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Holiday gift guide: Ethical luxuries for conscientious shoppers

Written by Marianna Cerini, CNN

For many of us, the holidays will look a little different this year. There may be no big family gatherings to plan, or office parties to go to. We probably won’t be holidaying anywhere exotic. We may also be spending less.

In what has been a long, difficult and divisive year, luxury has taken on new meaning. Disposable income is more precious; elegance must now contend with comfort. And with Millennial and Gen Z consumers accounting for a growing proportion of spending, the luxury market is increasingly sensitive to the social and environmental causes they identify with.

The appeal of sustainable, handmade and organic products is, by now, a given. But 2020 has thrown a new ethical consideration into the mix: racial justice. Online directory Yelp found that, over six weeks in the summer, searches for Black-owned boutiques were up by 331% compared to the same period in 2019.

With all this in mind, here are CNN Style’s best small luxuries for the conscientious gift giver:

1) ‘Weekday Ritual’ set by Redoux NYC

Redoux NYC

Black-owned Redoux NYC is a vegan skincare line of nourishing serums, balms and soap bars (and candles, too), with scents that change seasonally.

Inspired by art, cultural history, nature and founder Asia Grant’s own memories, each fragrance transports you to another place entirely, offering some much-needed escapism. The skincare items are all gender-inclusive, handmade in small batches in New York City and wrapped in slick, minimalist packaging.

For those in need of a mood lift, the “Weekday Ritual” set ($57) could be an especially thoughtful gift. The bundle comprises two turmeric botanical bars and one of Redoux NYC’s signature “529” candles, featuring sandalwood, orange blossom, ginger, amber and saffron.

2) Relief Edition apron by Bragard and Polonsky & Friends

Bragard/Polonsky & Friends

With many of us firmly on the way of becoming pro home chefs, the Relief Edition apron ($39.95) is an especially fitting gift this year. What’s more, all of the profits are being donated to the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund to help chefs and restaurant workers experiencing hardship across America as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A collaboration between creative consultancy Polonsky & Friends and the US branch of French culinary clothing brand Bragard, the design features a dove inspired by one of Picasso’s Dove drawings.

3) Waffle maker by Ghetto Gastro x Crux

South Bronx collective Ghetto Gastro and cookware company Crux gave us the hippest culinary collaboration of the year when they launched CRUXGG, a new line of kitchen appliances. Our favorite, the waffle maker ($149.95), can crank out eight Belgian-style waffles in 10 minutes.

The product range is not only sleek in design but also socially engaged: When it launched in fall, proceeds were donated to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp, which works to empower the next generation of Black and Brown leaders. That partnership is now over, but Ghetto Gastro continues to fight racism, engage communities and advance social justice through good food and creative cooking.

4) A crochet market bag from Gem

Covid-19 vaccines may be on the horizon but, for now, going out to buy groceries could still be the highlight of your day. For a chic, modish iteration of the classic shopping tote, try finding something crocheted via Gem, a new search engine for vintage and secondhand fashion.

The site works like Lyst, but for retro clothes and accessories. It is a treasure trove of pre-loved goods at pleasingly affordable prices.

5) Rose gold sensitive skin razor by Oui the People

Oui the People

This rose gold sensitive skin razor ($75) offers an excellent way to bid farewell to disposables in favor of something more sustainable. The weighted, German-engineered single blade shaving tool promises a close, even shave without any irritation, and it has a neat retro aesthetic.
The brand behind the razor, Oui the People, has also published detailed instructions and videos showing you how to properly assemble it, which seems fitting in a year spent watching online beauty tutorials and honing our DIY skills.

6) Hand-sewn cushions by Paboy Bojang

Asylum seeker Paboy Bojang left The Gambia when he was 19, before risking his life crossing the Mediterranean Sea to make a new life for himself in Italy. Now based in Naples, he is using his previous experience as a tailor to produce a range of plush cushion covers ($85 to $152).

Made from 100% Italian cotton, which Bojang sources locally in Naples, his eye-catching designs are lined with brightly colored fringes, piping, ruffles or even tiny pom poms.

7) Pink ruffle face mask by Tia Adeola

Tia Adeola

Because one can never have too many face masks, we have another on our holiday wish list: a Tia Adeola pink ruffle mask ($45).

