If you want to do gift-giving without hurting the world this Christmas, Sarah Paterson-Hamlin has the guide for you.
This might be controversial, but I just don’t like getting or giving goats for Christmas. Not actual goats suffocating in Whitcoulls 3-for-1 wrapping paper in suburban Dunedin, but those cards that say ‘I bought a goat on your behalf for a village in Peru.’ I know I should be into that kind of thing, but there’s just something about physically receiving something at Christmas, having an actual pile of stuff that migrates from under the Christmas tree to your own personal corner over the course of the day.
I come from a family of charity workers and volunteers, and we like to think we’re pretty altruistic on the whole. Accordingly, we’ve tried the goat thing a few times over the years. It’s not always a goat, sometimes it’s a chicken, a cow, or a week of meals. One particularly passive aggressive year it was a latrine. No matter how good the intentions, it’s just never had the satisfaction of a real-life thing you can use or play with or look at after Christmas lunch when conversation’s starting to vanish but it’s not socially acceptable to start the really serious drinking yet.
But it’s definitely possible to give Christmas gifts that satisfy the urge to unwrap a thing, but are still full of warm fuzzies and support genuinely excellent causes. So I present to you a list of ethical, sustainable, socially conscious, or charitable gift ideas to satisfy all kinds of family members and budgets. Uncle Graham and his dodgy sense of humour, your sister-in-law and her thinly veiled disappointment with anything that looks like it’s worth less than a week’s salary, Gran and her completely unveiled disapproval of anything that looks like it’s worth more than $10… you’ll be able to find something to satisfy everyone while still unfucking the world at the same time.
Budget Category: Student
Price: $12 – $15
Because you can’t have Christmas without socks, right? John’s Crazy Socks’ motto is “Happiness through socks” which says it all really. It is run by John Cronin who has Down syndrome and just really loves socks. There are socks for genuinely every interest you can think of: Harry Potter, penguins, Elvis, Mr Rogers, NASA, cookies, kittens, even farts (one for you, Uncle Graham!). If you buy a pair of John’s Awareness Socks range, you also receive some lollies and a handwritten note from John himself. I genuinely never thought socks could make me as happy as my John’s Crazy Socks socks do.
Price: $20 – $40
When I was a kid, about 90% of Christmas gifts were CDs and books, which made for fantastically easy wrapping. Sadly, CDs are unlikely now, but books are always a classic. It’s great to support whichever independent book shop is closest to you, like University Book Shop in Dunedin, Muir’s Bookshop in Gisborne, Scorpio Books in Christchurch, or Bruce McKenzie Booksellers in Palmerston North. If you’re in Auckland, or happy to order online, The Women’s Bookshop has the benefit of not only supporting independent booksellers, but supporting feminism at the same time. The Women’s Bookshop specialises in women’s writing, including an impressive selection of New Zealand writers. Extra for experts: they also sponsor The Spinoff’s On the Rag podcast.
Price: between free and not much more than free
I’m not saying I’d say no to an All Blacks season pass, but there are plenty of national sports teams out there that receive a fraction of the funding, support, promotion and therefore crowds of teams like the All Blacks or Black Caps. Usually they have more boobs than Y chromosomes. Even better, if you buy your family Sporty Spice tickets to a White Ferns, Black Ferns, Tall Ferns, Tall Blacks, or Māori All Blacks game, they’ll likely be either free or under $20.
Calendars are definitely a staple. After all, Christmas is the big gift-giving ceremony that takes place six days before the end of the year. This is why every mall from Northland to Southland has a pop-up calendar stall with pictures of cats, Justin Bieber and Justin Bieber holding cats. These desk calendars by UpsideDowns raises funds for Kiwi kids with Down syndrome to receive life-changing speech therapy, which is objectively better than raising money for Justin Bieber.
Gardening isn’t for everyone. Getting covered in dirt, becoming emotionally invested in a sprout that won’t grow, watering and aggressively weeding for six months to end up with a less delicious version of something that costs $2 at a supermarket isn’t my idea of a fun time. But lots of people inexplicably get a lot of joy from this hobby, and you can indulge that with Garden to Table’s Great Potato Bag. It contains all the materials you need to grow your own potatoes and proceeds go towards their mission to change the way children think about food. If only they’d been in my primary school, I might have a different view on gardening. But they weren’t, so please don’t buy this for me – buy it for someone you know that loves to garden.
Budget Category: Teachers on double income, no kids, but paying Auckland rent
Price: $30 – $45
Emma is 22 years old and has Down syndrome. Like many people with a disability, she found it virtually impossible to find work after leaving school thanks to the stigma she faced. However, she’s also a badass entrepreneur, who along with her Dad and Jennifer of Illumina, has set up her own soy candle business because she’s always loved candles. Their products are clean-burning, have no paraffins, are refillable, and sustainably made by Emma herself. They also last for ages and come in a bunch of different scents such as Pink Grapefruit & Cassis, Sweet Pea & Gardenia, and Marshmallow Puff.
Christmas means summer and summer means jandals. So what better gift than jandals that you can wear at the beach, profits from which help protect the beach? Sustainable Coastlines coordinate beach clean-ups all over Aotearoa, and works hard to educate us on how we can all protect our precious coastlines. So far, over 86,000 volunteers have collected nearly 1.5 million litres of rubbish from our beaches through Sustainable Coastlines. Ironically, they don’t let you wear jandals on their clean-ups, but that doesn’t mean they don’t produce an excellent jandal themselves.
Price: $20 – $90
Little Yellow Bird specialise in uniforms, but they have a growing personal collection for both kids and adults as well. My personal favourite is their new Kererū dress in honour of the bird of the year (even though I voted for the Hihi but whatever, I’m over it, it’s fine). All their clothes are made in India using an ethical, environmentally sustainable supply chain that pays workers fairly and reinvests profits into the community.
