace.
Founding artist Jaclyn Souza grew up outside. From an early age in a tiny California town near the Sierras, she adventured around her neighborhood, foraging and collecting to create with her hands. Those mountains are the inspiration behind Uzumati and a driving influence for Jaclyn. Today, she crafts handmade beautiful pieces and donates 1% of all sales to help protect the environment.
Use less. Give Back. Explore More. This is the mission of Zeal Optics. Living outdoors will change your life, but not everyone gets the chance to experience the wild. Through projects and partnerships with some great community organizations, Zeal works to bring inspirational adventures to those who might never have felt the thrill of a running river or the calm of a mountaintop. Each pair of sunglasses is also made from plant-based materials to reduce impact and protect the environment.
This Bar Saves Lives
Grab a delicious gluten-free, non-GMO snack bar for your pack and feed a child while you do it. Malnutrition occurs when a person does not receive the proper amount of nutrients from their diet. It is the #1 cause of deaths in children under the age of five. And it's completely preventable. For every bar sold, life-saving food is given to a child in need in the U.S. or abroad. Buy a Bar. Feed a Child. Make a difference.
Whether through education, training, employment opportunities or sustainability, each of the organizations featured in this year's guide is working to contribute value and positive social change to our world. And through our consumer choices, we have the chance to participate in this effort.
I would like to extend a special thanks to Erika Chambers for partnering with us to curate a collection of beautiful products crafted with care and dedication to making the world a better place. And to the ever-talented Erica Baker, thank you for contributing your creative eye and photography skills once again. You make everything better. Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude to all of our featured organizations. Thank you for your human compassion, concern for our environment and commitment to more than the bottom line.
To our readers, happy shopping!
Editor, Bittersweet Monthly