Buying quality sustainable gifts in 2020
With the holidays coming closer, and Germany going into another lockdown for the month of November, gift shopping has suddenly become a pleasant pastime here. Never have I thought about gifts this early. But quality sustainable gifts aren’t just restricted to the holidays.
Normally, when I see something good on my travels, I just buy it and store it then gift it when appropriate. I actually bought a lot of my Christmas gifts in Turkey last year. My list of giftees is quite small – my mother, husband, friends – that’s it! I transfer donations to the charities I support, but usually it’s less a Christmas thing as I donate regularly throughout the year.
Where to buy quality sustainable gifts this year
But this year… is it okay to even dive deep into the usual consumerist habits when people lost income or even their livelihood? Is it okay to buy from large corporations which made huge profits from the pandemic (but didn’t pass them on to their employees)? I don’t buy from Amazon anymore, but what about Etsy, Ebay and other selling platforms?
Dealing with fluctuating income and minimal travel
What about income? Have you had sufficient income to even think about gift shopping? Earlier this year, I quit my extra job because I no longer enjoyed it. Then came COVID. Despite working in healthcare, I faced reduced hours as all elective cases were cancelled in spring. However, my employer didn’t send employees into furlough whereas other healthcare providers in Germany did. Therefore, I had one steady income but as the year went on. Now I am in the position of having plenty of work. But given the uncertainty, I will rather save/invest the larger part of that extra income rather than shopping.
But Christmas for us is always a time for gifts. They may be larger or smaller depending on our income. Often we use this season and its offers to upgrade things in the house. With all this, my gift guide this year has become more personal. Due to circumstances, it is all about being comfortable at home. None of the links in this post are affiliate links, so feel free to click to your hearts content. I’m just really over affiliate links on everything – I hate seeing them on other blogs. So I really don’t want to be a hypocrite and do them, especially when I have a job. All these recommendations are genuine and personal, and often related to past travel.
I have not forgotten travel completely and I have hopes that some international travel will be possible safely again in the coming year, and I’ll therefore start with a travel-related gift – one I received myself last year and which I love so much that I have put it on my wish list again this year!
Travel Magazine subscription
Many many years ago, this little student first bought the “Conde Nast Traveller” and admired the beautiful pictures and fancy hotels. I’ve been hooked since 1999, with a few ups and downs. The past few years were a bit average in terms of output quality. But since moving back to Germany, it has been a bit of a pain to obtain copies, so my husband gave me a subscription last year.
This is certainly the gift that keeps giving! I have asked for a continuation of the subscription this year. It is the UK issue of the magazine. International subscriptions usually don’t come with the gifts or freebies but it’s still better than trawling round big city international newsstands for one, and I’m not in the UK that often now.
I am not sure Conde Nast needs your money now, and I am in two minds of paying such a huge publisher, but I guess their travel magazine isn’t having the most wonderful time now regarding ad revenue so lets make this tiny contribution to stop travel from disappearing.
Quality sustainable gifts that elevate your cooking to new levels
Many of my travel souvenirs are portable food items. Recreating dishes I ate on holiday are a great way to remember the good times there. As restraurants have been closed or restricted for a good part of the year here, I have cooked slightly more than I used to. Sourcing some foods that I previously brought from holiday was a great way to cooking some great dishes and reliving favourite memories.
Pepper and other spices
For me, it all started with a bag of Kampot pepper in 2009. This pepper is grown in Southern Cambodia without pesticides, and harvested by hand, and is considered one of the best ppers worldwide. I dined on that bag for a few years, then went through pepper from India and Tellicherry pepper from various suppliers and then… returned to Kampot Pepper. I buy mine from a German company called Pikantum. Their price is competitive and all their goods are high quality, many of them organic.
Good spices really elevate your meal. Depending on where you live, some spices might be really exotic delicacies. For example in East Germany, it is difficult to get good Indian spices . I dream of trips to Indian supermarkets to buy good garam masala, cumin, and cardamom. I relish my haul of sumac and zaatar from Jordan, and cannot wait to stock up on my next trip, and I am always looking for the little stainless steel tins that keep spices dark and fresh.
Add a good quality spice grinder, or pestle and mortar, and you got the perfect gift. I bought a classic Peugeot small mill but I am not 100% convinced even though many say they are very high quality. Every time I looked for good comparison websites, I trawled through five pages of affiliate websites trying to sell me different mills. Since a respected cookshop sold the Peugeot, I got it, and while it’s better than the broken cheap mill I had (ceramic grinder by Fackelmann, unter 10 Euro, lasted 20 years) I’m not sure they are the best out there.
Last not least, this year I will also add an Ottolenghi cookbook to my shelf. His ltest “Flavour” is a thick book with some extremely tasty-looking vegetable-based recipes.
Coffee and Tea
There is no better way than drinking coffee or tea you have enjoyed on your trips.
There will always be great coffee
Since my first visit of Naples and its legendary Caffe Mexico bars, I have been hooked on Passalaqua coffee. Fortunately, we can buy Passalaqua coffee online in Europe. It always reminds me of trips to Napoli and its wonderful coffee culture.
