Following the raging success of the 2018 and 2019 non-goat ethical Christmas gift guides, we present – done up in reusable gift wrap – the 2020 list of ethical, sustainable, socially conscious and charitable gift ideas to satisfy all kinds of family members and budgets.
By some miracle, this absolute arsehat of a year is nearly over and that means it’s time for The Spinoff’s world famous since ages ago (specifically 2018) ethical Christmas gift guide! A lot of us have put our trees up early this year and already dusted off the Boney M and Mariah Carey CDs; those complaints about malls having the decorations up in early November sound a bit hollower than usual. We’re all ready for something to celebrate and keenly aware that we are one of the few places able to do so freely – barring any Paddy Gower-predicted festive outbreak, that is.
Even a 21st century Ebenezer Scrooge would be up for stimulating the economy and buying local this year. It is my seasonal delight therefore, to present a brand new guide for 2020, full of ethical, sustainable, socially conscious or charitable gift ideas to share with your loved ones. Because if ever the world needed some unf%cking…
Before the season kicks off
Matt and Tom flat pack Christmas tree ($95 – $225)
Need a place to put all that goodness you’re about to purchase? This one ticks pretty much all the boxes. Matt and Tom are twins with Down syndrome who love Christmas. They’ve started their own business creating eco-friendly flat pack Christmas trees. They are elegant, beautiful, and don’t leave pine needles all over the floor.
Wrapping paper life-hack ($5 – $10 for materials)
This is the one and only life-hack I am ever going to come up with, and I am fine with that. I’m sure many others on Pinterest or similar have thought of this before, but I haven’t seen those posts and I don’t want to know – I plan to go to my grave giving myself credit for it. Warning: some child labour is involved.
About a month before Christmas last year, I decided all our wrapping paper was going to be eco-friendly paper painted by my then-2-year-old. I stand by the genius of this, but my last-minute eureka moment led to an ethically dubious assembly line on 23rd December. This year, I was well prepared, and kept all the bits and pieces of artwork completed over the year – much of it during those dark, childcare-free days of lockdown. Now I have loads of eco-friendly, personalised gift wrapping ready to go. All you need is some recycled brown paper, some paint, and a child – or, in the absence of that last one, any artistically-inclined family member. My artistic skills are such that I can easily pass for a toddler if needed, just by being myself.
Budget Category: Lots of people to buy for but not quite enough for a Secret Santa to work (50c – $30)
Ideal Cup ($16 – $30)
The only way I seem to be able to be good about using reusable coffee cups is by having about a dozen hidden all around my work/home/car and to be totally honest, even then I fail. But the point is that you really, genuinely, can never have too many reusable coffee cups, which makes them a brilliant gift. Ideal Cup are a New Zealand company that make all their products locally, and produce a great variety of reusable cups that you can personalise. Some of their offerings also include a donation to the Starship Foundation like these Dr Ashley Blomfield, Jacinda Ardern, and Dr Siouxsie Wiles memorabilia editions – you know, in case you were going to forget 2020.
Sew Good Lunch Bag Pack ($22.80)
Green Elephant is an Aladdin’s cave of a website, full of sustainable, New Zealand-made products. This lunch bag pack of three sizes is a great option for someone who just got their first office job and is looking at packed lunches for the first time since primary school, for someone with kids who actually are in primary school, or for someone you know who loves camping, tramping and the like.
Gift-in-a-Jar (50c – $30)
The gift-in-a-jar trend isn’t going anywhere, and it’s expanding beyond brownies and biscuits to science experiments, cocktails, mani-pedis – anything you like really. This makes it a particularly budget-flexible option, especially if you’re using saved jars from round the house rather than buying those trendy mason jars new. Be warned though – these are probably more for the time rich among you.
The Kiwi Country Girl has some great edible options and most of these kids’ science experiments can be made into gifts by putting the basic, non-staple ingredients like food colouring and paper into a jar that then doubles as part of the equipment required. There’s pretty much no limit to other options you can put together. For example, my Southern African family receive home-dried biltong from my sister in a mason jar each year and it is GLORIOUS.
