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Image: Supplied / Tina Tiller
Image: Supplied / Tina Tiller

SocietyDecember 1, 2022

The annual Spinoff guilt-free (and goat-free) ethical Christmas guide

Image: Supplied / Tina Tiller
Image: Supplied / Tina Tiller

Give the gift of righteousness with these desirable goods that take little from the planet and often give a whole bunch back. 

A Welsh Christmas traditionally involves a zombie horse. In Catalonia there’s a nativity scene figure called the caganer, a little man who contributes to the holy proceedings by doing a poo in the corner. In Japan, Christmas Day means it’s time for a bucket of fun from KFC. Norwegians hide their broomsticks from witches. In Aotearoa, available traditions include serving a dessert that is literally on fire in the week of the summer solstice. Traditions come in many forms, and here for you is another one celebrating its fifth birthday and all ready to go to school. So behold, fear not, thou hast found favour with the Spinoff, and another ethical Christmas goat-free gift guide shall be brought forth unto thee.

The best things in life are almost free: printables, upcycled toys and flower seeds.

Budget Category 1: Cheaper than a Twitter blue tick (under $15)

Printables ($0 – $1.29)

If you have access to a printer (ideally a poorly-supervised work printer) and a passable level of computer skills, you can create a bespoke poster for your loved one using various free online tools. A guide to local plants, common emergencies and what to do, favourite poetry quotes, and so forth. If you don’t have access to a printer (or it’s well-supervised), most libraries have printing services for a few cents a page. If you’re keen to avoid a paper trail entirely, you can always gift your poster in digital form to be a computer wallpaper or for the giftee to print in a way that works for them. Aho Creative appear further down this list, and they also have a beautiful free Matariki printable.

Second-hand books (various)

Aotearoa is blessed with a healthy selection of second-hand bookstores. These are an excellent place to reduce, reuse, and recycle some paper and ink by giving a stack of it new life in a loving home. Plus, old books often look much fancier than their price tag.

Dunedin and Auckland both have a branch of Hard to Find bookstores, which also has online shopping options (making them, conversely, one of the easiest to find second-hand bookstores). Arty Bees in Wellington, The Piggery in Whangārei, Minton Booklovers in Napier, Smith’s in Christchurch – there are options almost everywhere across the motu where you can spend an enjoyable hour and not much cash locating something for every interest. My personal favourite is Slightly Foxed in the Victorian quarter of Oamaru, where they will wrap your book in a brown paper package tied up with string, so you can unleash your inner Julie Andrews as a bonus.

Upcycled toys (various)

If multiple lockdowns with toddlers taught me anything, it’s that recycling is your friend. For the Star Wars fan in your life, attach a metal slinky to an empty tissue box and you have pretty much the same method the filmmakers used to create the noise of blasters in the original films. For babies, use food colouring to dye uncooked rice and arrange it in a rainbow in a plastic bottle. The colours end up completely mixed together within 30 seconds of gifting, but they genuinely last years and are a universal favourite with visiting infants – Fisher Price eat your heart out! Both neuro-diverse and neuro-typical small people can enjoy sensory boards, made by attaching differently-textured materials to a piece of wood or similar. 

If none of these float your boat, the internet is awash with alternatives, and Covid did nothing to hamper the parenting blog industry.

Bee-friendly Wildflower Seed Pack ($3.90)

For many, Christmas is a time to remember those we’ve lost, and planting wildflowers can be a lovely way to do this. These beautiful seed packs are made sustainably by The Natural Co. and can help support the bee population in your area. 

So many ways to support different communities while chowing down and looking cute in the process.

Budget Category 2: Cheese from New World ($15-$35)

Chow Downs: Recipes from the Down Syndrome Community of Aotearoa ($35)

It’s perhaps unethical of this ethical gift-guide composer to include my own product, but I’m telling myself it’s ok because none of the profits will come to me. In fact, thanks to generous advertisers, 100% of the sale price will fund speech and language therapy for Kiwi kids with Down syndrome. Chow Downs is a genuinely beautiful book, printed using carbon-zero accredited methods, full of over 50 recipes from members of the Down syndrome community, alongside special guests Mike McRoberts and Dame Denise L’Estrange-Corbet. Every recipe has a gorgeous image alongside it, and many also include a little bit of background as to why the recipe was chosen. To really complete your Christmas purchase, you can by the UpsideDowns Christmas Combo and save 18% on this unique recipe book and the 2023 UpsideDowns’ calendar for only $45 – what a bargain!

Foundry Single Origin Drinking Chocolate ($26)

If craft beer isn’t for you, then perhaps craft hot chocolate could be worth a go. Foundry Chocolate follow the bean-to-bar process of chocolate-making to create their completely vegan masterpieces, which ensures an ethical and sustainable supply chain. Their awards cabinet is absolutely stuffed with accolades from the NZ Chocolate Awards, Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards, Vegan Chocolate Awards, and a Global Award from the intriguing-sounding Academy of Chocolate, which I’m presuming is like Hogwarts run by Willy Wonka.

