Gift ideas from around the world that do good around the world

Thistle Farms, Little Market, Shared Trade, Base Project, SunnyLion and Artisan Connect all sell items with proceeds to people in need.


Thistle Farms, Little Market, Shared Trade, Base Project, SunnyLion, Artisan Connect sell items with proceeds to people in need.

A world traveler shares her tips on where to find high-quality gifts that help people in need. (Self-gifting is permitted too.)

Thistle Farms

Savvy skin care

I never leave the country (or California) without Thistle Farms Geranium Spray ($14), my favorite natural insect repellent. It works, it has no toxic chemicals and it smells wonderful (a combination of essential oils). Thistle Farms is a community of women who have survived human trafficking, addiction, incarceration and prostitution. They live for two years at its center in Nashville, where they receive free room, board and training. Among the skills they learn are making and marketing plant-based skin products, essential-oil-scented candles, herb teas and stationery from thistle fibers and recycled materials. Better still, the essential oils and tea leaves are sourced from enterprises in Kenya, Uganda, Mexico and Rwanda that aid those who have survived war, poverty and other hardships. Perfect gifts? The Travel Survival Kit ($25), which includes body balm, body butter, liquid soap and lip balm made by Thistle Farmers and packaged in a pouch made by homeless mothers in Ghana using recycled plastic water bottles. The Thermos and Tea Survival Kit ($50) is my pick for the roving tea lover and comes with a pouch with tea bags, honey sticks, a napkin and a spoon. Components are purchased from women in five social enterprises around the globe.


The Little Market

Stocking stuffers

The Little Market's mission is to assist talented women artisans in 15 countries escape poverty by providing them with an online marketplace. The artisans have received skills training; the products are top-notch and designed for the Western market. If you still need ornaments for your tree or as a gift, order the handmade embroidered white doves from Nepal ($12) or the chic white felt winter wreath ($44) for the door. For the little people in your life, the hand-knit alpaca-stuffed animals made in Peru are a cute hit ($26). Need stocking stuffers? Get the wrap bracelets made in Guatemala ($12-24). For mom, consider the etched, recycled glassware from Mexico (from $16) or the yellow floral hand-block-printed tablecloth made in India ($64). And for anyone you want to impress, the leather Doctor Bag ($320), handmade in India, or any of the canvas and leather Vanity Trunks ($300-$400) fashioned after old-world traveling bags. Protect your laptop with the MacBook Jacket ($180) made in India of hand-woven fabric and fine leather. One of my favorites? The blue and white tableware from Tunisia (from $10).


Shared Trade

Skilled survivors

Shared Trade: A Fair Share for Women was founded to build economic freedom for marginalized women globally, connecting sellers with buyers and skipping the oft-unfair middleman. The artisans — mostly survivors of poverty, slavery, violence, trafficking and/or prostitution — now have a justly priced way to sell their goods in the U.S. There's something for everyone, with items sourced from 13 women's enterprises in 10 countries. My favorites? The lustrous Mekong Blue silk scarves loomed in Cambodia (from $60), the tassel necklace made by the women of Purpose Jewelry in India ($32) and the Demi Necklace ($86) by Uganda's Akola Project with hand-rolled beads. Every female you know will be thrilled with the Blessing Bag ($12) by Aban in Ghana, made specifically for the "black hole purse syndrome." Put your essentials in this brightly colored zip case and never lose them. For a flamboyant touch at your table, go for some of the fabulous wax cloth table napkins ($20) from Galeria dos Sonhos in Mozambique.


R. Brad Knipstein

World-class wares

This site is home to well-priced, high-quality wares crafted by male and female artisans in 11 countries. Want to feel virtuous about your hostess gift? Arrive with one of the elegant black glass Lilanga scented candles ($29) from Gone Rural in Swaziland or a set of block-printed tea towels from India ($32). Prefer to buy local? How about a Japonesque porcelain candle bowl ($29) by Prosperity Candle, a social enterprise for refugee women here in the U.S. And to make sure your parcels are the most exotic under the tree, get the sari gift-wrap set ($39), which comes with six up-cycled saris to use as wrapping (over and over again) made by women in urban slums and poor rural villages. It's OK to get yourself a present too, such as the divinely soft alpaca throws ($249) or the embroidered alpaca and wool pillows (from $85) from Bolivia. A winner for both sexes is the mahogany bowl ($135) from Bali, inlaid with coconut shell and burnished with crushed cinnamon.


The Base Project

Bold bracelets

The Base Project is a "socially motivated fashion brand" founded by twin brothers Chris and Doug Akin. Their business started in Namibia and is based on bracelets made by the Himba and Herero tribes. The project is all fair trade, employing tribespeople who earn income to pay for school fees, healthcare and food. I wear these bracelets stacked on my arms and they always get accolades. The best part? Although they look as if they are made from ivory or horn, they are made from discarded plastic water pipes that are hand-cut, carved with designs and dyed ocher or black, from exposure to the earth or sun. The 14 patterns are named after all things Namibia, from the Herero Headdress cuff ($55) to the midsized Epupa Falls ($32) to the narrower Himba Red ($22). You can wear them alone or all at once. The twins have introduced Oryx silver- and gold-toned brass versions. Four patterns, each $125.


Local yet global

If you prefer to buy local and support global, L.A.-based SunnyLion, in partnership with actress Robin Wright and Enough Project's Raise Hope for Congo, is a great option. Each time one of its L.A.-made, hand-woven, super-high-quality-sound, tangle-free ear buds ($44.99) is sold, a portion of the proceeds is used to help victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are many colorful patterns, and each is named after a California beach. Best part: They have a microphone, so no more tangled cords when trying to answer your phone.