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The ethics of gifting: your unusual gift guide

"For sure, the item itself is important. But the item aside, when we receive things we love, we create an emotional bond with them. We are more likely to take good care or even repair them, just so they last longer. I see this as a way of fighting disposability in the fashion industry." – Adela Cardona, Responsibility Coordinator for Beckett Simonon, during our Zoom call.

I'll admit, when I sat down to chat with Adela, my first idea was to make a simple gift guide. But, as we started talking, I realised that there was much more to it. If you're reading this, I'll assume you know why choosing to buy from ethical businesses matters. After all, we talk about it a lot in the slow fashion community.

This conversation, however, provoked something we don't talk about enough. It made me think about the emotional bond and the ethics of the objects we buy, receive, and gift with it.

We gift more than an object

There are many reasons why I enjoy working with ethical brands. At the top of the list must be the emphasis on how they're making the things they sell. Beckett Simonon is an excellent example of this, and I wrote previously about their business here. They give us insights on how they make each pair of shoes. Moreover, they want us to understand that we are getting more than a pair of shoes by buying something from them. We are receiving a result of craftsmanship, care, and quality. Moreover, knowing the people who made your pair feels almost like receiving a gift.

That made me think.

When we are gifting an object, we are also gifting the history of it, ours or somebody else's work and the time that went into making it.

The mass production and fast fashion business model tried to erase this from things we wear. Of course, somebody is still making those clothes, shoes, accessories, and so on. But we never see them. We only see the finished item. We live under an illusion that the object simply appears on the shelves and webshops, without any history, brand new, ready to start a life.

The slow fashion movement is breaking this illusion. We want to know who is behind the item we are buying, and we want to know its history. If you ever bought something from a small business, local artisan, or a sustainable brand, you will know that feeling of satisfaction when wearing or using their products. The feeling comes, at least partly, from knowing the object's history and knowing that it is a good story to tell.

Alright, let's go deeper into this.

Why do we gift anyway?

Coming from a very elaborated gifting culture, I never thought much about gifting rituals. It was just a given fact. It wasn't only something you do for holidays or important life events, like weddings. It was also something you do whenever you're visiting somebody's house or when you're meeting them after a while.

I never questioned why we are gifting. Though, when you think about it, it's a bit unusual. As in, why do we need to give things to other people?

Well, as any anthropologist will tell you, gifts are never really about the objects.

Gift exchange is one of the oldest forms of social action with the goal of binding people together. Though there's a difference between a collective and personal or individual gift, some form of gifting exists in virtually all societies and cultures. The difference is how we interpret gifting and what we find appropriate to gift.

That aside (and with a risk of oversimplifying), gifts are about relations between communities, groups, or individuals. We are always communicating something with a gift, like our love, care, trust, belonging, or moral beliefs. They are tools for building and keeping relationships.

Additionally, gifts usually imply some reciprocity: exchange for mutual benefit. Zooming in on the way most of us experience gifts today, by giving and receiving to individuals, we do it with some intent. Often, hopefully, at least, we intend to make the other person feel good. That makes us feel good too, which is why we continue gifting.

Now, here's something to remember: gifts don't have to be material to carry this significance.

Gifting anything in the right context and to the right person can be as effective.

That being said, it's time for some gift ideas!

Gift wrapped in gray paper with some decorative flowers
Photo by Visual Stories || Micheile on Unsplash

Gift ideas

Your time

Our time is valuable, and gifting this to somebody is one of the best thing you can do. That can look differently, of course, and some other ideas on this list are, essentially, about you spending time with somebody.

For example, I recently took a friend thrift shopping, and we ended the afternoon by having drinks in a nice bar. She is not very experienced in shopping for clothes second-hand, so I offered to help her out. It was lots of fun for both of us!

Your talent or knowledge

If you're good at making something or can give professional advice to somebody, don't underestimate this. Handmade gifts are always a great option but so is giving somebody your expertise.

One friend did this for me a couple of years ago. She is an architect with a perfect sense of inner design. She helped when my partner and I were renovating our apartment. She took the time to rethink the space and gave so many great tips on how to get exactly what we want on our budget. Every time I sit in our living room, I think of this.

Experience rather than an object

You probably heard this one many times. It makes a lot of sense when you realise that we remember a gift because of how it makes us feel. Experiences feed into such memories.

I especially like gifting and receiving concert tickets. Now that they are happening again, I feel that we appreciate those even more!

Baked or cooked goods

Baking and cooking was my to-go gift method as a student when my budget couldn't cover anything above the basics. From cakes and muffins to full course meals, I've done it all!

You don't have to be on a tight budget to do this. Making anything at home is always special because of the time we invest in it. For Valentine's Day, anything related to food is a good idea.


Whether it's an app, food delivery, seasonal ticket to museums or any other service, subscriptions make good gifts. You can buy a subscription to something that you know the person is already using, or you can gift them something new to try out.

Nowadays, there's pretty much a subscription for any interest, need, or activity. Just make sure that it's something the person receiving it will actually use.


Similar to experience gift but to make or learn something!

I've done this a few times before. I've gifted wine tasting, skincare, cooking, and more. Again, there are workshops for almost any interest nowadays. So, it's worth looking at what is available locally to the person you're gifting.

Just in case you're in Belgium, you might want to consider Mixua eco-tours and workshops.

Donating to a cause

Rather than gifting the person directly, you can donate to a cause they care about.

Donations as a gift is a whole topic on its own, but it can be something to think about. A donation is a good idea if the person you're gifting has explicitly asked for no gifts or said they don't need anything. Please, respect such decisions.

If you're unsure which organisation to choose, but you know that the person cares about human rights in fashion and broader, I recommend donating to the Empowerment Collective.

Repairing something for them

This is something that I'm trying this year.

If somebody has an object that they care about but is broken, why not help them to fix it. If you have the skills, you can do it yourself. Otherwise, you can find where to repair it and take it there yourself. It will save them time money, and they get to keep the thing they love for longer. Plus, it's a great low-waste gift too!

Thrifting something

While some might be put off by receiving something used, I quite like the idea. It means that somebody took the time to find the right thing for me. Second-hand shops are typically more time-consuming and require more patience than conventional ones.

Because of that, I find that thrifted gifts are special and, potentially, unique too.

Buying from ethical brands.

Last though certainly not least is buying from ethical brands.

I'll stick to clothes and accessories for the moment, though I'm happy to make a non-fashion related guide too!

Here are just some items I like, all from brands that are ethical, sustainable and well worth checking out:

Beckett Simonon

Lora Gene

YALA Jewellery

YOU underwear

2 Degrees East




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