A true statement piece, the haute number perfectly encapsulates what Nigerian-born, London-raised and New York-based designer Teniola “Tia” Adeola has garnered attention for: a Renaissance era-inspired aesthetic of tulle and ruffles, made contemporary with bold, eye-catching colors.

This face covering is possibly one of the loudest out there, not to mention the most accessible way to gift your loved ones a designer piece without breaking the bank.

8) Reclamation blanket coat by Horse of a Different Colour

Horse of a Different Colour

British designer Sasha Starlight, who trained on London’s famous Savile Row, gives old blankets a new lease of life by transforming them into unique coats. A hug in clothing form, they are great for indoors but perfectly acceptable for a stroll around the neighborhood, too.

Produced under Starlight’s label, Horse of a Different Colour, and priced at £160 ($214), each oversized piece is a one-of-a-kind, as Starlight only works with reclaimed vintage blankets (you can also send your own to transform).

9) Circe lion print pajama sets by Desmond & Dempsey

Desmond & Dempsey

British brand Desmond & Dempsey’s organic cotton Circe lion print pajamas ($210 for her, $245 for him) were made for cozy but stylish nights in. The shirts are tailored and soft, while the elasticized pants leave plenty of room to accommodate any extra holiday feasting. They even come with pockets, in case you like carrying your hand sanitizer around the house (and why not: one can never sanitize enough).

But what really sets these apart from your regular PJs is its lion print. Loud and almost Versace-esque, they are the embodiment of Desmond & Dempsey’s tagline, “A Celebration of Life at Home.”

10) ‘Confinement Diaries’ prints by Paula Gerbase

Paula Gerbase

A week into lockdown in the UK, designer Paula Gerbase began working on a photography project that captured women wearing her garments in the own homes. The three chapters in the series, titled “Confinement Diaries,” comprises shots by photographers Maté Moro, Ronan Mckenzie and Laura Jane Coulson.

The intimate portraits are now available as framed prints ($222), with profits being donated to Women’s Aid, an organization that provides life-saving services to women and children who have experienced domestic violence.

11) Mygdal plant light by Nui Studio

Bring the outdoors indoors with Nui Studio’s Mygdal plant light (price available upon request).

Its bulb-like design can support a self-supporting ecosystem where flora can grow undisturbed, without the need for water or direct daylight. An app called LightControl lets you regulate the intensity and duration of the LED light, which the enclosed plants can photosynthesize naturally. It also doubles up as a chic house lamp.

12) Organic towels by Tekla

Tekla

Tekla’s organic towels were thoughtfully developed in the brand’s Copenhagen studio and produced in the Portuguese city of Porto. Each is sustainably crafted to the brand’s exacting standards from high-quality cotton terry with a combed finish. The plush towels are also certified as being free from harmful chemicals.

Spanning washcloths, guest towels, bath towels, hand towels and bath sheets — with prices ranging from $12 to $90, and available in a plethora of colors — these are perfect for any homebody (all of us?) serious about their comfort level in every room of the house.

13) Edgar lounge chair by Inside Weather (pictured top)

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s new collection of home and lifestyle products has been developed to help preserve Taliesin and Taliesin West — the site of Wright’s studios and school in Wisconsin and Arizona, respectively — and to raise awareness of the celebrated architect’s work.

The Edgar lounge chair (customizable, from $798) nods to the Edgar Kaufmann House, commonly known as Fallingwater, a UNESCO World Heritage site in southwest Pennsylvania.

With a cantilever construction, organic wood slats and juxtaposition of varying geometries, it was made in partnership with US furniture maker, Inside Weather.

14) Dani Oatmeal Christmas gift box by Mother of Pearl

Mother of Pearl

London-based womenswear brand Mother of Pearl has a reputation for mindful luxury. Designer Amy Powney’s collections are all created using conscious practices and standards, from supply chain through to packaging. The materials, which are organic, natural, non-dyed and, the brand says, sustainably sourced, help reduce each garment’s carbon footprint and water usage.
The label has put together some thoughtful gift boxes (starting at $210) for the holidays, including the Dani Oatmeal gift box (pictured), which comes with a signature sweatshirt and a “No Frills” notebook that can be personalized with your giftee’s name — and can, hopefully, be filled with lots of plans for 2021.

15) Tracksuits by Pangaia

Worn by the likes of Bella Hadid, Justin Bieber, Pharrell Williams and Jaden Smith, luxury loungewear label Pangaia is part fashion brand and part eco-collective.