Moana Fresh Scrunchies ($15)

As the Rugby World Cup highlighted, the humble scrunchie is making a glorious comeback. One of the best places to find this sought-after item in a variety of colours and designs, is Moana Fresh – “a marketplace and community space celebrating Pacific and Māori artists, creatives and authors indigenous to Moana Nui a Kiwa”. Both online and in their store in Avondale, Auckland, Moana Fresh showcases the work of more than 50 artists who “can face barriers in mainstream art spaces due to race, age, sexuality or formal education”. Of course, this means they stock a whole lot more than scrunchies, but for a unique, affordable gift for the person in your life with enough hair to tie back, it’s hard to beat (much like the Black Ferns).

Zealandia Nocturnal Native Enamel Pin ($19.90)

Are you one of those zoologically flexible individuals who voted for pekapeka as Bird of the Year in 2021 and proud of it? Is the call of the ruru your soundtrack of choice? Is the puriri moth your pin-up? Then look no further than the enamel pin range (designed by Pepper Raccoon) of our nocturnal natives from Zealandia’s gift shop. They’ve even managed to make tuna (as in eels) look lovely rather than the horrifying aquatic devil-beasts they truly are – quite some achievement. If you can make it to Karori, pop in to their shop, or otherwise order online. Every purchase supports conservation of the flora and fauna depicted as well as many others, like this recent evidence of thriving bird life in the capital.

Hats, knickers and wraps: ethical ideas to cover family members of every conceivable age.

Budget Category 3: Royal Event Commemorative China on Trade Me ($38-70)

Aho Creative Pēpi Wraps ($40.50)
If one of your giftees is newly earth-side, then these organic, fair-trade pēpi wraps designed by Māori artists and made in collaboration with sustainable and ethical cotton farmers in India are a stunning option. Wraps are also one of those rare new-parent gifts that you can receive dozens of and still appreciate, given the dirty:clean ratio of most items that come into contact with newborns.

ReCreate Form Hat ($69.90)

As those of us in the melanin-deprived community are rapidly finding out, this summer has an even shorter burn time than usual due to the impact of the Tongan volcano eruption, as well as historic CFC damage. But at least it’s a great excuse to gift someone a hat! 

ReCreate’s Form Hat range are made from 100% organic cotton and are ethically crafted in the Goel Community in Cambodia. This community was founded in 2006 by a young Cambodian woman concerned with the unfair and unsafe working conditions of garment factories in the area. She still leads the community today, reviving traditional Cambodian weaving practices that were almost lost due to the civil war. This community is one of several partnered with Aotearoa-based ReCreate.

(ReCreate is not to be confused with another awesome Kiwi company Recreate NZ who are incidentally another great option for a Christmas gift that makes a positive impact. Their products include a Harvest range of chutneys and jams etcetera, grown, harvested, and cooked up as part of their empowering programmes for young people with intellectual disabilities.)

Thunderpants Adults’ Original Xmas Day ($38)

Undies, undies, undies, togs! There’s nothing more Christmassy than undies as gifts, and I’m pleased to report there are more ethical options than ever. Thunderpants are fair trade, organic, and are at the forefront of gender-neutral labelling and marketing. They have a great range of fun designs besides this festive one, from elegant pīwakawaka to silly sausages. Plus, they actually do sell togs.

Harakeke Seed Oil Night Cream by Aotea ($55)

As the name implies, this business is based on Aotea (Great Barrier) where the local ingredients that make up their range are grown. Aotea is informed by mātauranga Māori and are committed to a circular economy, powering their processes with solar energy, re-using excess biomass from production to feed the growth of the plants utilised, reusing wastewater, and a whole bunch of other clever things. Their harakeke seed oil cream is 100% natural to the point of being edible, but it’s probably best to use it on your skin rather than your toast.

Give an ego-boost from a sports star, a vegan shoe, or a powerful burst of creative inspiration.

Budget Category 4: Annual dog registration ($80-$200)

Personalised message from a sports star or artist by Swysh (various)

This one is a fantastic option for those annoying people who have everything and if there’s something they want they’ll research it to death themselves anyway. Swysh began in Australia and now have a New Zealand branch, where you can pay to have a sports star or artist record a personalised message to your giftee. At least 20% of your purchase will support one of two partner charities. As the stars are able to gift back some of their cut, it often works out to more than 20%.

For $150 you can have Ruby Tui compliment your sister’s taste in scrunchies. For $100 you can have Lockie Ferguson tell your Dad how on-trend his moustache is, Hollie Smith could sing your Auntie’s favourite Christmas carol, or Goodshirt could do a shout out to your mate Sophie. If you’re up for a bigger spend, Beauden Barrett can chip in to the family Christmas greetings for $250, and if you’re on a tighter budget $20 will get you a message from Michael Collins (the Otago rugby star – not the Apollo 11 astronaut or the Irish revolutionary). 

The Orba Shoes ‘Ghost Sneaker’ ($149)

Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, as well as the ghost of his dead buddy Marley (or the brothers’ Marley if we go by the truly authoritative Muppets version). But you only need this one ghost to find the perfect sustainable vegan gift. Senior Spinoff writer, Chris Shultz, covered this one pretty thoroughly so I won’t take up any more of your Christmas present.