Calendars, calendars, and more calendars ($10-$30)
Calendars are the classic, the ultimate, the superior Christmas gift. You know the next year is a week away from rolling around, they’re super easy to wrap, and they come in every possible iteration to suit any loved one, from the Miley Cyrus fan to the Victorian tea set enthusiast. And in 2020? Anything to remind us that the end of this godforsaken trip around the sun is almost over. The great news is that calendars are also a charitable staple.
I’ve mentioned the New Zealand Firefighters calendar before, which supports Child Cancer Foundation, and I’ve also mentioned the UpsideDowns version which provides speech therapy for kids with Down syndrome (for totally unbiased reasons, please don’t check my bio). But there’s also this stunning Beaks and Bills calendar made by South Island Wildlife Hospital, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to be living within a 25km radius of a school/kura/daycare/kōhanga/pre-school who puts one of these together. There’s even this for the Chihuahua fan in your life (seriously).
Budget Category: Savings are predominantly in the form of international flight credit ($30 – $50)
Organic Lavender and Chamomile Eye Pillow ($34)
An eye pillow is one of those things that sounds completely unessential but is really useful, and once you have one you’ll wonder what you did before its arrival. It’s also a practical luxury item, i.e. Christmas gift Valhalla. This simple invention has helped me through pregnancy, period pain, surgery, and even meningitis (NB, so did a lot of drugs – an eye pillow alone will not suffice). These particularly sumptuous versions are made by Stem and sold by Waste-free Home, a small Kiwi business specialising in sustainably and ethically-made home products. They make a great range that would fit into any of these budget categories but this is my personal favourite.
Intentionally Sustainable Stainless Steel Clothes Pegs ($34 for 40)
Intentionally Sustainable have a brilliant range, including lovely gift sets, but for some reason, when I asked my friends for anything in particular they’d like to see on this list, these clothes pegs got a resounding vote of confidence. I am still getting over just how much passion and knees-weak excitement these pegs seem to engender. So maybe don’t give these to anyone in your life with a heart condition. (Although this may say more about what excites people who’ve just turned 30 than the pegs). They come in packs of 20 but I’m suggesting getting at least 40 because clothes pegs are like socks and locate any rift in space and time in the vicinity.
The Mixit Book ($47)
Mixit provides enriching and artistic experiences for rangatahi from refugee and migrant backgrounds as well as locals. The stunning Mixit book “Mixit: It’s All of Us” profiles some of the voices and artworks that have characterised the first 12 years of its journey as a small charitable trust making a big impact. Purchasing the book also sends some funds right back into the Mixit mix, so it’s a win-win.
Jamie Kay swimwear set ($40 or $20 per piece)
Jamie Kay have already made a name for themselves leading the way in featuring children with visible disabilities in much of their marketing, which is one reason why they belong on this list for sure, along with their ethics-certified production process. However, these swimsuits are also here because they are made from recycled plastic which is fitting for something that is intended for use in our plastic-ridden oceans.
Budget Category: Saved a bunch on not going anywhere or doing anything this year ($50 – $200)
Change Maker Beer ($90 for 12)
In Aotearoa, our summer Christmas lends itself to a gift that can be enjoyed icy cold in the garden with a test match on the radio. I may be straying into my own personal fantasy here, but what I’m getting at is that a really lovely beer with a great mission makes a fantastic Christmas gift. Change Maker beers are made by the Independence Collective, a group of four young entrepreneurs with intellectual disabilities operating out of the Kāpiti Coast. Like far too many New Zealanders with disabilities, they found it virtually impossible to find employment, despite their potential, so created their own instead.
The Change Maker range currently consists of a Pale Ale, an IPA, and a Pilsner, though I’ve heard it on the grapevine (or the hop bush or whatever the beer equivalent is) that there are a couple more beers and a non-alcoholic option coming down the line, hopefully in time for next Christmas. They also sell a range of great t-shirts you can combine with a mixed six to make a gift set.
