A Very Social Christmas

Lisa Yu
Lisa Yu
Nov 29 · 11 min read

Depending on which day in December you speak to me, I either love or hate Christmas. I find it equal parts exciting and stressful; some years I have all my Christmas presents purchased before December begins and some years I’m in tears on Christmas eve cursing all of my relationships and life choices.

Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

This year I’ve been seriously thinking about my impact on the environment and trying to be more mindful of the things I buy. This has been even further magnified since starting at On Purpose. Seeing the amazing things that social enterprises are doing for their communities and the planet I wanted to see if I could try and bring that into how I approach Christmas presents this year. I am quite new to the zero waste, sustainable, mission driven space and sometimes I find the amount of information overwhelming. I’m never 100% sure if what I am doing is making any sort of impact. But learning and trying can’t be a bad thing. In light of this, I am trying to buy (and ask for) presents from businesses with a sustainable and/or social impact ideology.

While I was doing research into this space, I was completely taken aback by the number of social enterprises producing amazing products. I would say that for most things you may consider buying as present, if brand is not an issue, there will be a sustainable product equivalent (there are some very clever people out there!). So without further ado, here are some sustainable and ethical Christmas present ideas that I love!

Outside of the box ideas

I’ve started with this category as it is my favorite category of gift to receive and buy.

Gold Star: Invisible Cities & Unseen Tours

Unseen tours is a not-for-profit social enterprise working in London. Homeless, ex-homeless and vulnerably housed Londoners are paid to provide local tours of historical and cultural aspects of London you may not have seen.

Invisible cities works in Edinburgh, York, Glasgow and Manchester. They train people affected by homelessness to become walking tour guides of their own city and offer these alternative tours to tourists and locals.

Both company directly reinvested 100% of their profits back in to the social enterprises. The tours start at £12 and £15 for London. Invisible cities facilitate street Barbers in Edinburgh, where they give free haircuts and toiletries to homeless men and in 2018 started offering ‘pampering days’ to homeless women in the city.

Runner Up: Hackney Herbal Workshops

Hackney herbal is a community based social enterprise that provides opportunities for local people to interact with herbs and each other. They run a mixture of both paid and free community courses and workshops targeting topics such as mental health and well-being, as well as using herbs and making them in to items like lip balms and oils. Not forgetting the herbs which they make into yummy tea which is sold at many different places! Paid workshops start from £30, but for the more budget conscious, there are also free events with nature based craft activities which would make a great day out!

Notable Mentions: London Bike Kitchen

London bike kitchen are looking to teach you how to service your bike yourself — teach a person to fish and all that! They run specialized courses for novices and also have a drop-in service. Do you know someone who would be keen on riding a bike but are terrified of doing so in London? Local councils run free courses to help get you comfortable! A voucher to LBK coupled with this council run course may be just what a scared-but-keen cyclist needs for Christmas to get them motivated!


Gold Star: Migrateful

Migrateful cooking class

Do you know someone that likes food and learning about new cultures? The cooking class at Migrateful is at the top of my Christmas wish list. Migrateful have cooking classes that are run by refugees and vulnerable migrants. They teach you how to cook their delicious cuisines whilst getting a chance to practice their English and share their stories. There are specific vegetarian and vegan themed nights so plenty of options are available! A few of my friends have attended a class and the feedback is that the experience is incredible and there is an abundance of delicious food to eat after. It’s a win win!

Runner Up: Rise Bakery

Rise Bakery bake delicious brownies and deliver them straight to your door! If that has not got your buy-in yet, Rise Bakery are part of the training scheme for the homeless charity Providence Row. The bakery offers accredited training and employment support for people affected by homelessness.

The best part is that all money raised from selling the brownies is invested back into these schemes. You can get a box of brownies delivered for just under £15 (including postage to London). They also do corporate orders if your company may want some festive Christmas cheer in the form of delicious Gold Taste award-winning brownies.

Notable Mentions: Rubies in the Rubble & Unity Kitchen

Rubies in the Rubble are looking to reduce food waste and have been doing so since 2012. They use surplus food to make delicious condiments. I recently tried the pear and fig relish on some cheese and it was amazingly tasty. I’ve never thought about getting condiments for someone for Christmas but who wouldn’t want some Banana Ketchup or Chili Mayo?!

What about a delicious meal as a present? Unity kitchen is a social enterprise that spends their profits to directly support people with disabilities by training and employing them to become baristas, chefs and service stars! They have a strong focus on delivering delicious food and drink but with a social purpose, plus there are four different locations in London!

Boozies McBooze Booze

Gold Star: Toast

Many of us enjoy a beer or two extra at Christmas and why not? Toast are a zero waste beer company who rescue surplus bread from bakeries and use this to supplement the malted barley in brewing. Their glass bottles are sourced from Ardagh Group which is 43% recycled with the remainder made up of sand and other naturally occurring raw materials. To top it off, 100% of their profits go to charities that are looking to fixing problems with the food system. You can order online or get it from select Tesco, Waitrose and Ocado stores. My personal favorite is the Session IPA which is light and citrus-y.

Runner Up: Forty Hall Vineyard

Forty Hall Vineyard is a 10 acre vineyard in Enfield, who are certified organic and totally dedicated to demonstrating environmentally sustainable farming and vine growing practices. Profits from sales of the award-winning wines are put back into their social focus — to deliver health and well-being benefits to their local community. This ‘ecotherapy’ project provides volunteering opportunities in the vineyard to improve mental and physical health by promoting outdoor work and being socially connected. I have already added their English bubbles to my Christmas list!

