What you can buy me for Christmas

Over the last few years I’ve become known among my friends and colleagues as a bit of an eco-warrior. It’s been gradual, and largely due to this blog, but it’s definitely sticking – I was dubbed ‘eco-queen’ by a colleague last week, and that’s in a company whose sole purpose is to help people buy better.

This all sounds great (if a bit embarrassing at times), but it probably means I’m a nightmare to get gifts for. So here’s my challenge:

How do you convince your friends to buy you ethical gifts?

Fortunately, I get to run workshops sometimes and I set this as a challenge to 30-odd people this summer. At least two of the groups suggested some kind of wish list which you could give to your friends, to help point them in the direction of what you need but also of ethical brands you like. It was such a great idea, I’m stealing it (and suggest you do the same… or if you’re lazy, and like the sound of what’s here, you can just refer your friends to mine).

Disclaimer: if you are getting a gift from me this Christmas, it will probably be listed here somewhere. I apologise for the spoilers, but it would be crazy not to take my own advice.

mistletoe

My ethical (eco, conscious…) gift wish list

1. Anything from Aerende

Everything in this store is made in a way that supports a social cause. Read the story behind each on their makers page, admire those beautiful wooden spatulas (note: I already own a chopping board, thankyouverymuch, but oo look at that clothes horse).

2. Luxury pants

I’ve talked about these guys before, but honestly, no special occasion is too special for these beautiful pants from oncemore. Handmade in a workshop in Paris from silk fabric off-cuts. Hello.

3. The kitchen sink (courtesy of ethicalsuperstore)

My husband and I have been battling over the washing up recently. He does most of it, but I refuse to let him buy normal sponges (they’re headed straight for landfill). After a few failed attempts (cloths: washable but too soft, fabric pads: fell apart and landfill anyway…) we settled on this loofah sponge. Works wonders and can be composted at the end of its life. And this coconut scrubber is amazing! Who knew coconut could do so much. Pair with some ecover washing up liquid and you’ve made yourself a lovely little bundle for your food-loving friends.

4. A little piggy

Perfect for your animal-loving friend who lives in rented accommodation, this little piggy really takes up no space. An old friend bought this for me last year – you’re effectively donating the cost of a gift to Oxfam to support someone out there who needs a real, live pig a lot more than you need a cute pig ornament. And who wouldn’t cheer up at the sight of this poverty-busting pig? (NB. You do get a card, so there is something to hand over on the day. I recommend perfecting your pig-drawing skills to personalise it a little.)

5. Anything edible from Cafe Direct or Divine

These two brands go above and beyond Fairtrade: both are part-owned by the cocoa or coffee growers. And you wouldn’t underpay yourself now, would you. If you’re not one to shop online, you can find these in any Oxfam or Waitrose, and some of the larger Sainsbury’s too. (My fav coffee is the Machu Picchu, ground or bean.)

6. Something sparkly from Anuka

This jeweller makes her lovely pieces in Chester, UK, and sources her gold and silver through Fairmined-certified mines, ensuring everyone is treated fairly throughout. I happen to work with her, but honestly, go see how pretty her pieces are.

7. Second-hand treasures

For some reason, it’s not really socially acceptable to gift second-hand goods. Please consider this my permission (and encouragement) to get me something second hand, for this Christmas and forever. Charity shops are amazing treasure troves, or you could head to a vintage store if that’s more your thing. Or even find something wonderful in your house which you know I would love. Tip: find a charity shop in a posh area for fancier goods…

8. A poem or a picture

Growing up, when asked what he wanted for Christmas, Dad would often reply “just write me a poem, or draw me a picture”. I’m not sure we really understood why, but we did often do just that: and now Dad has some lovely (and some slightly less-well executed) cards which span the years, showing my tentative poetry skills and my sister’s growing artistic talent. The results might not have always been incredible, but we put time and effort into his cards: and that’s part of the beauty. So if there’s enough love in it, a card is plenty.

What are you asking for for Christmas? Can you give your friends a bit of help in sourcing those gifts for you?

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❤ brand: Oncemore

Mum used to let me help out in the kitchen when I was little. When we made anything out of pastry, I would have the honour of making the marmite rolls – small swirls of pastry and marmite that we put together from the edges and off-cuts of the pastry. Anything we didn’t use went into a marmite roll. Nothing wasted, and all very tasty.

If you’ve ever made clothes, you’ll know we have the same issue with fabric as we do with pastry: small bits left over. Here’s one brand that has taken the offcuts of some of the nicest fabrics they can find, and made something truly wonderful: knickers.