Items have been made from seaweed and treated with peppermint oil, or crafted with organic cotton and filled with wildflowers. Others are dyed with lab-made pigments and manufactured using processes the brand calls “high-tech naturalism.”

Pangaia’s heavyweight recycled cotton tracksuits (from $240), which come in an array of punchy colors, are no exception. The plush material is made from a responsibly sourced, recycled and organic cotton mix, while the various hues are created using environmentally friendly dyes and a recycled water system.

16) Pebble Cutlery Set by Otherware x Snarkitecture

Otherware/Snarkitecture

Otherware, a collaboration between Pharrell Williams’ brand I Am Other and the sustainable design company Pentatonic, recently released the Pebble — a portable utensil set, featuring a knife, fork, spoon, straw and chopsticks, made from recycled CDs and food packaging. The idea is to reduce single-use plastic and give diners a safer way to eat out during the pandemic.

The kit got a jazzy update in time for the holidays, thanks to a new collaboration between Otherware and experimental design firm Snarkitecture.

This new edition of the Pebble ($70) comes with the same dining tools and Polycarbonate shell as the original, but in a chic monochromatic matte gray treatment. All proceeds that Pharrell makes from Otherware are donated to Yellow, his non-profit education foundation.

17) Re:Style jewelry by Alighieri x Hyundai

A collaboration between the Japanese car giant and six international designers — including Richard Quinn and Rosie Assoulin — Hyundai Re:Style is a sustainable fashion collection featuring items made from car manufacturing waste.

One of the most eye-catching results saw British jewelry maker crafting bracelets and chokers ($885 to $1,410) from old seat belts and foam materials that are delicately woven with freshwater pearls and gold-plated details.

Besides looking great, the whole Re:Style collection also supports a good cause: For each Hyundai Re:Style product sold, British luxury retailer Selfridges will donates 100% of the proceeds to support the British Fashion Council Foundation’s efforts to make the fashion industry more resilient, circular, equal and fair.

18) Impower face masks by Prabal Gurung

Prabal Gurung

Celebrated fashion designer Prabal Gurung’s Impower face masks (on offer, at the time of writing, at $5.60 each), launched in collaboration with Walmart in fall, come in four colorful variations. Reflecting Gurung’s love for bold patterns and fabrics, the fun designs, include red and purple floral motifs and animal prints, as well as reversible options, so you can choose different styles for different days.

Each covering is made with machine-washable pre-shrunk cotton, and they offer a customized fit thanks to the adjustable elastic ear loops and nose bridge. What’s more, proceeds from every mask sold are donated to the CDC Foundation.

19) ‘Black Futures,’ edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham

Black Futures” ($40) is a collection of work by Black creators that weaves together images, photos, essays, memes, recipes, tweets, poetry, music and more.

It’s not meant to be read linearly, but rather is designed as a series of brief chapters to delve into. Its loose structure is intentional: Editors Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham want readers to embark on their own, personal investigation of what it means to “be Black and alive right now,” they write.

With contributors like Solange Knowles, Samantha Irby and Hanif Abdurraqib, this is one of the most powerfully urgent and relevant books published this year.

20) A to Z Manifesto charity tees by Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney’s new series of graphic T-shirts ($595) was inspired by her A to Z Manifesto, an alphabetized map of her fashion house’s sustainability goals and future plans.

Seven of the artists who participated in the project have made their work available by way of limited-edition tees. The first drop featured designs by Cindy Sherman, George Condo and Ed Ruscha, with only 30 of each design being produced — and the profits from each going towards a cause of its creator’s choosing.

Each tee has a unisex regular fit and is made from organic cotton to reduce water waste and soil erosion while eliminating the use of harmful chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides.

21) Powell’s fragrance by Powell’s

The work of popular Oregon bookstore, Powell’s City of Books, unisex fragrance Powell’s ($24.99) was designed to replicate the scent of bookshops and old paper. The perfume exudes heady hints of violet and wood to create “an atmosphere ripe with mood and possibility, invoking a labyrinth of books; secret libraries; ancient scrolls; and cognac swilled by philosopher-kings,” according to the book store’s product description.

Better yet, the fragrance comes inside a faux book that you can nestle between real tomes.

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