Alternative Gift Guide: Gifts That Make a Social Impact

Designed Good's gift options that are making a sustainable difference, both in the U.S. and abroad

This December, there’s more impact to be had than slowly making a dent cleaning up the holiday debris of wrapping paper and gingerbread cookie crumbs. At Designed Good, we’ve focused on finding products with a story about social good—and in our own journey to curate these products, we’ve found some other gift options that are making a sustainable difference, both in the U.S. and abroad. That is, they’re designing and manufacturing products in a way that makes sense for lasting development and change. Here's a list of our favorites:

Apolis Global Citizen Garden Bag
Apolis is a purpose-filled social enterprise in Los Angeles that is committed to sustainable supply chains—they co-create every product with manufacturers; they have empowered people in the U.S., Bangladesh, Uganda, and Peru by spurring microeconomic development and investing in people.

This reusable garden bag isn’t only a fresh take on the plastic bag alternative, but also a typical example of Apolis’s global mission. Each bag is handcrafted by a cooperative of women artisans in Bangladesh before being completely finished in California, within 10 miles of the Apolis office.

The I AM. Idea Maya Yoga Bag
Before getting into the details, there’s something awesome about every Maya Yoga bag: each one comes with a QR code that connects you to the woman weaver who created it.

And now, to back up a little: I AM. is using visionary business models to provide sustainable, high-wage weaving work for women in the highlands of Guatemala. These are women with incredible skills as textile weavers, but live in impoverished communities that don’t always provide income-generating opportunity.

Each bag is hand-signed by the women in Guatemala who wove it. We also particularly love the waterproof full-length pocket designed specifically for carrying damp clothing.

Vers 1Q and 2Q Sound Systems
For family and friends who look for a slightly more technical gift experience, the Vers 1Q speaker and 2Q stereo set are the perfect blend of high-quality sound and sustainable production. Designed Good is featuring Vers 1Q and 2Q this week along with an exclusive story about their innovative blend of design and environmental responsibility.

Each 1Q and 2Q is made of sustainably-sourced, highly-renewable wood: bamboo, beech, or walnut. Vers uses Class D Amplifiers to make their sound systems—they produce exactly the same level of sound without giving off 85 percent of its energy as unwanted heat. In addition, Vers plants 100 trees for every product they produce through the Arbor Day Foundation.

Della MacBook and iPad cases
Della sets a new standard for the intersection of fashion and social impact. We love the fresh prints on their MacBook and iPad cases because they’re made of sustainable materials (local fabric from Ghana) and support sustainable lifestyles.

Della is a woman-owned and run business in Los Angeles that works with one specific community in Hohoe, Ghana. Their employees don’t just receive a long-term, living income but also national healthcare, national social security benefits, weekly classes in money management, and weekly classes in literacy. In turn, the women who work for Della—women who receive every dollar that Della makes through salaries and these programs—also pass on their sewing skills to the kids of the Happy Kids Orphanage in Ghana for a sustainable future.

Hand in Hand Soap
Hand in Hand Soap is superhero soap—and not just because it saves your hands from the eternal stickiness of Christmas tree sap. Hand in Hand has found a way to produce soap that is 100 percent vegetable-based and organic without using any palm oil, which is thought to be responsible for eradicating 98 percent of Indonesia’s remaining rainforests.

Each bar purchased also donates a bar of soap to a child in Haiti to address the 45 percent of water-related deaths that can be prevented by handwashing. In addition, each bar supports microcredit loans in the U.S. and globally while also saving 50 square feet of rainforest through a partnership with SeaCology.

Twice as Warm Hats
Twice as Warm began as a local project in Rockville, MD in 2010. Brian Lieberman wanted to find a way to donate warm clothing to local people who didn’t have sufficient winter gear.

Their line of winter hats is made entirely in the U.S., using high quality wool and often made with recycled fibers. Each hat or other item purchased at Twice as Warm donates a piece of their clothing to a shelter in their local D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area. With a focus on local shelters—in a sphere of influence that Brian knows well—Twice as Warm makes sure they are in dialogue with the people they are giving to, and forming a relationships with this community.

Westward Leaning Sunglasses
For those of you with friends in warm places (or just well-lit ones), Westward Leaning sunglasses are gifts that literally incorporate their story of social good into their design.

Westward Leaning has a pretty innovative concept: They’ve designed a universal frame meant for both genders, and any face shape. They’re interested in investing in people, so for every pair purchased, they donate $10 (increased to $15 for this holiday season) towards an educational program specific to the material of the inlay they have put on that particular frame. For instance, their Children of California frame features California redwood and therefore donates to education programs in California.

Brooklyn Assembly Kits
Brooklyn Assembly Kits accomplish more than your average gift by helping you accomplish more. That doesn’t mean fitting in 10 extra errands while fighting your daily battle against commuter traffic. Rather, it means taking an afternoon to create something handmade—something that will last longer than the memory of another shopping mall run.

Whether you use Brooklyn Assembly Kits to make your own gifts or give the kits themselves as presents, they are the perfect way to share objects that last. The creator behind the kits, Althea, assembles them by herself in Brooklyn, and she sources all of her all-natural materials from small, ethical producers within the U.S. We particularly love this DIY Backgammon Set that allows you to stitch together the classic game.

All of these gifts are made by brands, designers, and thinkers who are solution-oriented. They use projects and partnerships to invest in people, and they’ve incorporated impact not only into their business models, but into the design of the products themselves. Their products make perfect gifts during the holidays and provide stories worth sharing every month of the year.