Every year, people talk a good game about giving unique gifts… But a lot of gift cards and big-box merchandise change hands every December. Learn to do better
It used to be a lot harder to find unique East Coast gifts. But now, there are more stores supporting local talent than ever. Joel Kelly, co-founder of Made in the Maritimes on Young Street, has been part of that change. “The whole idea behind the products that we carry at the store is to support artists in the Maritime Provinces,” says Joel Kelly, who co-founded Made in the Maritimes in 2015. “That’s the whole reason why we exist.”
Inkwell Boutique on Brunswick Street is another champion of local producers. Owner Andrea Rahal features her own range of art prints, plus local goods beyond the craft-fair scene. “It was really important to me that shoppers be able to handle and touch the items that they were considering,” says Rahal. “A place where makers could sell year-round, versus one weekend. Because what we sell is handmade, a lot of things are one-of-a-kind or limited edition. You’re getting something very special.”
Local gifts are also the more sustainable choice. “You’re also supporting an independent maker, so you’re contributing to their livelihood, but also putting money back into your community,” says Rahal. “The money stays here.”
Shopping local can shrink your carbon footprint too. “A lot of our suppliers are super local, so you’re not paying to have things couriered,” adds Kelly. “It’s not being sent through a great big supply chain.” Another planet-friendly benefit: artisans often rely on recycled and repurposed materials.
Made in the Maritimes carries baskets made of reclaimed fishing net, and limited edition pen sets made of wood workers salvaged during the Bluenose II restoration.
And if you’re not married to the idea that gifts need to be brand new, reclamation retailers are growing in popularity.
Makenew started out as a curated thrift shop; owner Anna Gilkerson sifts through the Frenchy’s bins to find hidden gems of vintage fashion. The shop has expanded to be another space where local makers can share shelf space with second-hand merchandise.
“I think that it’s a big part of sustainable shopping,” says Gilkerson. “If more and more people shop second-hand, they’re not buying a new thing. In the long run, that’s really good for the environment.”
Halifax is a more diverse city than ever, which means an ever-increasing array of unique gift options.
When Ferdinand Ballesteros and wife Miyako moved to Halifax from Tokyo, Miyako brought her passion for ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, with her. What started as a simple shop to supply her students with materials evolved into the Japanese-culture focused Ikebana Shop on Quinpool Road.
Ballesteros says that 90% of clients are locals with a connection to Japanese culture. “Maybe they just went on a tour, or they have a son or daughter working in Japan, or they had a Japanese home-stay student,” he says. “They want to get to know more of the culture, or revive the connection.”
Most of the products are imported from Japan, but Ballesteros aims to provide a local connection that more impersonal retailers can’t match. “[We] can tell you a story behind these products,” says Ballesteros. “For us, it’s personal. All the products that we have, we chose them, so it’s personal for us.”
The benefits of shopping locally are intertwined. Unique maritime crafts are made with sustainable materials; cultural import shops carry items made by immigrants embracing their new home. “It’s just a feel good for everyone,” says Gilkerson. “You feel good buying it, you’re supporting local business, you’re also not creating another imprint, and what you’re giving as a gift is really well thought out.”
Unique gift ideas
East Coasters Six Pack: Sold at Inkwell Boutique, and printed with ink made with Nova Scotia sea water. $12.
Mary Jane Lundy Pottery: Sold through Made in the Maritimes, handmade from Nova Scotia clay soil. Prices vary.
King & North sea salt chocolate: Stocked in Inkwell’s new pantry section, chocolate made with Tidal Salt brand sea salts, harvested from the Atlantic Ocean. $7–8.
Makenew gift certificates: The thrill of the hunt is part of the fun of thrift shopping, so a gift card is a perfect gift, and definitely not gauche! Prices vary.
Ikebana classes: Pick up some extra lessons for a friend already enrolled, or give someone an introductory class and let them give it a try. Lessons start at $50.
CORRECTION: Due to a proofing error, Andrea Rahal’s name was misspelled in the print edition of this story. The text above has been corrected. Halifax Magazine regrets the error.