Silk. Lace. Made in Paris.

once_more_1

Oncemore‘s knickers are made on a tiny scale – think 150 made so far to date – in a seamstress’ studio in Paris. Their creators, Emilie and Lisa, are two London-based French girls who decided that, actually, underwear could be beautiful and sustainable at the same time. And comfortable. They have a transparent supply chain – you can find details of all of their components on their website, from the elastic to the tiny bow on the front – and source their fabrics from off-cuts and end-of-rolls. (The lace on the back of their blue set is from a roll used by Zara.) When I met Emilie, we joked their their supply chain is as transparent as the back of their knickers…

They’re the marmite rolls of the lingerie world.

A love affair with lingerie

Great underwear makes you feel great. No one sees it (and let’s be honest, those who do really don’t care), but you know you’re wearing it. And that’s enough. Rare are the knickers that both feel great and look great and look great underneath clothes: we’re all familiar with Bridget Jones’ dilemma.

These knickers fit all of those things. They look wonderful on and feel wonderful. They’re probably the best made underwear I’ve ever worn, and if you’ve never worn silk there before, do it. I hadn’t. I’m a cotton lover through and through, but these are marvellous.

I love that every element has been thought through to the max: from their recycled and re-usable packaging and the unbleached cotton gusset (that’s the bit that goes closest to you!) to the four shapes that fit different tastes and body types.

The price of transparency

Once+More-8710

Oncemore’s knickers don’t come cheap, at £32 each. They have just four patterns (although you can get each in four different shapes, which is fab), and although bras are in the pipeline, they’re not there yet. Their delicate nature means they’re handwash only (insider’s tip – they’ll survive fine in the machine if they’re in a protective underwear bag), which makes them more of a faff on a daily basis.

I wouldn’t buy these often (I couldn’t) – but having that one pair? Completely worth it. Try them on.

Photos courtesy of Oncemore.

The handkerchief

They’re quite old-fashioned: more something you would read about in a novel than something you would find about your person. But the humble handkerchief has been a bit of a revelation to me – and I want it to stage a comeback.

I live in a small flat with only one other occupant. In the six months we’ve been here, I’ve been hyper-aware of how much we throw away (we have quite teeny bins that need to be emptied two floors down). We do pretty well, with a lot going into our food waste bin and recycling, but there are some unavoidables for landfill: and this is what this is all about. Avoiding the unavoidables.

Hands up if you have a handkerchief in your pocket. (Hands up if you have a pocket? Although that’s for another post…) If you’re currently sat there with your hand up, please get in touch: I don’t think I know anyone apart from my dad – and one guy I went to uni with – who actually uses them.

Avoiding 22kg of tissue waste a year

And yet, we use an average 22 kg of tissue a year. That’s a whole small person’s worth! Admittedly that includes loo roll (and I’m not advocating you swap that out…), but I would make a fair guess that a third of that is facial tissues or kitchen roll. Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone could invent a sustainable alternative to all of those tissues going into landfill? Oh wait. My dad uses them.

When digging through some of my husband’s boxes I found some old handkerchiefs. I got them out, gave them a wash, and I’ve been using them on a more or less daily basis for the last few weeks. They’re great. I haven’t completely given up on disposable tissues (they’re helpful on washing day!) but I’ve drastically cut my use of them. And these new handkerchiefs are so BIG, and soft (who knew), and don’t disintegrate when you’ve got a face full of cold while cycling.

Simply pop them in the wash every few days and you’re sorted. And a few more trees can live to see another day.

Intrigued? Find yourself a handkerchief or two, and join me: let’s stage this sustainable comeback.

PS. I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve coped on one roll of kitchen roll (that’s paper towels to those of you who don’t speak Laura) in over 6 months. The key? Cloths. Lots of surface cloths. Our washing machine does wonders. I always loved the idea of this tutorial for home-made reusable kitchen roll too…

Three ways to give more sustainably

1. Renew something old

We have many beautiful things around our homes which we don’t use, but we’re reluctant to throw away because of their beauty or emotional attachment. Find something like this and give it a new life before gifting it back to its owner (or a new one!), either by being a bit crafty yourself or by enlisting the help of a professional.

A few examples:

  • Find an old teaset and turn a couple of the cups into candles
  • Bring an old handbag/briefcase back to life with some leather conditioner or a full-on professional refurbishment
  • Have a pair of shoes reheeled, cleaned and polished. You could even go a step further and dye them or replace the laces.
  • Buy your recipient’s favourite houseplant and turn an old jug, vase or bowl (perhaps with a chip in it) into a plant pot
  • Buy some cushion stuffing and transform an unworn top, shirt or jumper into a cushion

2. Agree a presents amnesty

Ever had to buy a gift for someone and really had no idea where to start? Have you thought whether maybe they thought the same thing about you? If there’s a friend or family member who you regularly exchange presents with, suggest a presents amnesty this year, where neither of you buys a gift for the other.

