Gifts that Keep on Giving
Consumers Drive Socially Responsible Trend
By Candace M. Little
November 1, 2009
The holiday season is upon us and consumers all over the world are preparing to seize opportunities like Black Friday sales and Christmas specials, because if consumerism has taught us anything, it’s that it can’t be the happiest season of all without giving and receiving presents. This year, though, the gift-giving trend is to find something that means more than a good deal or a fun toy—consumers want gifts that keep on giving.
In September, TIME magazine’s editor Richard Stengel wrote, “We are again entering a period of social change as Americans are recalibrating our sense of what it means to be a citizen, not just through voting or volunteering but also through commerce: by what we buy.” Stengel also shared statistics from a national TIME survey which reported that of 1,003 adults polled, nearly 40 percent said they purchased a product in 2009 because they liked the social or political values of the company that produced it. The survey also showed an increase in shoppers buying local and organic goods.
As sustainable, green and fair trade gift giving becomes more popular, there are a number of Utah businesses facilitating the trend. Worldstock.com, Ten Thousand Villages and A Gift to Africa are three Utah-based companies that sell socially responsible gifts, with a goal of creating jobs for artisans in third world countries or others in hard circumstances. Sustainable gifts offered by those companies—like paper bead jewelry, push toys made from recycled wire and shade-grown coffee—are also unique because they are connected to an individual artisan. And each time the handiwork is purchased, it is not only a gift under the tree, but also a gift to the artisan's families and their countries.
Worldstock’s goal, “to create tens of thousands (and someday millions) of jobs in the poorest regions of the world” rings true to Angela Ramirez, director of Worldstock, who grew up in Columbia. “There is nothing better than to give people less fortunate an opportunity to succeed and sustain themselves with their beautiful creations.”
Ramirez has noticed an increase in sustainable and green gifts purchased, resulting in more than $30 million, so far, sent to Worldstock artisans. She also sees opportunity for other businesses to get involved. “Overstock.com had the vision of creating Worldstock to give back to the community,” Ramirez says. “We’ve proven you can make a difference and still have a profitable business.”
Ten Thousand Villages
Tatiana Kireiev Miller, executive director of Ten Thousand Villages, is busy all year advocating fair trade practices and responsible consumerism, and selling handicrafts made by third world artisans. She says the reason many people value buying gifts from fair trade retailers is because it’s easy to see how supporting these artisans really makes a difference.
Many efforts are made in places like Africa to teach AIDS prevention and other survival skills, but Miller says that many artisans feel that unless they have a way to provide for their families, their lives are not worth living. For every $2,000 spent at Ten Thousand Villages, one family across the world receives income for an entire year. “Utah business owners have a lot of power to harness this resource for the greater good,” Miller says.
A Gift to Africa
A Gift to Africa jewelry and other African arts are sold across the country in places like the Smithsonian gift shop and the Sundance Catalog. Sabina Zunguze, CEO, helps women in Africa sell their handicrafts by telling their story, teaching them about American style and color preference, helping them get supplies, setting up buyers, and shipping their products to America.
“We’ve come to an age where people are saying ‘if I’m going to give a gift, I want to make sure it means something to someone.’ When people buy from these women, they’re giving something that’s helping somebody else," says Zunguze. A Gift to Africa now has about 300 women earning fair wages in many different parts of Africa.