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gal-dem’s alternative gifting guide

Don't get sucked into wasteful and gimmicky presents. From cooking classes to book subscriptions, here’s our guide to gifting with intention.

26 Nov 2021

Illustration by Alex Smyth

My Pakistani Muslim parents never entertained gifting at Christmas. Even when it comes to Eid, which we celebrate religiously and culturally, the practice of gifting money to those younger than you means that there isn’t a focus on consumerism nor do unwanted gifts go to waste.

The carbon emissions from this year’s online Black Friday shopping could equal 215,778 return flights between London and Sydney. The knowledge of how this level of consumerism harms our planet and fuels billionaire-owned brands predicated on labour exploitation, makes annual Black Friday sales and the Christmas shopping period in the UK feel quite jarring.

While a report by UK price comparison site Money predicts that British shoppers will spend 10% less this year on Black Friday than they did last year, over a third of respondents revealed they’re planning to spend more money than they did in 2020 for Christmas. 

My friend, Aja Barber, a writer, stylist and consultant who focuses on the ways systems of power affect our buying habits, told me “Black Friday is the ultimate scam to get you in the store or on the website and to get you buying things you simply don’t actually need. They just know that we love the suggestion of a good deal.” 

I still get tempted by a good bargain, but these days my version of a ‘good deal’ tends to either be an experience, or a material item sold by a values-driven business. Here’s gal-dem’s alternative gift guide to help you stay on track and gift with intention without getting sucked in to trendy, gimmicky gifts that could go to waste.

For the knickknack lover

Arthouse Unlimited is a charity whose product sales support artists with neuro-diverse and physical support needs. Gifts under £10 range from pin badges with positive messages to different flavoured chocolate bars in beautiful cardboard packaging designed by the artists. For a higher budget, check out the artists’ original artwork.

For budding chefs and bakers

Why not find a unique recipe for your foodie friends to try and package it in a box with the ingredients they need? If that’s too tricky with expiry dates, you could reuse a jar and layer ingredients for a cookie recipe inside for a budget-friendly, but oh so Instagrammable gift.

For more of a structured experience you can share with the person you’re gifting, book yourselves on to a Migrateful cooking class. Migrateful classes are run across the UK by refugee, asylum-seeker and migrant chefs from over 30 countries facing barriers to integration and employment – as you can imagine, there’s a mouth-watering range of cuisines on offer.

For the coffee-lover

Change Please is a social enterprise whose profits from their award-winning coffee support people experiencing homelessness to find housing, training, living wage jobs and further opportunities.

The Change Please shop has single packets of coffee beans and ground coffee, coffee subscriptions and even tote bags and responsibly produced t-shirts on offer.

For the socially conscious museum and gallery dweller

A visit to the Migration Museum in South East London will catch you up on the history of migration to the UK and give you the opportunity to browse a range of books, art, stationery and other gifts relating to migration. The online shop has just opened, which means you can still enjoy all it has to offer from afar if you can’t make it to the museum.

If you’re in Glasgow, plan a visit to the Glasgow Zine Library so you can browse the epic collection and pop into one of their workshops or community events. They’ve helpfully signposted other zine libraries around the country here.

For the bookworm

One of my dream gifts would be a Verso Book Club subscription – the second and third tiers include physical books at your doorstep in addition to receiving every new ebook they publish. Ilan Pappe’s Ten Myths About Israel and Arundhati Roy’s Capitalism have been some of my favourite non-fiction ebooks read via Verso.

If Verso isn’t your thing, I highly recommend the book Consumed by Aja Barber herself, which is all about the need for collective change and drawing the intersections between colonialism, climate change and consumerism. What better time to interrogate these themes than the dawn of Black Friday?

Pop along to your local indie bookshop to support your high street, or check out Hive, which is an online book retailer that supports independent bookshops.

For the fashionista

Your local charity shops will certainly have some affordable treasures fit for your most stylish friend, but if not, Depop, Vinted, Vestiaire Collective and Etsy will keep you browsing second-hand fashion until next Christmas. To keep on track, search keywords and use the helpful filters to be sure you can find the perfect gift.

If your budget can stretch, check out Atijo, curated vintage designer and artisan fashion and The Marcon Court Project, offering unique clothing made of reworked vintage pieces and fabric offcuts.

For the chocoholic

We all know where the relevant aisle is in our local convenience store or supermarket. However, for something more special for the festive season, check out Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates. This Nottingham-based boutique chocolate brand offers ethically sourced and handcrafted chocolate from bean-to-bar. 

I’m not vegan, but it was a real treat to try chocolate made of different nut milks and vegan versions of your classic favourites like peanut butter cups. 

For the jewellery magpie

It wouldn’t be the festive season without a bit of sparkle, right? Search keywords and use the vintage filter on Etsy to find the perfect jewels, or have a rummage around your local car boot sales and jewellery counters at charity and antique shops. If you’re in Brighton, Snoopers Paradise is the place to go.

For a modern take on long-lasting, timeless jewellery, Love’s Labour’s Won makes its pieces with recycled materials and ethically sourced, conflict-free gemstones. Find statement pieces and a fresh take on your classic gold hoops and rings to be worn and loved for years to come.

For the film fanatic

Treat your parent friends to a kid-free cinema trip at your local independent cinema or make some memories and go altogether. If you book your tickets via the my ODEON app, you can even order snacks in advance.

For a more luxe experience, go for an Everyman Cinema gift voucher. There are cinemas across the UK and you can have your snacks, or even a whole meal, delivered to your ridiculously comfy sofa seats in the screening rooms. I’m a few trips deep and the novelty is yet to wear off.

For the one who has everything

It’s easy to make a charity donation on someone else’s behalf. Choose Love shop forces you to look at and purchase the physical items an asylum-seeker needs so you feel more connected to the cause. You can browse the selection online, but I highly recommend checking out the pop-up store in London. I did this with a friend a few years ago to purchase something on her behalf as a birthday gift and it was a great learning experience for both of us.