Tea Thief gift set ($60 – $200)
Teetotalling giftee you can’t buy beer for? We’ve got you. Tea Thief are a fantastic Auckland-based company that supply well-researched, ethically and sustainably-sourced tea, prioritising that which provides various health benefits. For a truly glorious gift, their Weaver Gaiwan Set plus a couple of packs of different varieties of organic tea is a great option for basically anyone who likes tea (which is anyone on the planet, right?).
Little Whimsy Holly Wooden Blocks ($123.50)
As with quite a few of these recommendations, it was pretty hard to choose just one thing from this incredible site to showcase. Everything they stock is ethically and sustainably sourced, and there is a huge range of all the kinds of toys you can usually only find in plastic, and more grown-up gifts too. This set of 40 wooden blocks was the chosen one though, as it has very broad appeal across age ranges and interests, will last forever, and can be incorporated with existing toys and blocks a family might already have lying around. Whimsy for the win!
Agnes & Me Christmas Special ($80)
Agnes & Me creates waste-free, cruelty-free skincare created from the lush bushes of Titirangi. The name comes from the creator’s Northern Irish mother, and there’s a touching backstory to read on their website. They have a modest range of skincare options available, but I’m a sucker for a gift pack (if you couldn’t already tell), and their Christmas Special Body + Face oil combo delivers.
Budget Category: Bought a house before 2005 ($200+)
‘Woolly Chair’ collaboration between Lore and Ethically Kate ($1,594)
All of Lore’s “humanity centred interior products” are designed and made in New Zealand from environmentally-friendly materials, and this collaboration with the activist known as Ethically Kate is certainly no different. It comes in four different colours and though I haven’t personally sat in one, it looks like the most comfortable place to chill out with the Spinoff book – another great gift idea by the way (we’re nothing if not subtle).
A case of wine ($90 – $600)
Aotearoa is indisputably blessed with an abundance of wineries of all flavours. An increasing number of these wineries are organic, specialise in sustainable and transparent production, or contribute significantly to charities. Deep Down Wines describe themselves as “a collaboration of art and conscience” (though a heads up that getting through their Gordon Walters-esque website can be a visual challenge). The recently-launched Borough Wines donate all their profits to the Graeme Dingle Foundation, Craggy Range are pretty much Santa Claus in the Hawke’s Bay, 27 Seconds are a social enterprise who give 100% of their profits towards ending slavery… there are so many options here and I have to finish this before Christmas Day.
If you know someone who loves wine but you have no idea what kind, Winegrowers NZ has a bunch of options for visiting our vines, and local tourism is an act worth doing in 2021.
Furnichur Oma mid-century planter box ($490)
One of this year’s Attitude Award finalists was David Winterburn, an entrepreneur and artisan with spina bifida who runs his own furniture business with the glorious name of Furnichur. Furnichur are based out of Tūrangi and specialise in mid-century pieces restored or handmade from native timber. The Oma planter box is their latest offering, and a good choice for someone who discovered their love of gardening during lockdown.
Oma is old Norse for ‘thriving’, which David’s business is, so if you’re after this one I’d order sooner rather than later.
This list was born out of my aspiration to provide wrappable presents for my whānau, but I’m aware that many others look to give donations in each other’s names in lieu of the wrappable. If this is you but you’re still keen to avoid any goat-buying because you did that each year from 2005-2016, then I can highly recommend the new Kiwi start-up, Chive. Chive is a great place to find some of New Zealand’s many lesser known but excellent charities who are out there doing the mahi and now deserve some Christmas treats. If it’s a longer-term commitment you’re after, then go no further than OnePercent Collective.
Be sure to also check out the Kirihimete gift guide for an amazing range of Māori and Pasifika businesses and creators to support! We’ve made sure there are no double ups so there you will find a completely different list of gift ideas. If you need even more inspiration, there’s also the 2019 and 2018 editions of this guide.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.