Monday, 19 December 2016

Your 2016 Equitable Gift Guide

YouAlberta 2016 Equitable Gift Guide
For some of us, December takes the biggest slice of the yearly budget. We wave an angry fist in the air, cursing our own inability to foresee that the holiday season would, indeed, still be a thing this year. Then we put our head down, and go on a buying rampage. In the frenzy of checking off everyone on your list at a reasonable price, it’s easy to lose track of the big picture. Heck, even on a good ole shopping trip for yourself, it’s easy.

The big picture is one where deplorable working conditions and little environmental regulations are commonplace at the roots of the production chain. Thankfully, sustainable and/or equitable brands are emerging worldwide to combat the phenomenon. As students, we may not have the income to buy 100% equitable. Nonetheless, shopping equitably from time to time has a positive, long-term impact on the people involved. Plus, it creates a snowball effect by increasing the demand for these types of goods, which in turn will make them more affordable down the road. Equitable goods are not only quality finds, but also meaningful gifts.

Step 1: Educate yourself

To get started, you need to know what’s what so that you can make purchasing choices that reflect your values. Here are a few terms and resources to help get started

Benefit Corporations:

Also known as “B Corps”, Benefit Corporations are “for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” (What are B Corps?) Note that getting B Corp certified is a choice made by each business; hence, not being certified doesn’t necessarily mean a business is inequitable or unsustainable.

Image courtesy of

FLO/Fairtrade Certification

Fairtrade International is a body that awards “FAIRTRADE” certification to businesses that meet their standards at every step of the production chain. The standards are designed to tackle “the imbalance of power in trading relationships, unstable markets and the injustices of conventional trade.”

Here you can find a list of certified Fairtrade products across Canada.

Image courtesy of

Poverty, INC

An award-winning film about the impact of charity vs. trade.

The True Cost

A film about the cost of fast fashion.

“Your cheap T-shirts are killing us” 

A great article by a U of A alum who looks at the environmental and human consequences of fast fashion.

Sustain SU

Sustain SU is our very own campus student sustainability service: if anyone on campus is going to know about sustainable buying practices, it’s them.

Step 2: Be a conscientious consumer

When you go to buy gifts (or shop for yourself), make a point of checking to see if the groups you’re purchasing from have a record of upholding the values that matter to you.

To make things a little easier for you, I’ve pulled together a list of some of the neatest and most affordable sustainable brands that are out there:


Founded by two U of A alumnae, Benefair is an online retailer that offers products from nine socially responsible brands, artisans and organizations in a single place, including 31 Bits (which I’ll look at more closely later in this article). 

They get bonus points for being Edmonton-based!

Good for: Diversity

Images courtesy of

Ten Thousand Villages [Fairtrade Certified] 

These stores carry a variety of Fair Trade products from all over the world, from home d├ęcor to musical instruments. Plus, they have a physical location that you can check-out in person.

Good for: Unique decorations
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Fable Naturals [Fairtrade Certified]

Based in Vancouver, this company makes organic bath and body products from certified Fair Trade and organic materials. 

Good for: Cosmetics
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FashionABLE [Certified B Corp]

This company believes in a sustainable business model of “giving opportunity”—rather than giving charity—to women living in poverty or having overcome difficult circumstances like addiction. Globally, they do so by purchasing goods directly from businesses in various African countries, thereby helping the businesses to grow. Their U.S. based head office also makes a point of hiring women who have overcome a number of life challenges. 

Good for: Leather bags, pouches, and rings
Images courtesy of


This company provides training and jobs to women in India who are looking for a way out of sexual slavery or who are at risk of entering it. These women craft all of their products by hand. The non-profit branch of Sudara also provides housing and education for these women and their children to maximize their chance of breaking the cycle of slavery. 

Good for: Lounge wear
Images courtesy of

The Brave Collection

This company’s jewellery is handmade by Cambodian fair-trade artisans with disabilities who come from unprivileged backgrounds. As an added benefit, 10% of The Brave Collection’s profits are donated to fight human trafficking in Cambodia.

Good for: Bracelets
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Patagonia [Fairtrade Certified]

One of the first to promote environmental ethics in active wear, Patagonia has used organic cotton since 1994. They also make a point of supporting environmental initiatives through grants and awareness campaigns and work with Fair Trade Certified factories in India, Sri Lanka and Los Angeles. 

Patagonia also produced this short film to show the positive impacts of fair trade around the globe:

Good for: Outdoor wear

31 Bits

I told you I’d come back to this one - this company aims to empower its employees to rise above poverty by providing them with fair and sustainable wages and a caring work environment. Its beaded jewellery is made in Uganda from tightly rolled paper sealed with a water-based varnish, while the metal products and accents are made in Indonesia by artisans. 

Good for: Necklaces 
Images courtesy of


Naja seeks to disrupt the lingerie industry by creating a brand that empowers rather than objectifies women. Their garment factory employs single mothers and female heads of households in the U.S. and provides them with above-minimum wage compensation and healthcare benefits. Naja workers also receive books, school supplies, and school meals for each of their children.  The company also employs women living in the slums of Columbia to make the lingerie bags that come with every purchase. Lastly, they use digital printing rather than dyes to minimize their water waste.  

Good for: Original underwear designs, underwear for all skin tones

Purple Impression

This company abides to their “trade not aid” mission by employing artisan women from Multan, Pakistan and its suburbs, and strives to be environmentally sustainable from the point of production all the way through to the time of packaging. 

Good for: Tunic tops, Plus sizes
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Krochet Kids Intl.

This non-profit organization provides training, jobs, education, and mentorship for Peruvian and Northern Ugandian women who are working to rise out of poverty. Every product is hand-signed by the woman who crafted it.

Good for: Sweaters, basic tees, and beanies for men and women
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This brand sells ethically-produced apparel that helps support after-care programs and growth opportunities for survivors of sexual exploitation.

Good for: Minimalist T-shirts with a cause
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Teysha [Certified B Corp]

This organization works directly with artisans throughout the Americas to “develop local infrastructure, value chains, designs, and production processes which honor traditional craft while bringing market access and opportunity”. 

Good for: Leather boots of all sorts 
Images courtesy of

Veja [Fairtrade Certified]

Veja’s shoes are made from the wild rubber owned by 60 families in the Amazon, the only place in the world where rubber still grows naturally. By paying a fair price for these semi-finished materials, Veja acts as a organizational barrier to deforestation by ensuring that the Amazonian forest’s resources are harvested sustainably. 

Good for: Sneakers
Images courtesy of Veja

Catherine - YouAlberta Contributor

Catherine is a 2016 BSc graduate (in Bio and English) who will be tackling a BEd in Secondary Education this September. She currently works at the Centre for Teaching and Learning and her passions include children’s health and flat-faced pets. When she isn’t eating or chuckling to herself, Catherine enjoys playing piano, exploring the river valley and spiralling into existential reflections while stargazing.

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