Local, Elegant, Green and Beautiful. That's what I want the products I buy, give or receive. So this is what this holiday gift guide is all about.
Other benefits from shopping local – both for food, produce AND art, fashion or luxury items:
1) Less carbon print on the environment – becaues many of these products are hand crafted by the designers themselves; are not shipped from miles away, and are often made from recycled or rescued materials.
2) By purchasing a quality product you are reducing waste because the product will last longer and can be enjoyed for years to come (not to mention unhappy receivers that end up trashing those unwanted and often useless gifts we get at discount shops)
3) Avoid the mall mayhem and enjoy a more intimate shopping experience at indie shops, craft shows or better yet – directly from the designers at their studio.
4) Enjoy items that are one of a kind, or one of only several – so that you can be sure you are not going to knock into twenty other people wearing the same thing when walking up the street. It will make you feel special. And if anything, you will make a designer’s day when you knock into them on the street ☺
Here are some gifts from my circle of talented friends, who work hard in Vancouver and the area, to create something beautiful, sustainable, unique and reasonably priced products and art pieces. I’m going to shamelessly promote them as I think that if you are from out of town you should know about them. And if you are local, than I’m sure you can find something for nearly everyone on your list (at least among the ladies on it), all within a few miles from where you live.
Practical and Innovative
Re-sealable, reusable and plastic-free food storage - for snacks, lunches and for wrapping food in the fridge. Made by hand in BC from natural fabrics (cotton, linen), and coated with a unique blend of beeswax and plant extracts. These are innovative and environmentally friendly on every level and look adorable too!
Jola V. Designs
Jola V’s handbags and accessories have garnered a quick following for such a young company (1-1/2 years old). Jolanta Va, the designer, hails from Lithuania and after spending much of her adult life in London and New York has developed a unique sense of style that does not compromise comfort and functionality. Her leather bags and accessories are created from surplus leather that was rescued from being shredded and tossed into landfills. And it’s a good thing she did – because some of the leather she finds is so beautiful in both texture and colour, that it’s a wonder why anyone would want to throw it out. For example – the rare orange leather from which my Big Orange bag is made of (this bag is large enough for an overnight supply of clothes and everthing else a woman needs to survive during a trans-Atlantic flight, or even a daily trip to a Pilatest studio). She also has smaller items such as the ball and chain clutch, and the simple yet brilliant wrap-belts, which come in pretty colours and fit any waist size and will complement many outfits.
Designing bikinis in Vancouver seemed to be bordering with madness… Until it’s summer again, or you decide to go on a trip to a warmer place (now’s the time to do it!). I first encountered these bikinis at Dream when I was dropping off my perfumes there this summer. I was all skeptical until I tried the monouche and julie on and each of them fit like a glove (and if you're not in the know, monokinis and strapless are very tricky to fit...). They are surprisingly flattering (you don't need to be a model to look good in them) and so well constructed you'd think they're designed by a woman. If I had it my way, I would wear them all year around and not just on the beach.
The textile art in this line is also an original creation by the designer, and printed here in Vancouver.
The new S/S 2011 collection is out soon. For now you can shop online and in select boutiques around town (Dream, Oliver & Lily’s) for the cutting edge, 40’s inspired collection of 2010 at really good prices.
I met Michelle Fattore at Mindan's 1st house sale earlier in December and instantly fell for her Rosemary caramels: Lovely and balanced sweet buttery caramels contrasted with herbaceous rosemary. They are so good they taste as if they are actually good for you.
Michelle Fattore loves tea and uses it in quite a few of her confections. I was particularly surprised by how taken I was with her chocolate-peppermint shorbread. Because not only do I not normally drawn to chocolate shortbread, I also have no affinity with the chocolate-mint combo (brushing my teeth with chocolate? I don’t think so…). These are so pretty, it’s unbelievable. She obviously knows better than to use menthol as a flavouring, and actually used a good peppermint tea in the dough, which also gives them a nice crunchy texture.
The Vanilla Salt Caramel with Peanut Butter & Milk Chocolate Crunch are Wendy Boys’ signature confection which is absolutely to die for, even for someone who is not normally a peanut-butter lover.
Her sauces are also incredible, and she even added macarons in 4 beautiful colorus and flavours just recently to her menu, which incorporate Wendy’s delicious sauces.
My Chocolate Tree
Nina Pousette has certainly perfected the pairing of passionfruit and chocolate - here passionfruit bonbons and the passionfruit caramel bar are outrageously juicy and tart (I'm glad the latter sold out when I was around...). So is the eggnogg bonbon. All the bonbons and bars and candies are hand-painted and look like pieces of art.
You already know too much about my partnership with this gifted chocolatiere. It’s time to remind you of the wonderful treats that have become winter staples (aka addictions?) in this household:
Sea Nymph chocolate bar with Rachel’s own crunchy and saltier than usual English toffee (you can actually taste the sea in this one!).
Pumpkin Caramel Bonbons, with real pumpkin puree and the irresistible pumpkin spice.
