The feel-good gift guide

— by Helen Johnson




I can’t be the only one who finds the feverish consumerism and online frenzy of Cyber Week a massive turn off. For me, Christmas shopping tends to be quite a pared-back affair and most of the time, when I’m visiting friends over the festive period, I’ll take chocolate or a small foodie/ boozy treat, a book or a bunch of flowers. Close friends and family on my shopping list receive meaningful gifts that ‘give back’. Fortunately, buying ethically and affordably is easier than ever. Here, are a few suggestions for gifts that will benefit you, the planet and your lucky recipients…


Baubles from Dalit Goods Co


Choose gifts that give back

Rallying around a well-chosen charity is one way to spread good cheer. Start by popping into your local charity shop – many donated items are new, or nearly new. Even if you prefer to shop from the comfort of home, most charity shops now have online stores and often the products come from ethical traders, sustainable producers or social enterprises, meaning that your purchase will go on to help many others in turn. While there, pick up some charity Holiday cards to support their work. Or try Cards for Good Causes who give a portion of proceeds straight to various charities (there’s a list of locations here.)

If acts of service are your love language, gift a good deed. Choose Love sell lifejackets, food, clothing, tents and blankets for refugees. You can also donate a Christmas dinner at Single Homeless Project.

I’ve always thought that a Christmas decoration or two is a lovely gift when popping in to see friends for a mulled wine. These marbled baubles are timeless and designed by refugees helped by The British Red Cross. Also check out Dalit Goods Co, who sell baubles hand-painted by marginalised and underprivileged Dalit communities in India.



Support social enterprises

One of our favourite initiatives is Community Clothing, the Blackburn-based social enterprise and design co-operative led by Patrick Grant that makes good quality basics for men and women. The garments are made in the UK, sewn in Blackburn, printed in Blackpool (hooray!), woven in Leicester and knitted in Hawick. I like the men’s chore jackets and always wear the cushioned walking socks during the winter months.

Speaking of socks, Stand For Socks and Leiho sell both sensible and novelty pairs and, in turn, donate socks and essentials to people in need. Those searching for other gifts under £20 should check out the gorgeously-scented soaps, hand-creams and shampoo bars at charity Arthouse Unlimited, which supports and showcases the work of artists with complex neuro-diverse and physical support needs. The packaging, scents and artworks are all fantastic.

For the foodies in your life, the four-pack of beers from Toast or Brewgooder always go down well with my friends. On my last birthday, a friend sent me a tray of delicious brownies from Luminary bakery who employ vulnerable women and train them in catering and business skills. A box of cardamom shortbread from social enterprise Fat Macy’s, helps support people living in temporary accommodation and, if chocolate is your choice sweet, a bar of Heist or Tony’s fairtrade chocolate (in most UK supermarkets) is always well-received at TNMA headquarters.

If you happen to be in central London over the Holidays, an excellent place to stop and recharge is at Fairshot – a coffee shop in Covent Garden which trains adults with learning disabilities to become baristas through paid employment.


New neckwarmer from the TNMA Edit in collaboration with Kate Jones knitwear


Shop small 

December 2nd is Small Business Saturday, a pleasing alternative to Black Friday, which shines a spotlight on small-scale local sellers. These businesses are more likely to benefit the communities they employ and every item you buy is a vote for a more diverse marketplace. And since many small labels in the UK are founded by women – often operating on shoestring budgets – your purchases probably mean more to them than you realise.

Online, try Not On The High Street, Etsy and Trouva which all offer a huge marketplace of independent traders and boutiques. Check out their gift guide sections for an edit of the best in show.


Star decorations, Kemi Telford. Made in Scotland jumper, Mimi Berry. Trainers and socks, Community Clothing


We often give a shout out to stylish small businesses on That’s Not My Age so do look to past posts for inspiration. There are so many fantastic ones it would be impossible to list them all. We’ve met the founders of each and every one of our selection below and can personally guarantee that these women run their businesses with good ethics:

For unique womenswear try Justine Tabak and Kemi Telford. Boutique shop at Young British Designers and Gather and See – the latter also sells homeware, as do Kate Jones and Molesworth and Bird.

For leather goods and small accessories we love Mimi Berry and M Hulot, while Tracey Neuls is our go-to for off-beat, colourful shoes.  Some of our faves for cozy, UK knitwear are Quinton and Chadwick and Jo Gordon.

Lastly, do check out the TNMA Edit. All items, like our age-positive slogan sweatshirts, sparkly socks and scarves, are a collaboration between Alyson and some of her favourite independent designers.


The Design Museum Gift shop


Get your culture fix

Who can resist exiting through the gift shop of your favourite cultural attractions, especially when they feature an enticing edit of design-led buys from artists, small traders and up-and-coming labels? I’ve often found great presents in gallery stacks, shelves and displays like – the holy grail of gifting – the V&A shop. Often more crowded than the exhibitions, their jewellery collection in particular, is fantastic. I’m also partial to the cheery Hockney-inspired edit from the National Portrait Gallery.

Bibliophiles, The British Library is the place to go for good reads, while The Photographers’ Gallery has an excellent selection of art-books. If you prefer gifts with form and function The Design Museum is where to find weighty design tomes, stylish homewares and useful stocking fillers.

Alternatively, gifting an experience is always a winner, such as a voucher towards future event tickets, or an annual ArtFund pass for free and discounted exhibitions across the country.


A bevvy of vintage brooches from Susan Caplan


Consider second-hand or vintage

As our planet wilts under plastics and landfill, second-hand is no longer second best. The key is to choose a gift meaningful to the recipient. Sourcing may take a little more time and effort but that makes the gift even more thoughtful. How about rare second-hand vinyl records, beaded necklaces, vintage prints or sets of retro crockery?

I recently bought my aunt an old bus roller blind from Travel On Paper and it went down a treat. As will their bold, graphic selection of vintage travel posters for wanderlust-ing friends.

A wool jumper or natty neck scarf from Menage Modern Vintage or a dazzling brooch from Susan Caplan are ideal choices for style mavens. Speaking of second-hand, vintage expert and author Michelle Mason will be sharing her tips on having yourselves a very vintage Christmas soon, so stay tuned…


Share more, waste less

If you’ve been given too many tins of shortbread sign up to Olio – a food waste app that helps you swap unwanted food with your neighbours. Wrap-Up is still in need of spare winter coats to give to those in need, and Smalls For All will take brand new pants or gently used bras and re-distribute them to disadvantaged women. Plus, you can send all those unwanted socks to The London Sock Company, who re-purpose them into functional, warm fingerless gloves and neck warmers for the homeless via Crisis UK.


With all these goodwill gifts dancing in your head, what better way to put your holiday gift-giving to bed?


And if you’re still in need of more ideas check out our 50 under £50 High Street Gift Edit and our brilliant book recommendations at

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