Passalaqua and other roasters also sell great gift sets if you are unsure what to buy. To stay in Neapolitan style, you can also gift a traditional “cuccuma” coffee maker with it. Fancy designer versions, for example from Alessi, are also available, and you canot go wrong with the all-time classic, stovetop Moka. Alessi actually has some really cool designs, and you can never go wrong with Bialetti, either.
Winter is prime tea time
I am not much of a tea drinker, except for green tea. My favourite tea is Japanese green tea from Uji, and fortunately you can buy this classic tea online as well.
If I cannot get Uji tea, the aromatised teas from Mariage Freres make a good alternative.
I usually stick to Marco Polo tea and citrusy notes. When travel was still possible I would bring a canister from every trip to France where they are widely available in delicatessens and many larger department stores, for example Le Bon Marche in Paris, have large concessions in store. Now this is no longer possible I visited the website and was absolutely delighted to find many Japanese teas there as well! My favourite styles is definitely Genmaicha, green tea with popped rice, and it’s relatively moderate in price, too. You can see Genmaicha tea on the picutre above, in the middle. My second favourite is Hojicha, another Japanese delight of roasted green tea. The roasting hides a multitude of sins in lesser quality tea, and also makes it more suitable for the sensitive stomachs, hard water, and tight budgets.
Books are great any time of the year, pandemic or not. I admitbuying a few more this year. I tend to buy used books from a German web site. Sometimes I look on Amazon who has the book I want, then buy it directly from the seller. Sneaky, I know, but I was a loyal Amazon customer for many years until they became a bit too big and greedy and it became apparant how they treated their employees.
Of the books I read this year so far, I have three favourites.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A bit late to the party, I know. I read it at a time I needed to distract myself from the outside world a bit. and this book was perfect, a gothic tale set in 1950’s, consistent, with a lot of suspense and a few too many twists to follow. But this was a smooth and easy read. I loved it not just for its twisty and tight plot but also for the eloquent descriptions of Barcelona. I read the English rather than German translation because Lucia Graves, a respected writer and translator, translated the English edition.
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
I head about the writer through some discussion on Instagram about “40 Rules of Love “, whether a non-practising Muslim should write about faith. However… “The Bastard of Istanbul” is far superior in storyline and consistency of writing. It tackles another controversial theme, the Turkish-Armenian conflict. From a non-Turkish, non-Armenian outsiders view, it is respectfully written, and a very good dense family-saga novel set in contemporary Istanbul and California. It is not the last book by this author.
If Cats disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura
Lured into reading it by the film and my love for all things Japanese, this novel in very simple language is unlike anything I read before. A young man, after given the diagnosis of a terminal illness, appears to bargain with the devil to prolong his life by choosing things that disappear from the world until… cats. Although it is simple, it is deeply thought-provoking and an altogether positive story. Unfortunately, it is Genki Kawamuras only novel to date and a rather short one
I am currently a less prolific reader than I used to be, as the pandemic means I have a lot more work now (which I appreciate) but the little window of free time is mostly spent watching some mindless drivel TV after work.
Some very comfy yet classy clothes for home AKA pyjamas
With the exception of summer, I have lived in three sets of clothing in the past year: my work uniform, my commuting clothes which don’t enter our apartment while Covid is raging on, and pyjamas. So, what better opportunity on upgrading the current pair or invest in a second set so that you’re not frantically drying pyjamas on the radiator after laundry?
My to-go places for great nightwear and loungewear are Sunspel, Hanro and Derek Rose.
Having witnessed the extreme longevity and consistent quality of some of my husbands garments, I can personally confirm that underwear and loungewear from Sunspel is excellent quality. It is simple and stylish but somewhat expensive. These garments last and look good after years of wear, so well worth the money if you consider the cost per wear.
Derek Rose is a British family company which, like Sunspel produces very classic, high quality loungewear, at slightly lower prices. While Sunspel has slightly more modern purist styles, Derek Rose produce classic styles in traditional colours and patterns.
Last not least, Hanro is a Swiss company producing high quality underwear for over 130 years. While the quality is great, some of the styles are a little too stuffy. I found hard to differentiate what’s okay to be worn outside the house and what’s strictly loungewear. But with excellent quality shirts stating at 29 Euros, the value for money is unbeatable.
Sewing material – and a few tools
As travel became near impossible, I looked for other fun things to do in my free time. After making enough soap to last me and my friend a year or two, I took up sewing again. First to make cloth masks, then home decor and linen, and I am gingerly attempting sewing clothes again, starting with this zero waste kimono.
And since I try to buy the best I can afford, I received some incredible gifts that could make a sewing person in your life happy!
Scissors from Kai some of the most useful, high-quality, sharpest scissors around. You don’t want to struggle with medicre quality dressmaking scissors. If you do not like their no-nonsense, modern design, Gingher scissors make a good alternative. KAI are Japanese and Gingher Scissors are made in Italy. I have Kai pinking scissors and Gingher dressmaking scissors which were both given to me as gifts and I love both, although Gingher certainly wins when it comes to good looks.