Price: $40 – $80
Defender Bags are all completely unique, so this is ideal for the ‘anything but mainstream’ hipster in your life. Its $40 tote bags, $50 device sleeves, and $85 satchels are made from recycled vinyl billboards and all the profits go towards Spinning Top, a Kiwi charity working with migrant children on the Thai/Burma border, so there’s really no more boxes left to tick.
Price: $29 – $130
Much like socks, Christmas would be incomplete without some undies under the tree. Nisa underwear helps refugee women from the bottom up. Most of the employees work at Nisa as their first job in New Zealand, building skills, self-esteem, language skills, and independence. Their lovely undies are made from organic cotton and suit a range of female undergarment requirements, from their cheap and cheerful briefs to the top-end Jacinda Maternity Bralette.
Price: $4 – $200
High quality cosmetic products, or “smellies” as my mother-in-law calls them, are an evergreen gift for anyone from your closest relative to someone you didn’t realise would be invited to Christmas this year because of the Incident. Beard oil, shaving equipment, make-up, shampoo, body wash, eau de toilette, and all the other miscellaneous “smellies” you could ask for are available from Oh Natural. They even have lube, but be careful who you give that to in public… Their products are available in boutique shops all over the country or you can order online. Their products don’t test on animals, are often vegan, are always organic, and aim to be as close to waste-free as possible.
Budget Category: Recently bought a first home and trying not to humble brag about it
Price: $80 – $500
Steve is a Syrian refugee who taught himself how to be a silversmith in the Calais Jungle. He now lives in the UK and produces stunning jewellery, including necklaces with Arabic text, rings made from nails and wire which were all the source material he had in Calais, and a special feminist collection which helps to fund the brilliant “Guilty Feminist” podcast and the work his mother is doing for fellow refugee women in Turkey. You’ll have to allow extra delivery time as he is based in the UK, but it’s definitely worth it.
Price: $12.95/week (eg: $155.40 for 3 months)
It’s like the giving a meal thing but you get to eat it too! Eat My Lunch has a buy one/give one model, so every lunch you eat provides a lunch for a Kiwi kid who might otherwise be going without. They give lunches to 88 schools in New Zealand where kids are struggling, and have so far donated over a million lunches. If you’re the (un)lucky one who gets to host Christmas this year, you can also order a Gourmet Christmas lunch, which means you get to not stress over an increasingly belligerent trifle all day but pretend that you ordered out because it was a good cause. Everyone wins!
This one is ideal for your weird uncle Graham whose jokes you half laugh at, half wonder if you should direct him towards the #metoo movement. It’s toilet paper you bulk order in cartons of 48 rolls that is made without trees. Instead they use bamboo and bagasse (a waste product from sugarcane), so its overall impact on the environment is substantially less than traditional toilet paper. Plus, it’s a toilet joke that comes in a bunch of irreverent designs, so everyone’s happy.
Nga Rangitahi Toa provides mentoring and creative arts opportunities for young people excluded from school. They work with rangitahi and their whanau for at least a year, enabling them to reconnect, find direction, and create some amazing art in the process. Their ‘Unf%ck the world’ range supports their work, changing lives through creativity.
Budget Category: Boomer
MFPA has been going strong all over the world since it was founded by a polio survivor in 1956. Artists who can’t use their hands paint a huge range of beautiful art works using feet, mouths or both. New Zealand’s 13 MFPA artists are part of a global network of over 700 art professionals in 74 different countries.
Price: $165 – $750
At first glance the phrase “unique boob charm” doesn’t immediately appeal. These pendants are surprisingly subtle though, and profits go towards Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, which is just as well probably. Another one for dodgy Uncle Graham to look into (but not too closely).
Price: $40 – $2,000
Cargill Enterprises are one of the oldest social enterprises in New Zealand, having been going strong in Dunedin since 1960. They employ around 80 people with various disabilities who are encouraged and expected to uphold a strong work ethic, are paid fairly, and receive upskilling and training opportunities. They make a bunch of things from wine presentation boxes to dog kennels to garden benches. If a compost bin or wooden pallet is your cup of tea then they can help you out there too, though possibly those options are a little less Christmassy.
Budget Category: Any and all
You can really tailor this to whatever budget you’re working with and whatever the person you’re buying for is into. GoodFor has locations all over Auckland where you can buy sustainable and reusable jars, bottles, and containers, and then fill them up with whatever spices, nuts, grains, herbs, cereals, coffees, teas, fruits, even cleaning and beauty products your little eco-heart desires. If it looks a bit to utilitarian when you’re done, you can always chuck in some of their t-shirts, keep cups, and crockery to round things off.
of the Spinoff’s first book!Find Out More
Price Range: Any
Ok, I know I said the thing about the goats, but the Good Registry is a great idea if you live far away from family, have a really hard to please group of people to buy for, or are just a better person than me – all of which are eminently likely. The Good Registry was set up just over a year ago by some fabulous Kiwi ladies: Christine, Tracey, and Sue. Their inspiration was the thought that all that money and energy that went into unwanted gifts they gave and received could be directed towards helping amazing causes instead. You can register your entire Christmas with them, choose your favourite charity, and re-direct all the money you would have spent on soap you forgot your brother was allergic to towards any of their dozens of local charities instead.
And of course, you can always buy a goat, it’s actually a really awesome thing to do.
The Spinoff’s business section is enabled by our friends at Kiwibank. Kiwibank backs small to medium businesses, social enterprises and Kiwis who innovate to make good things happen.