Socially conscious Christmas presents

More than 20 local social enterprises have popped up, offering items that help the needy or benefit society. Here are 10 to choose from

Socially conscious shoppers may wonder if the social and environmental impact of their purchases will eclipse the joy of giving them.

They now have many more socially responsible options for their Christmas gifts. In the last three years, more than 20 local social enterprises have sprung up, offering gifts that give back.

And many owners of these businesses say that awareness among local consumers seems to be on the rise, as more consider the ethics of enterprises in their purchasing decisions.

A case in point: a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's wife Ho Ching carried a dinosaur-patterned pouch designed by an autistic student from the autism-focused Pathlight School during a state visit to the United States, the 200 pieces in stock were sold out.

The pattern, by 19-year-old See Toh Sheng Jie, has since been replicated on other merchandise, such as a notebook and greeting cards, and are sold by The Art Faculty - a gallery and store run by Pathlight's parent charity, the Autism Resource Centre.

 
 

Mr See Toh is part of a 36-member group that makes up Pathlight's Artist Development Programme, where students are given free rein to create art that is curated by art coaches for exhibitions, original art sales and prints. The students, aged 12 to 21, get between 10 and 60 per cent in royalties and the remaining proceeds from the sale of merchandise go towards covering operational costs and overheads.

Ms Jacelyn Lim, deputy executive director of the centre, says: "There has been a lot of interest and response from the public in the past few months and we have had to scale up production and inventory levels to meet the demand."

Awareness of The Art Faculty's products has fuelled interest in the works of other Pathlight artists, leading to collaborations with brands and retailers such as Timberland, Paragon mall and UOB.

For its Christmas greeting cards this year, UOB, for example, bought digital image rights from one artist.

Over at The Animal Project, which supports the abilities of people with special needs, artists earn royalties from the sale of products embellished with their illustrations and artwork. Half of the proceeds is also donated to a charity of the enterprise's choice.

Co-founder Roland Tay says: "Our sales have grown nearly fourfold since last year, when the Singapore Zoo started stocking our animal-themed products. It's been heartening for the five young artists we have on board and we've been able to go from making just one or two products, when we started in 2013, to more than 300 today."

While The Art Faculty and The Animal Project give their artists a percentage of royalties from sales, other social enterprises give back in different ways.

For instance, local eyewear brand Visual Mass, which has a store in orchardgateway and an online store, operates on a one-for-one model - when someone buys an item, it donates another to those in need.

Other businesses, such as ecofriendly yoga shop Touch The Toes in Haji Lane and jewellery label Amado Gudek, carry products made from recycled or upcycled materials.

No matter the business model, these enterprises offer customers a chance to vote for socially concious living with their wallets.

Accountant Jeannie Mae Tan, 36, has stopped shopping for presents from mass-market stores.

"Like it or not, you end up buying presents for people at the end of the year. But now, there is a socially conscious option for almost anything you want to buy," she says, adding that she has bought her Christmas presents only at social enterprises for the past five years.

"Be it clothes or edibles, you can find a local business that does it ethically. And, chances are, the person receiving the present will appreciate it more too, because helping others is what this season of giving is all about."


1) SIDE LUNGHI IN FALCON FOOTPRINT, US$129 (S$184), FROM MATTER PRINTS

Available at: matterprints.com

Socially conscious home-grown label Matter Prints, founded in 2014, fosters designer-artisan collaborations and pushes for business sustainability in rural textile communities.

Many of its prints have come out of collaborations between local and international designers and the fabrics are woven and stitched in India before being sold internationally.


2) THE NEPAL BRACELET, $55, FROM RUE MADAME

Available at: Rue Madame, 03-13C Takashimaya Shopping Centre, 391 Orchard Road

The Nepal Bracelet is created by French fashion store Rue Madame in collaboration with fashion and lifestyle website Buro 24/7 Singapore, in support of Nepali nongovernmental organisation Children and Youth First.

The organisation provides education and support for underprivileged children in Nepal.