And last but not least - the Garden Nymph white chocolate bar bejeweled with tart cranberries, which I try to hide from my daughter to prevent a white-chocolate melt-down…
The Dancing Leaf Designs
My friend Norkio is who I turn to for one-of-a-kind, inspirational jewellery and for custom-made pieces that truly resonate with who I am and the mood I’m in with the changing seasons. Noriko created for me a set of summer and ocean inspired jewellery that incorporates red corals with vintage brass charms of starfish and seahorses. And this fall I aksed her to create a custom ring for my daughter’s birthday, providing her with a little pumpkin-illustrated porcelain button; and the notion that my daughter loves the bright colours of orange and red. You can see the result in the photograph. My happy girl likes to marvel at it and even worn it to school (which she never does with any other jewellery).
Kate of Quench Jewellery creates stunning pieces with an organic feel and flowing designs that are mostly inspired by the flora in the Pafcific Northwest - such as her cedar branches and fern casted silver cuffs.
The Cedar Sprigs Stud Earrings make a perfect gift because with earrings you don’t really need to concern yourself with sizing. And the design is just breathtakingly beautiful.
Mindan’s jewellery is made by hand from sterling silver, and she often incorporates pearls in her designs. Her pearl rings come in a range of sizes and each pearl is just a little different in shape and size, so they are always one of a kind. The Transformer’s Necklace is innovative and can be worn in many different ways, as it breaks down into 3 different lengths of pearl & silver chains.
I always like to have flowers in my home, preferably in every room in the house.
And this season I’m getting close to that dream thanks to potter, designer and artist Grace Lee of Eikcam. Grace has a unique style and innovative uses for clay and porcelain. For example – her sea-inspired jewelry and colorfully glazed buttons are just adorable and surprising. This season, I finally was able to find the time at the One of a Kind Show to snatch a few of her miniature wall-vases: you can hang them on a little nail and either group them together or add a little splash of colour and organic presence of plants and the illustrations on the vases. These are so adorable, I want to put on in every room. And the beautiful thing is – even when there are no flowers in them, they look beautiful and add a spark to surprising spots in the house that until than were somewhat empty.
Gabriels’ Aunt Candles
Before I met met Nikki of Gabriel’s Aunt, I’ve been only exposed to either lame vanilla candles from the grocery store (synthetic and cheap) super-expensive and often not very environmentally friendly candles from high-end brands (over-priced petroleum candles that eventually smell that way after a period of burning) or the last and even less appealing option of candles that are all natural, yet both boring-smelling (lavender, anyone?) as well as with poor throw and uneven burning. Experiencing Nikki’s candles changed the way I think of candles forever – and I became an instant fan. Which is what brought me to work with her on my own candle collection (there are 4 candles at the moment, but there are many more planned for the future).
Soywax candles don’t soot and burn evenly without “tunneling”. But aside from those technical advantages, Nikki’s candles just rock – they always surprise, satisfy and create inspiring atmosphere. Even her most “cliché” holiday candles smell interesting – Under the Tree, for example is such a fine peppermint and pine scent that it almost makes me want to lick the travel candle after opening the lid (and I am not a candy-cane lover!). Hugs and Kisses is a warm spicy holiday candle but with a twist – as the spices go beyond the cliché cinnamon-cloves, with the addition of exotic cardamom and other secret ingredients. And the list goes on, because honestly I can’t remember which candle I tried and did not absolutely love. One of the newest ones, which I burnt last night is Winter Moss: a magical marriage between green galbanum and oakmoss. It’s highly fragrant, elegant and refined. It’s beyond a candle – it’s a perfume for the room.
Well-being, Body and Beauty
Has the most yummilicious body products ever, all naturally scented with essential oils and natural flavours – so you get to enjoy fruity scents like raspberry and white chocolate, or coconut and pineapple. It’s a feast for the nose and the skin at once. The line also includes tried and true skin care products, from cleansers and toners to masks and facial moisturizers. My personal favourites are the Vanilla-Cardamom Milk & Honey hand & body lotion, and the Restore Me serum that does its magic for preventing scarring in teenage skins. And last but not least – the foaming sugar scrub in ginger & lemongrass (good exfoliation for both face and body).
Belmondo Skincare Studio
My friend Daniela of Belmondo Skincare Studio is not only one of the kindest and sweetest souls I’ve ever met; she’s also just launched her own organic skin care line that she developed for quite a while, and includes very simple, pure natural skin care from organic and fair trade ingredients. Everything is made with love and locally and this is what Daniela now uses in her organic facials. Which, by the way, are an awesome, relaxing experience – even my 14 year old autistic daughter loves it and lets Daniela treat her skin for the whole hour while giggling her whole time. Highly recommended.
Whether if you are shopping for yourself this winter, or for someone on your list, shopping local and from designers who create everything by hand and with love means a lot more. When purchasing from these people, you are supporting sustainable, eco-friendly practices, and are helping real people make a living, as opposed to a big greedy corporations that exploit people and the environment and often produce nothing of much interest or innovation.
What are your favourite local designers and products? Please share, wherever you are, and reveal the local gems in your community that make shopping go beyond the transaction.