Notable Mentions: Glenwyvis & Brewgooder

Glenwyvis was created to unite the people of Dingwall through the creation of a distillery owned in part by the people. This project was successfully crowdfunded in 2016. They are a pioneer in sustainable distilling now, offering a lovely selection of gins and whiskies.

Brewgooder produce delicious beers and are looking to provide clean drinking water to 1 million people by 2025 by donating all of their profits to water charities.

For the Mini Humans

Gold Star: Good Things

In doing research for this blog I must confess to having spent far too much time on the Good Things website. Their aim is for the presents that you buy to have a positive impact on the environment and on the people who make them. Good things do things like turning waste plastic bottles into colorful toys. They also have a project training deaf and disabled people in craft skills so they can in turn earn a good wage making beautiful gifts for children. There are so many reasons Good Things is more than just good! (I cannot resist a good pun) In addition to all of this, just look at how cute some of these toys are!! I might just get this cooking set for myself! The range of toys is incredible from a build and play rescue team to a baby bird rattle.

Runner Up: Myriad

Myriad supply ecological toys that promote creative play in children. The toys are produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way with low impact workshops through Europe and boasting natural materials with no petroleum, plastic or water based dyes. Similar to Good Things, Myriad have a selection for all ages and interests from arts and crafts to music. When I looked through the selection I was amazed at how great some of these toys look; checkout this waterproof origami or beeswax plasticine you can make in to a dinosaur.

Notable Mentions: Tech Will Save Us

While not strictly in the sustainable bucket, Tech Will Save Us has some very educational toys for kids. There are toys that teach you how to code and how electronics work. If the next generation are going to save the world, I support the children of now being much smarter than I will ever be!


There are so many alarming statistics on what fast fashion does to the environment but as this is a festive post I will throw just two at you that alarmed me:

  • Fashion is the second biggest global polluter of fresh water. You need nearly 3 years worth of drinking water for one person to make just one
  • Extending the life of clothes by just 3 months can reduce water, carbon and waste footprints by as much as 10%!

It would be remiss of me not to highlight mending, borrowing and re-purposing in this category and for that reason the gold star is going to any presents purchased from vintage and second hand shops.

Gold star: Vintage & second hand shops

As I am not cool enough to be a vintage shop fashionista, I have gotten recommendations from my very fabulous friend Lucy who is a vintage/charity shop queen. These are her favorite recommendations: Beyond Retro — Cheshire Street, East End Thrift Store, The Classic Car Boot and any Pop up vintage fairs. There is a lovely looking one in Alexandra Palace at the beginning of December that I intend to visit!

Traid and Oxfam also have great charity shops at multiple locations. I’m quite new to vintage shopping and it can be super frustrating at times. I recommend picking one or two shops book ended with a coffee and snacks and really have a good rummage. I found a great brooch for my Mum and a little while ago bought myself an Acne blazer for £10 that was as good as new. Bargain!

Here is some photos of my beautiful friend Lucy (@froucy) in an array of her vintage treasures.

Runner Up: Ruby Moon

Active wear is an area which has struggled to be both ethical and sustainable in the past. Ruby Moon collects used fishing nets from the oceans and turns them into regenerated yarn for active wear. Their ethical and safe supply chain uses manufacturing from Spain and the UK with distribution managed by a charity, Bags of Support, which employs working mothers. In addition to this, they donate 100% of their profits! Finally, they partner with Lend With Care to provide loans and business training to women to break through cycles of poverty. You can read about some of these women’s stories here.

Notable mentions: Lucy&Yak, Thought Clothing, Community Clothing

I love the next three bands and could gush about them all day. Instead of waxing lyrical, allow me to just show you a few choice pictures.

Thought Clothing have such a great page on their website showing how to care for your clothes so they last longer, as well as some great tips on how best to mend clothes. Some of the items can be expensive but a voucher may save the day! Double bonus is that a voucher takes the stress out of choosing!

Under a fifteen-er

I thought I would take a scatter gun approach to this section from all genres:

  • The Soap Co. collections are crafted in the UK by people who are blind, disabled or otherwise disadvantaged (and is run by an On Purpose Fellow!). They choose natural botanicals, nourishing vitamins and pure essentials oils to create cruelty free products that are good for you and the environment! WIN!
  • Jollies Socks donates a pair of socks to a homeless shelter for every pair you buy. Socks are one of the most needed items at shelters. The patterns are adorable, the fabrics are sustainable and the designs are hard wearing. There is nothing not to love!
  • Atlas and Ortus is a great one stop shop for alternatives to single-use plastic.


Home made things. This year I made (for the first time in my life and with the help of one of my lovely pals) lemon curd and Chinese chili oil to be my stocking fillers. I have tried both and they are indeed delicious, even if I do say so! I ended up filling 20 x 200g (reusable) jam jars and it was less than £2 per jar!


E-cards: I like OpenMe for easy to personalize seasonal e-cards. If you’re willing to spend some money, JibJab have some hilarious cards and now short videos.

Recycled Brown Paper: you can stencil these or stamp festive pictures on it.

Oxfam’s fair trade gift wrap is handmade in Nepal from recycled cotton & agricultural waste paper, and costs £3.49 for two sheets and two matching tags.

Eco twine to tie up the presents, Jute twine is natural and biodegradable.

Renting a Christmas tree at London Christmas Tree Rental.

If you find nothing on this list to your fancy, then there is a Zero Waste Christmas Event featuring some great zero waste social enterprises.

The suggestions in this blog are very London-focused, but if you’re keen on being more environmentally conscious I urge you to have a look around for ethical and sustainable brands that are local to you. I’ve barely scratched the surface of social enterprises who are producing goods and services whilst considering their impact on the environment and the world. It has been the best kind of eye-opening present buying this year.

Happy (ethical) Christmas.

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