I came across the image above on Instagram last week, via Boutique Unicorn, a unique boutique in Montreal. I was about to retweet when I stopped to wonder who created it. After a quick Pinterest search I found Brighton-based designer and typographer Lola Hoad, who made and posted this and a bunch of downloadable images like it as part of an initiative to do all her Christmas shopping this year at indie shops. You can read all about Lola’s challenge, here.
It got me thinking. I spend a good part of my year researching and visiting inspiring shops in Europe and North America and I often buy gifts at these places I’ve featured – actual bricks and mortar stores — but I still do a lot of gift-buying online. And although I try to do this at websites I know are independent, I find that online indie-shopping requires a little more time, effort and sometimes more money. Every so often I resort to buying things at big online retailers (you know who) at the last minute, because I just can’t find this year’s Mermaid Barbie whose-hair-changes-colour-when-wet, for my daughter’s best friend, anywhere else. The internet has saved us all time and money, there’s no doubt. But in some cases, there’s a cost attached to these perceived “savings.” And I have a conscience. I am willing to bet that if you’re reading this blog, you don’t want to live in a world without thriving small businesses to inspire, educate and create our communities and arts industries, any more than I do.
I get it, though. You might feel overwhelmed by the time and cost-intensive task of ticking off that Christmas list (or even by the thought of writing a Christmas list…). So I’ve put together a list of a few inspiring, independent places to do this year’s Christmas shopping online, with ease and without any nagging guilt. I’ve featured both UK and North American retailers. If you find this post helpful, share it. And do leave a comment below if you have any ideas to add.
I stocked up on original Christmas decorations last year, because I knew our flat would be featured on Apartment Therapy (here) and House & Home magazine (pictured above) during the lead up to holiday season. This year, I added to my collection of decorations – from unique boutiques’ Tobias and the Angel and Petersham Nurseries – with a few pretty new things from homewares/design/decor retailers Rockett St. George and Cox & Cox.
Jane Rockett and Lucy St George’s website was born of their mutual love of quirky and unusual objects for the home, and their desire to run a business that provided enough flexibility to spend time at home with their young children. Cox & Cox was also started by two mothers who, after moving out of London, missed finding the sorts of treasures that trawls through vintage markets had afforded. Both companies produce beautiful catalogues that are a joy to receive; both feature items for the home, kitchen, kids and Christmas on their websites; and both offer speedy shipping and an easy-peasy online experience. As far as I’m concerned, anything from either of these independent online retailers would make a beautiful, thoughtful gift. My picks from this year’s Rockett St George catalogue are pictured above: RSG’s star and gold ‘smoke’ tea light holders. I also splurged on C&C’s majestic resin deer head, below, as a centrepiece for the fireplace mantel.
Gifts for women.
My first stop when I want to buy something special for a girlfriend is the beautiful website of Marte Frisnes Jewellery. Norwegian-born Marte’s pieces are classically elegant but just clever and trendy enough that they feel contemporary and stylish. There’s something to suit everybody on her gorgeous, simple-to-navigate site. My favourite gifts are Marte’s personalised ‘initial‘ and ‘cherish‘ bracelets and necklaces – perfect for new mothers or newlyweds – and of course as a lover of stories and words, I’m a sucker for the ‘story‘ bracelets, a new addition to her collection. Their bands are imprinted with messages like ‘I love you to the moon and back’, ‘love, smile, dance’ and ‘fall in love’, or they can be customised with a name, special date or a quote (I’m thinking Leonard Cohen, personally). Marte has also created an exquisite junior range of beaded, tasseled bracelets and sweet necklaces for little ones which make perfect Christening or birthday gifts.
There is an alternative to that big global online retailer to buy books, DVDs, ebooks and the like. In the UK, it’s called Hive. Prices are parity or similar, postage is free (apart from express delivery. Standard delivery time is 3-5 days) and there is a convenient option to collect your items when it suits you, from a local independent shop or bookshop; my closest is only a block away. Choose your favourite indie and for every order you make on Hive, that business owner will receive a percentage of your purchase – even if it’s delivered directly to your home. I’ve been using Hive for 2 years now and have no complaints.