Since good fabric deserves a good yarn, I also upgraded some of my yarns from pretty decent Guterman polyester thread to to these superb Mettler cotton threads. They’re a great gift for any all-purpose sewist who sews with natural fibre fabrics and quilters. These yarns from long-stapled Egyptian Cotton are colourfast, shrink resistant and tear-proof.
Fabrics for sewing
So, while we are talking about quality, natural fibres… here are some fabric recommendations. A bit harder to gift, although you can always consider buying a voucher. I buy 80% of my fabric in person in real-life fabric shops. There are a few exceptions. Having used Liberty Tana Lawn and Liberty Popeline for years, I know the quality and have no hesitation ordering the fabric online. Other than that, I’m finding it hard to buy fabric jsut from the looking – I like to touch it, check its structure and quality and think about what I’d like to make with it. But… as travel and fabric shopping trips are rather difficult now, I might have to resort to online fabric shopping.
Great online fabric shops
So my first recommendation is Fellabird Fabrics. She is an ebay seller whom I have bought from for years. About 90% of what I bought was older season Liberty Tana Lawn at very reasonable prices. The fabric is genuine Tana Lawn and the seller very trustworthy. I also bought William Morris fabric which I think some license, deal fabric, not Liberty. The quality was very good as well.
While Liberty Tana Lawn remains my favourite all-time fabric, it is very hard to make an all-over Liberty look good, especially when on the slightly larger side. The fabric works great for shirts and tops and smaller items.
Fabric shops on Etsy
I recently started looking at Etsy fabric shops, too. I initially wanted to buy some block printed cotton. Here are a few shop I like the look of and am curently thinking about purchasing some fabric from.
Closest to home is GarnFaktur, a shop in Southern Germany. Their prices are competitive and being based in Europe, shipping fees are low. They currently have Indian block print, ikat and traditional khadi. I put this Khadi cloth in my basket while thinking what I could make with it. It appears a little transparent, so care is needed for any kind of unlines garment, and I am trying to work out if the small pattern would look okay on me.
Kraam by Siri is a shop in Bangkok that specialises in indigo-dyed fabric, undyed fabrics and textile gifts. The shop is small but if you love indigo fabric, definitely worth a look. This is what I currently contemplate buying.
Fibers to Fabric is a India-based shop with a pleasant selection of Indian block-printed cotton, ikat and printed natural and artificial fibre fabric, trims and small gifts. Their offerings are a bit more eclectic, and come in all price brackets.
Cosmetics and Skincare
As someone who buys almost exclusively from cruelty-free companies, any of the major players are of little interest to me. Most of the time, I bring my skincare from France and order shampoo and some other products online.
But for a special treat, I can think of nothing better than something from Aesop. They are an established Australian cosmetics company creating high quality skincare and grooming products. They don’t change products or design often and I love the clean design, reliable quality and personable service. Admittedly, the prices are high, but I visited stores at least twice without buying anything and service has always been amazing.
This year, my to-go gift will be the hand balm for all those stressed sanitized hands. And I think I will put the Classic Shampoo and the Elemental Facial Barrier crema on my own wish list. If you have a chance to visit an actual store, their advice is usually spot-on and they are generous with the samples. So you can try and their excelelnt services also encourages repeat custom.
Last not least – a little end of year splurge
So with the purse strings a bit looser, we started to improve our home again, bit by bit. We replaced some knackered electric fittings to pretty stainless steel ones.
And not stopping there. I do love the Mid century Modern and especially Scandinavian style. I finally bought the Louis Poulsen 1960s UFO lamp I always loved. It’s a proper old one with modern wiring, and I love it. I also love the price about 1/3 what it would cost new. Now I am hooked on this style, I bought another classic second hand, the AJ Royal (the lamp Arne Jacobsen designed for the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen). For someone who had cheap lamps from a large Swedish furniture house for years, having really classy lamps is a total revelation. We will slowly work through our house and its very ugly lamps, but I already got my eye on some simple opaline glass wall lights, also by Arne Jacobsen.
This is simple white enamel lamp is versatile, too, but the industrial lampshade look has been done everywhere now, but at least their price point is somewhat more affordable, and if I were to get sick of it, I could still use it as a work light!
I also like the Alvar Aalto designed lights from Artek. Like many modern design brands, Artek is now owned by Vitra.
Buy quality sustainable gifts from independent shops
And so ends this years little gift guide. It has been way more personal than in previous years. My 2019 gift guide was all about actual travelling and the things you will enjoy over years to come, and 2018 was about high quality gifts made in Germany. None of these have really dated, although I have removed all Amazon links. Therefore it might take a little online searching to find them. I still stand by everyhting I have written, and still use most of these items regularly. So if you find nothing here, feel free to take a look, or ask me any questions.
I hope you are safe where you are and will get at least some joy out of the holiday preparations.
The Small Print
All recommendations are based on my personal experience, and I have not received any monetary or non-monetary rewards for recommending any of the gifts mentioned in this post. I have used some images from the manufacturers or distributors website, which are attributed and linked accordingly to the manufacturers or distributors website. There are no affiliate links in this post, so feel free to click at your leisure.