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Ethical Christmas Toys for Children

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If they are not ridiculously gender specific (pink toy laptop with half the functions of the boys one, anyone?) then they are dictating how to play with their flashing lights and music, created using a scarce resource that sends a world to war, or made by blistered hands just a little bigger than our own children’s.

I am a massive advocate of non-toys, finding that often jars of things, or baskets of odds, can stir a child’s imagination so much more than dictator toys. The toys we do have have been ferreted out from car boot sales and charity shops, we aim for things that are simple and aesthetically pleasing. Yeah, yeah, that just means vintage in my mind! (A few of our favourites, and my second hand shopping strategy can be seen right here.)

We are not massively legalistic though, in fact right now Ramona is utterly obsessed with Ginger the Talking Cat app on our smartphones. I’d go so far as to say they have a kind of friendship. She tickles him, cleans his teeth, he repeats everything she says. This means they argue quite alot. Tim overheard one argument the other day that went:

Ramona: “My daddy”

Ginger: “My daddy”

Ramona: “No, MY daddy”

Ginger: “No, MY daddy”

Ramona: “NO, my daddy!”

Ginger: “NO, my daddy!”

Ramona: “NO!! MY DADDY!!!”

Ginger…. You can probably guess what Ginger retorted, and just how long this argument lasted for. Neither were prepared to concede.

For the most part, when it comes to toys I request secondhand (both sets of Ramona’s grandparents are awesome at this) and I tend to craft things up to give. However, sometimes family members want to know what they can give your children for Christmas, and while you could say “Just write them a poem”  with a virtuous lilt, it can be nice to suggest some stuff they might feel more comfortable with.

For the last 5 years I have run an ethical Christmas Fayre. It began when we were living up in Oxford Circus and  were exasperated at the lack of Fairtrade gifts available, and it is growing each year. This year we have two venues, woot! We had our first one for 2012 this Saturday just gone. It was exhausting but not stressful – in fact the most stressful part was when I turned around to find Ramona had stripped off and was cavorting amongst the stalls almost in the nude. EEEEP.

Anyway, one awesome benefit of running the Fayres is that I get to keep up with the world of fairtrade and handmade, and see how stylish and gorgeous the products are becoming. I wandered around the Fayre on Saturday completely confident that 90% of the stuff blew stereotypes of “ethical consumerism” out of the water.

Bearing in mind all my own criteria for toys – imagination stirring, ethically made, not draining on the world’s resources, gender-neutral – I picked out my top 4 ethical gifts for kids:

Baby – a hand knitted bunny

Kinderkraft are a mother and daughter business based just down the road from me. They have the most gorgeous selection of hand cotton-knitted dolls, with a real modern feel, that are perfectly soft to the touch. They also create bespoke stuffed letter bunting so you can spell out a child’s name and can chose fabric – avoiding any nasty pink/ blue limitations.  Their Etsy shop showcases a lot of their stuff. 

hand knitted bunny


 Toddler – a fairtrade bus

We couldn’t resist buying this beautiful Fairtrade bus for Ramona, a cool momento of our time in London, and sure to fire her imagination. It is sold by the AMAZING Fair Share, who are based in Soho and have an incredible range of Fairtrade kids toys that you can also buy online.

fairtrade bus


Any age – eco wooden vehicles

These hand crafted wooden toys from Top Wooden Toys are so classic in their design I think they would suit any age, and even parents would get a lot of pleasure from them. Ramona LOVED their stall on Saturday, they had a whole load of stuff not even for sale on their website that she just kept returning to. You can also buy their products on Tinternet.Handmade Wooden Digger

Older kids – Pucket

If you haven’t played Pucket yet, you really haven’t lived. It is the most basic game  involving flinging wooden disks around a board, yet provides HOURS of fun for really anyone who has a little hand-eye coordination. Kids from 6 would love this, and Tim takes it to his Youth Club for teenagers, and they love it too, AND we get it out at Christmas for all us older ones.  A total classic. Find out more, and buy, here. 



All of these, and many more toys and gifts for the WHOLE family, will be available to buy at the Horniman Museum ethical Christmas Market this Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th December. But if you can’t get there, help your family to avoid the tax evaders and plastic creators by giving them a list from the above traders!

Sometimes buying ethically does cost a bit more, but so often it is because you are paying for something that will last a lifetime, and you are paying the TRUE cost of an item. I really believe we can change the world by making good shopping choices, and our children and their generation will thank us!

Ethical and thrifty festivities

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To me, thriftiness speaks of a “make do and mend” attitude, a beautiful scraping of the barrel, a sense that less is more. Sometimes I think thriftiness is confused with ‘bagging a bargain’ and we accept that low cost for us sometimes means a high cost for someone else in the chain. And sometimes holding high ethical consumer values can seem out of reach for people truly on a budget- Fairtrade can be double the didgets, an eco label comes with a hefty price tag. I think even the best of us sometimes leave our principles at the door when it comes to Christmas as the pressure to BUY is so immense. These are the four ways that I am trying to keep it ethical and thrifty:

  • Buying secondhand is THE best way to shop ethically- utilising cast offs means essentially opting out of the supply/ demand system which wreaks havoc amongst the world’s resources. Over the last few weeks we have found some fab bits and bobs to go in our pressie drawer (we all have one, eh?) that aren’t new but we know people will enjoy. Ebay is an even more predictable way of buying secondhand goods – but I find less joy in it; mining piles of sticky jumble gives me a lot of pleasure.
  • For the last few years our extended family has just done Secret Santa- where all the names go in a hat and we are given a £20 budget to buy for one person. This takes the pressure off massively and £20 can get someone a really stunning fairtrade item. This creates soooo much less waste – or more space in the pressie drawer if you are one for ‘regifting’ (Not me though, I would NEVER) (Ha.)
  • Buying in bulk is the third way that I am trying to be ethically thrifty. I buy all my shampoo/ handwash/dishwashing liquid/showergel in huge tubs from Ethical Superstore. This brings it down to a very reasonable price and saves on packaging. Decanting some lovely organic showergel and crafting up a lush label is making a trusty quick, inexpensive gift for some friends this year.
  • The last one is equally as obvious but making pressies using up stuff you have is probably the pinacle of being ethically thrifty. There are a zillion and one ideas out there – #thriftythursday tag on twitter throws up some goodies – but the main point is to do something simple that shows your love for someone, innit? For me, this year, it is all about embroidary. I have a new embroidary hoop and a shed load of fabric remnants and, Oh my, it is the dog’s bollocks.

It would be pretty ridiculous of me to not mention this as I have been pouring my heart and soul into this for the last few months, but I also realise it is a shameless plug…

This Saturday on Oxford Street is Fair Christmas Fayre. It goes from 12-7pm and there are over 30 wonderful stalls, jampacked with eco/ fairtrade gifts. We started running this fair 4 years ago as we felt buying ethically was such a challenge in central London. There are a huge variety of items starting from a few pounds so if you live close by and want to have an ethically thrifty festive season do pop in and say hello! There is also live music, a fair trade cafe, vintage badgemaking and festive facepainting so it would make a cool day out for all the family.

Would love to hear your four point plan for being ehitcally thrifty this Christmas…