Ethically-sourced and sustainable gifts from BIPOC entrepreneurs you should consider
The word “sustainable” covers many facets: from re-gifting and purchasing used or vintage items, wearables, and accessories made from upcycled textiles or natural materials to supporting the livelihoods of purveyors and farmers, to packaging—all of it in the effort to sustain a business, lives, and the earth.
As we face the ominous reality of climate change, our purchasing choices are more important than ever, and when it comes to gifting, sustainable and eco-friendly can be thoughtful on many levels.
Here’s a list covering not only environmentally-conscious products, but the BIPOC cultures and traditions from which they stem.
Many wrapping papers cannot be recycled because of the decorative metallic coatings or other unnatural materials used in the design. Hawaiian native Jalene Kanani’s NOHO HOME spans home decor and gifting products illuminating her lineage. Last year, she collaborated with fellow Hawaii-based Wrappily to create a recyclable and compostable wrapping paper that tells moʻolelo (stories) unique to the Hawaiian islands. Both renditions are double-sided with the Loulu replicating the indigenous fan palm and the flipside Kapa Hou nodding to the chevron designs seen throughout traditional Hawaiian fabrics. The other, ʻAkahi, honors the shared connections between Hawaiian and First Nations’ cultures and the reverse Lauaʻe, represents growth and abundance in the form of Hawaiian fern. Suggested retail price: one pack includes three 21.5-inch x 34-inch reversible sheets for $13.
More than 15 million tons of textile waste is generated in the US each year, and Opus Mind’s mission is to transform discarded leather scraps into a chic line of unisex backpacks and other leather goods. Founder Kathleen Kuo started her career in fashion, where she witnessed firsthand the extraordinary amount of waste in the industry. In 2017, she left to start her own 100% sustainable leather company, using certifiable recycled leather from Italy. Kuo streamlined her business model so no waste is generated. SRP: backpacks come in two sizes and start at $295.
In sustainability, the practice of “made-to-order” reduces fabric waste, excessive manufacturing, and surplus stock. Autumn Adeigbo founded her brand to create a positive impact, from maker to community with designs emphasizing culture, color, and conscience from her Nigerian-American origins. In 2020, the brand, which has received attention from Zooey Deschanel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Gorman, Kerry Washington, and many more, became the first eponymous fashion brand led by a female, black designer to raise more than $1 million in venture capital funding. These hand-beaded headbands are a reflection of her culture and the vibrance of her brand. SRP: Hand-beaded bands are $140.
Sandra Velasquez launched Nopalera in 2020 to celebrate her heritage and the nopal cactus, one of the most sustainable, nourishing, and resilient crops in the world. Incredibly versatile, the nopal is edible, used to make textiles, and acts as natural hydration for skin and hair. Also, an ancient symbol of Mexican culture, nopals were a facet of Velasquez’s upbringing, where she was raised by Mexican immigrants near the US-Mexico border. She recalls harvesting the plant from her yard for meals, then later in life using it to influence Nopalera. The brand commits its luxury items to clean ingredients, such as plant butters and oils drawn from coconut, rice bran, eucalyptus globulus leaf, and castor, to name few. In addition, all products are vegan, cruelty-free, palm oil-free, and absent of synthetic fragrances and dyes. SRP: gifts sets, which include soap, moisturizer, and exfoliant are $71.
Based in Pittsburgh, Knotzland uses discarded textiles to create stylish bowties and accessories. Since its inception in 2014, founder Nisha Blackwell has sourced more than 4,000 pounds of discarded fabrics, giving them a luxurious afterlife in menswear. Reinvigorating wasted goods into a circular economy is becoming more common in sustainable fashion and is the foundation of Blackwell’s growth. Her customers even send in cherished garments for memorable bespoke ties. SRP: Bowties start at $65; and a mask and bowtie pairing is $105.
Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hathorway uses buffalo horns from Northern Vietnam to design jewelry and home goods. After traveling to Vietnam in 2015, founder Jessica Phan discovered chopsticks and spoons, hair combs, and jewelry made from buffalo horns discarded from the food industry & deadstock in Vietnam. According to Hathorway, it is a sign of respect to the buffalo that nothing of the creature is wasted. This trip not only reconnected Phan with her roots but inspired the company and its commitment to sustainable and zero-waste fashion. Furthermore, Hathorway is women-owned and run. Ten percent of its profits are donated to organizations that help women through education, science, justice, and other advancements of women’s empowerment. SRP: Earrings start at $46; and necklaces $56.
PARU Tea Bar offers specialty loose leaf teas, matcha, and tisanes (herbal teas) sourced from family-owned tea gardens; more specifically in under-represented tea-producing countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand, and regions like Nara, Japan. Owners Amy Truong and Lani Gobaleza see the tea as a product and the growers as people, which sustains tea tradition and cultures of the growers themselves. They discover many of their tea partners through word of mouth, with a few stemming from family friends. For several farmers, including a few growers whose families have harvested tea for generations, PARU is their first US partner. SRP: Subscriptions include three half-ounce packages of loose-leaf tea, a garnish, and a tea guide, ranging from $89 to $280, depending on frequency.
Rooted began with the belief that plants inside the living space can achieve positive mental, emotional, and physical health. Owners Ryan Lee and Kay Kim share the value of connecting people with nature, which helps build a stronger relationship and coexistence with the world. Rooted incorporates sustainability values into every part of its operations: using biological pest control rather than synthetic or chemical sprays; growing plants and fulfilling orders directly from their greenhouse in Florida; and packaging with recyclable or plastic-free materials. Rooted also offers a carbon-neutral shipping program for every order, which has resulted in more than 7,000 carbon-neutral orders this year. SRP: Subscriptions are $20 a month and include one plant from the mystery subscription or the pet-friendly one, ensuring each plant is safe for animals; gift box sets range from $39 to $99.
La Botica‘s owner Dawn Marie West honors her African American and Afro-Dominican heritage by using indigenous extracts, blends, and naturally-derived compounds in her perfumes and handmade candles. All organic ingredients are ethically harvested in South America ethically harvested and the wax is a proprietary in-house blend of 100% natural botanical ingredients. To reduce waste and maintain a small footprint, La Botica operates in small batches. In addition, West extends a percentage of profits to The Dream Project, which provides education for children in the Dominican Republic. SRP: 11-ounce candles with a 70-hour burn time are $78.
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