A Guide to Gifting Thoughtfully and Sustainably from tonlé’s Founder

I love giving gifts! But what I don’t love is knowing a maker may be exploited or hurt by something I’ve purchased. And I don’t love adding to the endless need to consume during this season pushed by a broken capitalist system. 


A holiday gift guide that's not just about shopping

In working with Faye to create part one of this blog post, we discussed some of the ways in which we can celebrate responsibly during the holiday season, and honor the people in our lives. For me, a huge part of that is celebrating the makers at tonlé, who are very important people to me, many of whom I’ve been building a partnership with for over 10 years now to bring beautiful, zero-waste products to life. I wish that every one of tonlé’s customers and supporters could meet our team and see this work in person - to feel the depth of joy I do to be surrounded by such and incredible community. Every item purchased from tonlé supports and builds that indescribably beautiful community. So of course, I believe that a gift from tonlé is something that gives back to the people who I care about as well, and is something you can feel great about purchasing for your loved ones. 

On the other hand - in my personal gift giving practices, I try to think creatively and not to succumb to the pressure of quantifying love for someone with money, especially during the holidays when consumer fervor/pressure is at its peak. I often feel conflicted about promoting products at a time when personally, I think people could really shop less, but also - it’s really important to me that there are sustainable, ethical, and affordable options are available to people who want to purchase differently and of course, every purchase at tonlé supports makers with a rewarding livelihood and a meaningful place to work. There are no easy answers here, but our solution with tonlé has been to promote sustainable gift giving - but not to present conscious capitalism as the only true answer. That’s part of why we have started our activist community - to build something with tonlé that is not just about selling more and more. I aim to use our platform to educate, create community, and provide a forum for thoughtful dialogue. 

We all have to do our best - and please don’t forget not to beat yourself up if you have to make tough choices. There are a lot of large companies out there investing a lot of money in confusing us. We need to hold them accountable, (again read part one) while at the same time focusing on moving forward and doing the best we can.

So without further ado, here are just a few ideas outside of the traditional gifting box: (This pun’s for you Sam!) 

  • Consumable items that won’t clutter their home. Think things that can be eaten or used up like candles, soap, baked goods, or fair trade chocolate. Opt for locally made or sustainably sourced versions of these items if possible. In my family - this is a big one. A nice jar of jam sourced on a trip abroad can go a long way. 

  • Experiences instead of things. If they are a big foodie, adventurer, or lover of the arts then the gift they might appreciate the most could be a gift card to a new restaurant, tickets to the theater, or registration for a cool activity they’ve been dying to try.

  • Acts of service. There’s no better way to show how much you care for someone than spending your time helping them out. Use your skills to help them accomplish something they’ve been wanting to do. You could even give a coupon for a random act of service at a time of their choosing! Some of the things I’ve done for friends and family include creating a new logo for someone, painting their living room, or putting the finishing touches on a quilt. 

Of course, I’ve given my family and friends gifts from tonlé as well - but only when I know it’s something they will use and get as much joy out of as I believe was put into it.

Here’s a few of my current tonlé favorites that can make great gifts for the right people: 

Zero Waste Gift Set


zero waste holiday homewares products

If you already have it in your kitchen - use what you have - but if you’re starting to move towards a lifestyle of reducing your personal trash - this is a great start. I’ve recently moved into a new home and have been trying to make no trash in my own kitchen - and some of these items like the un-sponges have been a great help! Plus they are pretty and it always helps to get more use out of things when they are more aesthetically pleasing. Mix and match from our items to pick out the right items for your home. Purchase 3 or more items from this collection and we will add a free bar of hand-made coconut oil soap from our friends at Dai-Khmer! 


Hand-woven, Naturally Dyed Cotton Scarf 


handwoven naturally dyed cotton gauze scarf


These scarves, made by our friends at Goel in Cambodia, are super soft, versatile, and of course, hand-woven and naturally dyed. Fun fact, I actually learned about natural dying with plants native to Cambodia from the weavers at Goel over 10 years ago when I first moved to Cambodia. They are experts in the particular native plants and colors that you can find locally (all plant-based and non-toxic, of course) It’s an incredible community and we are grateful to have these beautiful products on our site. 

Maleng Hand-knit Poncho 


hand-knit zero waste poncho by Maleng


I have one of these in black and I wear it almost daily in the winter (and let's be real in San Francisco - in the summer too!) But I am loving our new color combos of raspberry wine, peacock, and marigold as well. (Mustard is basically a neutral right?) This piece is extremely soft and versatile and can be worn as a scarf wrapped around the neck or thrown over the shoulders if you need a light cover up. It’s basically like giving someone a warm hug. And by the way - they are named after Maleng - the team leader of our hand-work team who I have been working together with for over 10 years now. She is hilarious, and it makes me smile thinking about her when I wear this piece. 

Kendal Sweatshirt 


Kendal sweatshirt - tonlé's color block modern sweatshirt made from reclaimed textile waste

This is our top selling clothing item (Again this is something I have in my wardrobe that I can personally vouch for) and it’s not hard to see why - it’s the perfect combination of cozy and stylish at a really nice price-point. It’s an easy one to gift because it’s so versatile! 

Srey Long Vest 


Srey long vest - duster style coverall


(Is it a duster? Is it a vest? Is a long cardigan? We’re not really sure. But we love it and so do our customers.) This is a fantastic piece that comes in one size and fits up to a size 20 - making it versatile and a great item to gift if you’re looking to spend a little more. This piece is hand-woven from tiny scraps of cutting room waste fabrics - that were in turn selected from scrap that came from larger garment factories - this is really zero waste fashion right here. This style is one of our classic tonlé statement pieces - and it’s something that might be a stretch for someone to purchase for themselves - but that’s part of what makes it a great gift. It can be quite versatile - we’ve seen people use it as a beach cover up - but also layering over a sweater and jeans for a winter look. We have several colorways, see them all here. 

Hand-made Recycled Glass Bead Jewelry


recycled fair trade glass jewelry hand-made in Ghana

We’re excited to featuring these stunning pieces made by artisans in Krobo, Ghana - with Global Mamas, an organization I’ve deeply admired in the Fair Trade world for many years. Global Mamas, like tonlé - is a maker led organization and is actually doing their own production - which is much harder than just outsourcing production as most brands do. That means they spend most of their time focusing on how to build authentic, meaningful partnerships, treating their makers well, and making great quality product, instead of their focus simply being on marketing. Because of this I felt great confidence and synergy about bringing their designs onto the site. Plus they are WFTO guaranteed (a legit third party certification). And if all that weren’t enough - these pieces are made by hand out of recycled glass, and have a gorgeous feel and texture to them. Style wise, I think they add a great pop-of color to some of our more minimalist looks. Shop our capsule collection and pair with one of these beautiful pieces of jewelry and you can’t go wrong. 

Gift card 


Gift cards - fair trade zero waste fashion by tonlé

Want to support tonlé but not sure what to get them? A gift card is a great option. You’ll be contributing to and supporting our work - while giving someone a gift that they can pick out and love. Or purchase something small and add a gift card to it! Let us know if you’d like us to print it out and include it with your package. Myself and the whole tonlé team thank you for spreading the tonlé love. 

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