This is particularly good if your budgets are tight this year, but you can also turn it into an excuse to celebrate: instead of exchanging average gifts, head out together and have a drink, meal or day out, where you can spend the money you would have otherwise spent on gifts and enjoy each other’s company as a bonus (and both get what you want!). When not buying a gift for someone – I’m lucky in that my family have always preferred the thought to the act in itself – I usually try to make them a card, or print off a photo, or similar: to offer a inexpensive (for me and the planet) symbol that I thought of them.

3. Buy better

If you’re not inspired by any of the above, or you know the person you’re gifting to will be horrified by the idea of not having gifts, then there are still plenty of ways to spend money in a slightly more sustainable way.

  • Go second-hand
    Over the years I’ve bought my sisters some beautiful dresses & other gifts I found in charity shops. As they’re cheaper than new, it’s meant that my budget has stretched to nicer things than I would otherwise have been able to afford.
    Charity shops are also excellent for stocking fillers (for you parent readers!) – one friend goes hunting for second-hand toy cars to fill her son’s advent calendar: I can assure you that he loves them just as much as if they were new.
  • Find a social enterprise
    This wonderful gift guide features only gifts sold by social enterprises (companies that give back to the community). I can also highly recommend Traidcraft (ahem family and friends, you may recognise some of these under the tree…) and another friend has recommended Global Seesaw as well.

You can also check out the gift guide I put together last year, or look through any of the brands I’ve featured on this blog – they’re all doing their own bit for the community or the planet.

  • Support local & independent
    You probably have an amateur woodworker who goes to your church and a brilliant painter down the road. Find out if they can make something for you – and commission it!
    Go and explore any of the independent shops near you (start by walking into any of the shops whose names you don’t recognise…), or find a maker’s or Christmas market.
    By buying local/independent, you’re minimising carbon miles, supporting the businesses and individuals around you and helping to make sure that in ten years’ time, not every shopping street in Britain has just 10 names on it.

Do you have any more sustainable giving ideas? Let me know!

Swimming in ocean plastic

Sustainable fashion – clothes that last, do good to the environment, are well-made by thoughtful people using well-designed processes – isn’t always easy to find. I’ve been looking for ‘ethical swimwear’ for a couple of years, without finding anything close enough to my taste and budget to actually buy anything (I even wrote about it last year).

My swimwear conundrum last week led me to a rather wry thought: with so much in the news (ok, maybe just my newsfeed) about ocean plastic, and all the harm it’s doing to wildlife and to our own health, wouldn’t it be ironic to make swimwear out of recycled plastic? I wonder if anyone has ever done that…

Cue google – and conundrum no more. Here are my findings, with my favourite first. It has sharks on it!

Batoko

  • Made from recycled plastic
  • Fair working conditions
  • Fairly flattering shape
  • Awesome patterns

Batoko have a pretty sturdy sustainability statement, from fair working conditions for their factory in China all the way through to vegan textiles, low-impact printing and small collections to minimise product wastage. I always find it’s much easier to believe small brands with a simple offering: when your product is basically 8 different prints on 10 different sizes of the same product, there’s a good chance you really do know where it’s made (and therefore how well it’s made).

At £40 each their swimsuits are above what I would pay in the high street (probably £25 in my budget), but the fabric seems sturdy and flattering, and amazingly once tried on, though there is no explicit bra inset/support, I could jump up and down to my heart’s content. So I can quality assure it up to a C cup! They even support the Marine Conservation Charity, and all products come packaged in recycled & recyclable minimal packaging sleeves.

But really, what gets me is their patterns. I get to go swimming in a swimsuit made from recycled ocean plastics with sharks on it. I am a happy bunny (or seawater creature of your choice).

BATOKO Great White Shark Print Swimsuit - Front
PS. They do a kids’ range. So you could match…!  Photo courtesy of Batoko.com

Adidas Parley

  • Made from recycled plastic
  • Designed for sports (rather than just leisure)

Adidas made a big splash (ahem) recently with their Parley line – also made from recycled ocean plastic. If you can manage more than 10 lengths in the pool at once and you’re looking for something a little more sporty, this range might be for you. Also, if you’re a man then they’re better than Batoko, in that they have a men’s range. The prices are similar to Batoko, at £25-£45 per swimsuit – with much more subtle designs. They also make shoes in the same range…

After a quick look I couldn’t find any assurances on how well they check the conditions of their workers: I would imagine that, like most major brands, they are trying to be better but rarely succeeding in getting down more than one link in their supply chain, so unable to control what work their suppliers outsource. In fashion this can represent a significant amount of the labour and materials (see this example of the conditions in some Bangladesh tanneries).

I wouldn’t let this discourage you necessarily though: it’s great to see such an influencing brand taking decisive action like this to promote the wellbeing of our oceans. (The Parley movement itself seems brilliant, and worthy of support.)