Canadians and Americans can make use of Biblio and Half Price Books. They’re not direct booksellers, but their sites will suggest various direct online sources for the book or author you want to find. Biblio is committed to “ethical profit;” they provide books to communities in need and offer carbon off-setting in partnership with Native Energy on all shipments. Half Price Books’ ‘marketplace‘ site connects you to independent sellers who set their own (fair) prices, and HPB also recycles or donates all their unsold books to non profit organisations. There is also betterworldbooks.com, who rescue used books from schools, libraries and individuals and resell them online — then donate a percentage of profits to literacy projects around the world.
Gifts for Kids.
I find it tricky and time-intensive to find things I know my girls will really like from local bricks and mortar indie shops, now that gems like unique boutique Semmalina aren’t nearby. There are two decent independent toy shops in Edinburgh and I try to visit often enough to influence my older daughter’s wish lists to Santa. When I’d rather surprise her, I look to the internet for inspiration.
One good source of independent online shops for kids’ stuff is international website Babyccino Kids, set up by three stylish mothers in Europe with an eye for what’s ‘now.’ You can’t buy anything here, but if you have a little time to spare, a browse through their pages arranged by “fashion, toys, decor” or a search by product, brand or region will connect you to carefully selected online shops full of chic, unique toys and kids clothes.
A brilliantly easy, one-stop-online shop for thoughtful, hard to find gifts is UK-based Not on the High Street. Another kitchen-table business grown major-success-story, this website is a window onto a vast collection of curated individual items sold by independent businesses all over the UK. Everything on the site is sold and sent directly by the creative small business that made, sourced or selected it, rather than by Not on the High Street. From the very beginning, this website has been careful to feature only the most original, interesting products from their sellers, and dedicated to making browsing and buying easy for their customers. You can shop by recipient (him, her, teenager, babies, friends, secret santa, among others), personality (gadget-lover, gourmet, frequent traveller, many more), category (home, fashion, jewellery, toys, garden, with masses of sub-categories under each), occasion (birthday, new baby, thank you gift, etc.) and — helpfully — by price. My favourites here include many personalised kids gifts: from pencils to wooden musical instruments, t-shirts and cool art prints. International shipping is available: I’ve not been able to find a North American equivalent, but enlighten me if you know of one!
Not on the High Street is actually a great site for all kinds of gift-buying, not just for kids. As is Papa Stour, a pretty website showcasing the best of contemporary Scottish craft, design and creativity. Set up by Rosie Brown, a stylist with years of working with design magazines under her belt, Papa Stour makes it easy to find a special and often handmade gift, with categories arranged by collection, price, and who for. I’d choose these colourful, folksy animal cushions by printmakers Orwell and Goode, papercut prints by Edinburgh illustrator Emily Hogarth and adorable children’s’ knitwear by Nicola from Mimi McGhee.
If the man in your life is like mine and loves a good stationery shop, a visit to quirkily cool website Present & Correct is in order this Christmas. The two graphic designers who started this website six years ago were inspired by a “long term obsession with stationery…homework, the post office and school.” Their site’s design is suitably nifty – categories to browse are listed in notebook checklist-style, including: “write, read, organise and ephemera.” International shipping is available.
Finally, for those of you too time-pressed to do any browsing at all, even online…? Call or look up a local independent shop and ask if they do gift vouchers. A voucher will get friends and family into bricks and mortar shops and introduce them to shop-owners who are passionate advocates of what they sell, where it’s from and how it’s made – they need your support to continue in business. Your spending money this Christmas could go a long way towards supporting your community. Play your part.
P.S. For Edinburgh readers, a new initiative has just been set up this year that I love. It’s a virtual high street of Edinburgh’s independent businesses (both shops and restaurants) that allows you to browse them online to select personal, original vouchers as gifts and create your own gift list. Check it out: Love from Indie Street