The holiday gift-giving season is upon us, and with the advent of Black Friday, lines will be forming in the wee hours at the big box stores with groggy shoppers eager to trample their neighbors for a chance at a discount on any number of gift items. And as much as I loathe the press that each Black Friday gets, it's an alluring offer—I'll admit that just last year we succumbed to deep price cuts and took advantage of the opportunity to upgrade our small, dying television. That said, we popped into Best Buy at eight in the evening and it was a relatively painless process (and they had enough inventory left for us to make an informed decision).
Home electronics aside, there's more to holiday shopping than flash sales and long lines. In fact, I think the federal initiative for Small Business Saturday gets the shaft if they're still encouraging massive spending the day prior. But while the politicians and economists in Washington are ruminating over the looming "fiscal cliff" and trying to come to an agreement on how best to create and re-establish jobs, I firmly believe that focusing our individual efforts right here at home gives us a chance to make a real difference in real lives.
Oregon's unemployment rate skyrocketed more than most states as the recession set in, but luckily it's been dropping pretty steadily. It's still higher than the national average, though. Perhaps it's partly due to the "dream of the 90s" that has all us creatives trying to forge our own path (or skate along under the radar in apathy), but I think it's high time we support our locally owned, independent businesses. By spending our dollars in a local, living economy, we can make a tangible difference in the lives of makers and workers in our own region.
Redefine Your Gift Culture
I like to think I've always been a thoughtful giver (right down to how things are wrapped—design is, after all, in my bones), but in recent years I've taken pride in the attention and consideration I've put into the gifts that I give to the people that I love. And in most cases, those gifts have been locally or independently sourced, and often handmade. For me, each gift has depth in character, a story to share, or some sentimental reason that needs explaining. For me, Christmas morning turns into a time to delight and surprise, a time for storytelling. The unexpected becomes heartfelt, and the gifts tend to be cherished.
But our possession-based culture works to the contrary. For decades, it's been more about the quantity of gifts than the quality, and in a lot of cases we find ourselves ticking items off lengthy wish lists. This becomes manipulative to a relationship, leaving the recipient at the end of the year to gauge how much they are loved by the number of items they received that cater to their desires.
You can redefine your personal gift culture by shifting your thinking from meeting the material wants of your loved ones into the core philosophy of gift-giving—because you care and because you love them. It truly is the thought that counts! The exchange of gifts can be a powerful experience in deepening your relationships with others through a heartfelt reciprocal deed.
Commit to Giving Local, Giving Handmade
Mass production equals mass satisfaction, and the more we buy the more we help the holiday economy. But what happens to those seasonal employees when January rolls around? What happens when all the weird, unwanted gifts from the in-laws or Great Aunt Dorothy are returned for an item more wanted? Retail revenues plummet and the minimum wage stock boys, shop girls, and customer-service-lacking cashiers hit the job-seeking pavement again. I think at this point we all acknowledge that supporting a large store who imports most of their products from China isn't a truly effective way of stimulating the U.S. economy.
So what if the money you spent was more calculated and focused on those whose lives are more directly affected by your dollars? What if the gifts you give are thoughtful enough that they aren't likely to be returned? What if you were making conscious spending decisions that helped creative entrepreneurs make solid earnings that perpetuate them into the next year with the capital they need to continue to grow their business and making a living—a good living—for themselves?
The handcrafted gift becomes part of a chain of events that enhances both community and creativity. Your purchase of a handmade gift tells the maker that you appreciate their work, that you honor their artistry—their own gifts and talents. It encourages them [both financially and emotionally] to continue making and fuels the rejuvenation of their own creativity.
The handcrafted gift bestowed upon the recipient does more than strengthen your relationship. It manifests the value you hold in the thought of the gift, underlines your appreciation for and recognition of the gifts of the maker, and encourages the recipient to turn around and pass the same commitment to others.
Stand Up for Your Local Economy
If you've committed to sustaining a local economy, stand up and shout it from the rooftops! There are still a lot of people that don't believe or understand that it's critical to our success as neighborhoods, as communities, and as cities and regions. Get out and attend your local craft fairs, indie shopping events, and plan your route to hit up as many locally owned businesses as possible. You might be surprised at how much you can find to substitute in for a new Blu-Ray or XBOX game.
This year more than ever I'm committed to supporting a local, living economy. I want my fellow creatives to be successful, and while I may not have a huge budget to contribute to their holiday revenues, I will do my part to give local and give handmade.
Have you committed to giving local or giving handmade? How has it made a difference in your holiday and your relationships with others?
Giving Local: Supporting Portland
For those of you in Portland, I also wanted to share some of my favorite shopping opportunities for giving local and handmade this holiday season.
The Gallery Store at Museum of Contemporary Craft Freshly re-designed with loads of new merchandise, there's something for everyone here, from letterpressed cards to fine ceramics to jewelry and everything in between. Details…
Boys Fort, a Portland Collective of local art, craft, sculpture, gear, fashion, and gifts I love this most of all because this place is like walking into the amalgam of my inner eight-year-old's fantasy world and my personal design sensibilities. Skateboards, slingshots, man-friendly candles, art, and so much more. Details…
Little Boxes Shopping Event | November 23–24 170 independently owned Portland shops throw open their doors in this Black Friday alternative. Prizes, special sales, and more! Check out my personal shopping guide for the guys on your list. Details…
OCAC Student and Alumni Holiday Sale | November 24–25 Over 60 artists from Oregon College of Art and Craft are selling their work, with 30-50% of the total sales benefitting student scholarships and the remainder to the artists themselves. Prices range $1–100 with an average price of $25. Details…
PNCA Student Holiday Art Sale | December 6–8 An annual event directly supporting the fine art and design students at Pacific Northwest College of Art. Affordable art, prints, wares, and more in the heart of PNCA's main campus building in all price ranges. Emerging artists to be found here. Details…
Crafty Wonderland | December 8–9 This super-colossal annual holiday craft fair extravaganza is a Portland staple, featuring over 250 artists, mostly local. They also have a year-round retail shop downtown, right across from the Central Library. Details…
The Portland Bazaar | December 8–9 Organized by Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge fame, the Portland Bazaar features a hand-picked selection of craftspeople and artists both regionally and nationally. Details…