A few more suggestions:

  • Speedo’s H2O Active line is partly made with recycled materials. Not too much info out there beyond their partnership with the creators of EcoNYL, a fabric made from recycled nylon (fishing nets & carpets, mostly!). See Adidas review re. brand integrity. Prices are a bit higher (approx £55), but best selection of “normal” patterns and colours of the lot.
  • RubyMoonSwim – Etsy seller making swimsuits out of recycled materials. 100% of profits go to supporting women in developing countries. From £42 – some pretty whacky colours.
  • Auria swimwear is also made with Econyl – small brand, London-based. Prices are higher, starting at £50. A bit more ‘trendy’ than some of these alternatives, which could be a good thing, but may mean you’re starting to look out of date in a summer or two. (My sharks will never look outdated…)

The swimsuit conundrum

Last week I left my swimsuit at the pool – when I enquired the next day, it was nowhere to be found. This is annoying. Partly because anyone doing their weekly swim in a bikini looks like an idiot, and partly because last time I bought a swimsuit, I wasn’t as bothered about sustainable sourcing so I could just walk into a shop and buy one – one that fit me and within my budget.

Not so anymore. I don’t know where Debenhams make their clothes (over 900 factories apparently, I’m amazed they can keep track), but the statement on their website seems to focus more on making sure we never run out of clothes than anything to do with making things so they last, from sustainable materials, or that can be recycled. And I don’t really want to encourage that behaviour in any of the retailers I spend my money with.

Bikinigate

So now the conundrum: do I buy a cheap, simple swimsuit, that I can order quickly (saving me from bikinigate), from somewhere with not-terrible-but-not-great-either ethical commitments (my first port of call here would probably be Decathlon, or maybe M&S or H&M), or do I spend time, money and effort and try to source it sustainably? At the risk – due to the still limited nature of ethical shopping – that it might not be a perfect fit, and of a high price and longer shipping time?

I haven’t decided yet. But if you know of any ethical swimwear companies, let me know.

 

Dye me pretty

I have one big problem with my clothes:

I spill stuff.

I’ve been known to get permanent ink on a pair of chinos the first time I wore them.

There’s this one particular white skirt I own which is now affectionately known as that skirt. The first time I wore it, it got stuck in my bike chain. The second time I wore it – on a long-haul flight at the start of our honeymoon – I poured tomato juice all the way down it (cue an awkward climbing-over-the-big-guy-next-to-me and sympathetic chats with the air-hostess). The third time I wore it, we were driving through the Colorado mountains, and when I opened my black pen it decided to squirt ink all over the place, including – you guessed it – onto my white skirt.

I like to look after my clothes, trying to wash them only as necessary, buying styles that won’t go out of fashion and from fabrics that won’t stretch or look terrible after a few wears. But I have no idea how to stop staining my clothes.

If you’re similarly clumsy, here are a few ways to minimise the pain of the stain:

1. Spot clean

People used to do this loads: rather than wash a whole dress, they would just wash the part that had got dirty. This is especially relevant where the dirt is a small patch on an otherwise cleanish item. I have some travel clothes soap which I often use for this – works for the likes of tomato juice which are water-soluble; less for the more tenacious stains like permanent ink.

One amazing tip I learned in Italy: if the stain is grease, as soon as you can, put talcum powder on it (I’ve tried: bicarbonate of soda also kind of works). The talc will absorb most of the grease, and you can then brush that off, and put the item through the wash as normal.

Different types of stain react to things differently – so it’s always worth a quick google depending on what you’ve just spilled.

2. Aprons

Growing up, we always called cooking aprons ‘pinnies’. Having moved to the UK, my husband laughs at me each time I use the word – apparently it’s a little old fashioned. But old-fashioned or not, aprons are fantastic for minimising how often you need to wash your clothes. I have one I use for cooking, washing up, and – as was the case yesterday – cleaning my bike chain. Bonus: they often have pockets.

If you don’t own an apron (or just can’t face wearing one), then having a set of old clothes (that you might wear for painting) which you can slip on over whatever you’re wearing for the more messy jobs is always good.

I’ve been known to take that white skirt off before starting to eat a spaghetti-and-sauce lunch. Extreme measures… (I was eating alone, I should add).

3. Dye it!

A few months ago I dyed a pair of grotty white shoes blue. The shoes have attracted many compliments since, and buff up really well with a coat of shoe polish, in a way they didn’t when they were white.

I have a pair of pale pink trousers which have just been stained once too many times. I tried some excellent stain remover on a stubborn grease stain… and ended up with a bigger stain caused by the stain remover. Oops.

I could throw the trousers out. But first, I’m going to try dyeing them. A lovely forest green (fingers crossed it works with the pale pink and doesn’t turn out a horrible brown), one £6 pack of dylon dye which you put in the washing machine in a couple of cycles. And because the pack of dye does 600g of clothes (and my trousers only weigh 300g, who knew), I’ll be doing a friend’s dress at the same time.