The bracelet features a hand-finished fish charm with cotton twine and all proceeds go tothe charity.


3) DRIFTER NECKLACE IN MINT GLASS GOLD, $159, FROM AMADO GUDEK

Available at: Gallery & Co, 01-05 National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Road; Threadbare & Squirrel, 02-20 Wheelock Place, 501 Orchard Road

Designer Elaine Tan, 29, creates jewellery using eco-friendly, biodegradable resin and other mixed media.

Her Drift Away capsule collection features pieces made from Mopani driftwood, eco-friendly wooden beads and bioresin.


4) METALLIC TRAPEZOID BAG (LARGE), $180, FROM ONE+ONE

Available at: 1plus1.sg

When Ms Veron Lien started the brand in 2014, she wanted to provide quality handmade craftwork using sustainable materials that would add value to people's lives.

The 38-year-old contributes 30 per cent of her net profits to a charitable organisation.


5) UNITY BRACELET, $25, FROM PURNAMA OUTREACH, THE JAVA COLLECTION

Available at: Naiise, 02-02/24 orchardgateway, 277 Orchard Road; purnamaoutreach.com

Local social enterprise Purnama Outreach, started in 2014, partners artisans in Asia to produce handmade upcycled products.

Its Java jewellery collection features works by artisans from Central Java and the profits support water-conservation campaigns in the area. Pieces such as bracelets and earrings in the collection are made of recycled rubber tubing.


6) CREYS SUNGLASSES, $95, FROM VISUAL MASS

Available at: Visual Mass, B2-30 orchardgateway, 218 Orchard Road, visualmass.co

Started by local entrepreneurs Jerial Tan and Eddie Tan in 2013, eyewear brand Visual Mass works with non-profit organisations to ensure that for every pair of glasses sold, a pair is given to a needy person in Singapore and developing countries.

Together with students and members of the Singapore Polytechnic Optometry Centre, the brand has spread awareness of good eyecare to the needy and conducts screenings before dispensing glasses to beneficiaries.


7) S3 BICYCLE, $1,688, FROM VANMOOF

Available at: Creed Cycle, 04-04, 3018 Bedok North Street 5 Creed Cycle has partnered with Wheels for Hope, a non-profit organisation that helps low-income people get reliable, affordable transport.

Every year, the bicycle retailer donates a portion of its revenue to the charity as part of an initiative to bring bicycles to disadvantaged and impoverished rural communities in Cambodia.

Interested buyers can e-mail info@creedcycle.com or go to facebook.com/CreedCycle


8) MAT TOWEL IN VITALITY PRINT, $98, FROM YOGITOES

Available at: Touch The Toes, 4A Haji Lane

Touch The Toes is an eco-friendly yoga store that carries only labels that use organic cotton, bamboo blends and recycled or upcycled materials.

The Yogitoes Mat Towel, which you can place over your yoga mat for a better grip, is made using recycled plastic bottles.


9) GIRAFFES THERMAL MUG, $19.90, FROM THE ANIMAL PROJECT

Available at: Tangs at Tang Plaza, 310 Orchard Road; Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, 80 Mandai Lake Road; naiise.com/collections/ the-animal-project

The social enterprise was started in 2013 by a group of parents and friends who want to support and showcase the abilities of people with special needs.

Five artists earn royalties from the sale of products embellished with their animal-themed illustrations and artwork. Half the profits are also donated to a charity of the enterprise's choice.


10) 3-IN-1 HANDY NOTEBOOK, TREATS BY GRACE, $9.90, FROM THE ART FACULTY

Available at: The Enabling Village, 01-07, 20 Lengkok Bahru; theartfaculty.sg

The Art Faculty features the artwork and merchandise of talented students and alumni of Pathlight School's Artist Development Programme. Pathlight is a school for autistic children and youth.

Under the programme, student artists are nurtured and taught by professional art teachers and earn royalties from the sale of their works.

This notebook is designed by a 13-year-old named Grace.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'Gifts that give back'. Print Edition | Subscribe