Māpura artworks (various)

Māpura Studios (formerly Spark Centre of Creative Development) have been working with disabled artists since 2000, and their online shop today features hundreds of works in a style to suit many different kinds of art-lover. If you ever want to experience excellent vibes, I can highly recommend attending a Māpura Studios opening. The programmes they run give voice to the non-verbal and self-expression to those too-often ignored. The team use a range of innovative technologies and work-arounds such as head-painting devices and accessible spaces, enabling people with different physical or intellectual limitations to create.  

Reca Curved Gold Bar Necklace ($95)

Regular readers may recognise Reca from last year’s guide, but they’re here again in celebration of some important developments made since then. In addition to their online options, they now have a real life shop as well in Orakei Bay Village. The shop stocks all their jewellery alongside a bunch of other ethically-sourced goodies.

The Tayo Collective in the Philippines produce Reca’s popular Curved Gold Bar Necklace which is gold-filled rather than gold-plated, and therefore of higher quality. Tayo gives training, support, and scholarships to women escaping repression.

Most of Reca’s other jewellery is handcrafted in New Zealand by former refugees, including Reca’s founder, Myint Aung. Myint has big goals for 2023, and intends to travel to Mae Sot on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, and work with the Suwannimit Foundation to give training and employment to women fleeing domestic violence. The foundation already runs a clinic and school there for Myanmar migrants, many of whom have very few options outside of sweatshops or illegal trades. Myint explains: “The foundation is doing amazing work there, but there are more women there suffering than they can support. We’ve spoken to the foundation already about training these women to make our products, which they were warmly receptive. Doing this will give them a living wage, more independence, and the safety and security they deserve.”

Splash out on a beautiful vegan bag, an ethically distilled drop or… the toilet is explained below.

Budget Category 5: An undeclared jar of honey at the NZ border (Over $200)

Velvet Heartbeat Vegan Leather Bags ($210 – $297)

Love the idea of gifting a leather bag but not so much the whole animal skin side of it? Then the great news for you is that vegan bags exist and are made in Aotearoa with a commitment to fair wages. Velvet Heartbeat use plant-based textiles and recycled materials to make their beautiful range of bags from a small workshop in Tāmaki Makaurau. One of the materials they use is cactus leather, an innovation from (unsurprisingly) Mexico. Don’t worry, the bags aren’t spiky, they’re just made from this super handy, fast-growing plant that requires virtually no irrigation, being synonymous with the desert and all.

Water Recycling options ($1,300+)

There’s been plenty of chat about water recently, and while a year or so ago most of us thought of water as water, we’re increasingly accustomed to being more specific and discussing storm, waste, drinking, potable and so on. One of these brave new waters is grey water – the excess water that heads down the drain when we use a washing machine, have a shower, brush our teeth, and so on. It accounts for most of our home water use – around 70%. It’s the kind of thing we become intensely aware of during drought periods, or following a big water bill (if you live somewhere that charges separately for water), but otherwise is happily ignored. Greywater recycling systems like the Aqua2use for example, take this grey water, filter it, and redistribute in your garden to water the plants. 

Another clever innovation is the Profile 5 Toilet Suite. You probably have to know someone quite well to gift them a toilet, but if that’s the space you’re in, this is a great way to go. Each New Zealander uses an average of 86 litres a day flushing toilets. When you consider that half the world’s population uses less than this for all purposes each day, it’s a pretty staggering amount. This system re-fills the cistern after each flush with the water you used washing your hands. (And in these post-Covid times we’re all singing happy birthday twice through before we stop washing our hands right? Right?). It’s one of those things that sounds unhygienic but totally isn’t.

These and plenty of other water saving, reusing, and collecting options are available as generous, sustainable gifts for a homeowner in your life, and they genuinely will keep on giving to more than just the giftee for years to come.

Cardrona Distillery Gift Set ($312)

To end on a related but much les toiletty note, let’s raise a glass and sing Auld Lang Syne to Cardrona Distillery! One of the things I’ve always found beautiful about whisky distilling is the slow, long-term nature of it. You have to have a much less frantic approach to life than I do to look at a mountain stream and think “let’s start work now and in 20 years we’ll have a decent drop”.

Cardrona distillery has thought everything out for future generations, including their sustainability approach. The building has been designed in response to the natural landscape and recycles heat so the enormous energy you could expend on heating in a wintery alpine Central Otago landscape is taken care of. The by-products of the process are fed to the neighbouring livestock, the water is re-used during the process, and 95% of it is filtered and returned to the source. All shipping and sourcing of materials is designed to reduce the distillery’s carbon footprint as much as possible, and this is where the slower approach to life that whisky distilling imbues once again proves its worth. 

Like many whisky distilleries, Cardrona are currently mostly selling gin while their whiskies age, and so, for gifting this year, a great option is this Barrel Aged Source Duo

And with that, slàinte mhath and a Meri Kirihimete!

Keep going!