Sociology of Style’s Holiday Gift Guide: 4 Weeks of Disrupting Tradition

The last thing you need is another reminder that it’s that time of year when you’re encouraged to buy stuff – lots of stuff.  But whatever reticence you may feel about the annual rampant consumerism, that doesn’t change the fact there are lists to be made and gifts to be given.  Over the next few weeks, Sociology of Style aims to simplify this process for you – and reshape your relationships with these rituals.

Week 1:  Gifts that Give Back

Random acts of kindness are regularly cited as significant happiness-inducers. There are many scientific studies on the topic, and there’s even a foundation dedicated to “kindness research.”   Holiday gift giving is not exactly “random,” but that’s part of why it has the power to be so great:  If doing nice things for strangers makes us happy, doing thoughtful things for people we care about is another way of investing in those relationships.

So what better way to combine random acts of kindness with this sort of relationship-building gift economy than through gifts that actually give back?

1.  Buy to Give The “buy a pair, give a pair” business model is growing in popularity, as witnessed by the New York eyeglasses startup, Warby Parker.  The styles are hip, edgy, and affordable, and you can select 5 frames to try on for 5 days for free (plus free shipping and returns).  And for every pair you purchase, a pair is given to someone in need (glasses are one of the most effective poverty-alleviation tools in the world).  Warby Parker enhances their sustainable business model by not only giving handouts, but by partnering with non-profits to train low-income entrepreneurs to sell affordable glasses. [Also check out KNO Clothing, which donates one item to someone in need for every garment purchased.]

2. Conscious Couture

Altruism can be fashionable, as witnessed by Maiyet, a high-end fashion line that celebrates artisanry through their phenomenal jewelry, apparel, and handbags. Maiyet partners with artisans in developing economies to design and produce their sustainable goods. Note: Don’t expect hemp hats or other crunchy creations amongst this classy line…

3. Wearable Talent We Are Lions offers workshops and makes t-shirts and iPhone cases using the extraordinary artwork created by individuals of all ages with disabilities.  Each item listing includes an “artist’s statement,” and proceeds go to support the organization in which the artist participates.

4. Teach a Man To Fish…

Heifer International allows you to purchase and gift animals – a dairy goat, a llama, a flock of chicks, honeybees – to families in need, in an effort to end hunger and poverty. Their mission: “Our animals don’t just provide project partners with a reliable source of food, but also a reliable source of income. Extra agricultural products, such as milk from cows or goats, honey from bees or eggs from chickens, can be both shared within the community and sold at market. This new income, coupled with the training in sustainable practices that our partners receive, allows partners to clothe their families, provide them with medical care and send their children to school.”  And to help bring this gift to life for your loved one, wrap up the Heifer catalog with something relevant to the animal donated in their name (i.e. Some artisanal honey and a Burt’s Bees gift box for the honeybees, a wooly scarf for the llama, or some milk body butter for the dairy goat, etc.)

5. Give a gift to yourself:  Commit to a year of service.  

Go ahead and be selfish this year.  Do something that will strengthen your heart (literally) and boost your career: volunteer.  Commit to 2 hours of service per week and reap the rewards.  Not sure where to start?  Find a cause that fits with your talents, passions, and schedule.  If you’re in the New York area, I recommend Defy Ventures, which provides carefully selected, ambitious men and women who have criminal histories with life-changing entrepreneurship, leadership, and career opportunities. These people have committed to changing their lives, but you’ll be surprised how much they’ll change yours.

Still need more inspiration?  Check out Gifts that Give, a website with tons of items from accessories to home for every person on your holiday list.  Just select your preferred cause and organization, and one dollar out of every $5 you spend goes to the charity of your choice. Try this sustainable stainless steel wallet or some cable knit mugs.