How to Find the Best Local, Handmade Gifts


Craft fairs offer tons of local, handmade gifts. Photo by Orin Zebest via Flickr.com.
Guest bloggers Andrea Donsky and Randy Boyer are co-founders of NaturallySavvy.com.

The holiday season is in full swing, and that means one thing: the spirit of giving--and shopping--is everywhere.

But all that giving can mean a lot of excess waste, plus a huge carbon footprint. We know how much kids (and adults) appreciate a special gift from a loved-one, so we're not going to suggest you stop buying gifts, but there is a simple way to go greener this holiday season: shop local and handmade.

When you purchase goods from local artisans, you're supporting their business, which helps strengthen your local economy, and buying local also reduces your environmental footprint significantly.Shopping local can seem time-consuming and complicated when the nearby big-box store is a one-stop shop. But many of the goods stocked by big retailers are made tens of thousands of miles away. These goods are then shipped by container ship to U.S. ports, and then by truck to regional warehouses, and then shipped again by truck to stores. It all adds up to a giant environmental footprint.

Local artisans, however, generally produce their goods from home or a nearby studio, and some even source materials locally, further reducing the footprint. Artisans often also have low production waste, in part because it's more economical for them to avoid waste that would cut into their profits. Many have scrap bins for collecting bits of materials, which are then used for other projects.

Look for Artisans Using Eco-Friendly Materials
An increasing number of crafters are putting the environment first. Craftivism combines creating goods with environmental activism by actively promoting eco-friendly materials and practices. While not all eco-conscious crafters are craftivists, there are plenty who are using eco-friendly materials.

Organic cotton is becoming more popular among crafters, quilters, and other artisans, and this has big benefits for the environment. Worldwide, conventionally grown cotton uses a vastly disproportionate amount of pesticides and insecticides. In India, where a third of the world's cotton producers are located, cotton occupies just 5% of farmland, but cotton-growing accounts for 54% of all pesticides used each year, according to the Environmental Justice Foundation. Aldicarb, the second most-used pesticide in cotton production around the world, is a powerful neurotoxin: one drop on the skin can kill a man.

So producers who use organic cottons and consumers who purchase organic cotton goods are supporting a healthier, sustainable crop and reducing dependence on chemical-heavy conventional cotton production.

Some artists and artisans also create goods made from upcycled materials. This prevents items from entering the waste stream, and it often means materials are sourced locally, from a variety of sources that may include thrift shops, local manufacturers, and even items left at the curb. The result is the overall environmental footprint of the materials used by upcycling artisans is very small.

Many artisans are also now selling crafting kits, which are great for creative kids, teens, and adults. Happy Sew Lucky, based in North Vancouver, Canada, has built their business out of this desire to make. They sell adorable stuffed toy and ornament kits, and they only use organic cotton sourced from the U.S. You can find all sorts of other kits on Etsy, and individual crafters' websites.

Where Can You Find Local, Handmade Goods?
Sometimes it's hard to know where to look for handmade items, even in your own backyard. If you've recently moved to a new city or just lead a busy life, you may not know where to turn. Thankfully, there's no shortage of craft fairs this time of year, and local schools, community centers, and churches or other houses of worship are a great place to start looking.

You can also turn to the web. Artists, artisans and crafters are a pretty tight-knit community, and they often promote craft fairs and shows online. If you like to shop online, Etsy has a Shop Local feature that lets you browse sellers in your area.

Don't overlook independent craft supply stores. Staff are usually in the know about upcoming art and craft shows, and you may even be able to pick up tickets to big events. Plus some shops also stock samples for the kits and patterns that they sell, and these make wonderful gifts. Who doesn't love a thoughtful gift that is truly one-of-a-kind?

More on Green Holidays
Green Gift Guide: The Animal Lover (Slideshow)
Green Gift Guide: The Kid (Slideshow)
World's First Solar-Powered Christmas Tree Lots Pop Up in San Diego

Tags: Christmas | Cotton | Environmental Footprint | Etsy | Gifts | Holidays | Shopping | Sustainable Fabrics | Upcycling