Feel Good Gifts from Around the Globe

This holiday season, forget elvish slave-labour. Consider planet-friendly presents that let you stuff those stockings with a clear conscience. Check out these shops for gifts that are as chic as they are eco-friendly.


Recycling old fabric into new fashions isn’t limited to tying on a tattered bed sheet and calling it a toga. At Geminola in New York’s trendy Greenwich Village, London transplant Lorraine Kirke is taking salvaged style to a whole new level.

Photo courtesy Geminola

Photo courtesy Geminola

Remember the scene from Gone With The Wind where Scarlett O’Hara, in the throws of poverty but eager to make a good impression, eyes her green velvet drapes and envisions a gorgeous new gown? Well, Geminola is a bit like that, but with a fizzy dose of Sarah Jessica Parker’s alter ego Carrie Bradshaw thrown in.

In fact, Kirke designed the green knee length frock that Carrie wore when she unexpectedly encountered Mr. Big in Paris in the “Sex and the City” finale, joining the ranks of Versace, Dolce and Gabbana, and Vivienne Westwood, who also outfitted the pocket-sized fashion icon for her role in the show.

She peruses flea markets around the world, scouting out bolts of rare cloth, bits of lace, antique buttons, and decades-old dresses she can cut down and restyle. Back in New York, she works with three seamstresses to convert these vintage finds into “new” dresses and tops, as well as housewares like bedspreads and napkins, often hand-dying them (using organic dyes, naturally) in buckets in her own laundry room.

Kirke even recycled her role as a television fashion designer. Her daughter, actress Jemima Kirke, sported one of her mother’s redesigned wedding dresses in the hit series “Girls,” and she cut a slinky figure in an emerald green velvet gown for the show’s premiere.



Helsinki-based designer Isabella Haas takes the old adage “waste not, want not” seriously—but always with a wink and a smile. Her EDEL City boutique in the Finnish capital embraces the motto “ethical design and eco luxuries,” which translates as shelves filled with clever wares made from odds and ends otherwise bound for a landfill.

telephone handbag_5055_smHaas has sourced nearly 50 like-minded designers, many of them local, although some of her goods, such as sandals constructed from recycled tire treads, come from as far away as Africa.

“They work with handicapped people and women with AIDS in Kenya, and they help the artisans start their own bank accounts,” Haas explains.

Some of EDEL City’s more unusual items include handbags with old telephone receivers as handles, dresses fashioned from men’s trousers, and laptop and iPhone covers made from repurposed blue jeans.

“It’s important to have a fun aspect and a twist,” explains the native Austrian, who studied industrial design. “We want eco-living to be cheerful.”



From woven juice-packs to sacks that once contained cement, rice and fish, it seems there’s nothing you can’t convert into a handbag or tote, as patrons of Ganesha fair trade boutique have discovered while browsing this cosy, colourful shop on London’s South Bank. Other ingenious “up-cycled” merchandise includes scarves, bunting and notebooks, which all utilise vintage sari silk.

Bags woven from juice boxes

Bags woven from juice boxes

Shelves are stacked with disposable plates made from leaves, placemats and coasters fashioned from rolled-up newspapers, and “vegetarian” soap devoid of animal by-products.

Better still, Ganesha’s suppliers include organizations like the Nepal Leprosy Trust, ex-patients of a Calcutta medical clinic, and Cambodian landmine and polio survivors.

“The most important thing to us is sourcing products from alternative trade organizations,” says Purnendu Roy, who cofounded Ganesha in 1996 with Jo Lawbuary. “They’re building up communities and providing sustainable income. If things can be recycled, too, that’s a positive benefit.”



Freitag is a Swiss company renowned for its line of messenger bags made from old seat belts, truck tarps and inner tubes. Since 1993, the line has expanded to include handbags, totes, wallets, toiletry kits and more, all made in the bold, colorful Freitag style.

Freitag bags_3572sm“Every single bag is individual,” says Claudio Nold, who sought a job with the company because he was such a fan of its products. “I had my first Dragnet bag for 12 years. You can’t kill ‘em.”

While Freitag offers on-line shopping and locations around the world, its Zurich headquarters on Geroldstrasse takes “up-cycling” to a whole new level—literally–with a store housed in a collection of old cargo containers stacked several stories tall.

Even the view from an open-air platform atop the shop overlooks a “recycled” area–an erstwhile industrial center that’s been revamped as a hipster hotspot buzzing with clubs, restaurants, and galleries.



Reworks Upcycle Shop in Calgary is all about transforming trash into treasures. Imagine a chic silver-coloured clutch created out of pop can tabs; cheeky belt buckles fashioned from Cadillac hardware and license plates; and change purses assembled from candy rappers, vintage fabric and repurposed zippers.

What's the next best thing to beer goggles? Glasses made from actual beer bottles. Courtesy Reworks.

What’s the next best thing to beer goggles? Glasses made from actual beer bottles. Courtesy Reworks Upcycle Shop.

Solita Work, a graphic designer who opened her store in September 2011, even designs some things herself, such as picture frames made from wood palettes, patchwork pillows stitched together from upholstery fabric samples, and claw foot tubs converted into sofas.

Most items are made in North America, and about 50 percent come from Canada. “Our suppliers are paying good wages to people that live in their neighbourhood,” Work says. “They’re putting money back into our own economy, and they’re using up our garbage and supporting innovation locally, as well.”


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