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The gift of conscience

When heading out to make some progress on their gift-giving lists this year, many Twin Cities residents are driving right past the massive malls and big box retailers that have traditionally been a mainstay of their seasonal shopping. Instead, they're pulling up outside cozy storefronts in their own neighborhoods.

After patronizing farmers’ markets and CSAs during the summer, these community-minded consumers are making a natural transition to choose gifts from local stores for the winter holidays. And the parallel with conscious eating goes deeper: many buyers are looking for gifts that are not only ecologically sound (for the health of the planet) but just plain healthy for their recipients. And two highly conscious gift stores in Minneapolis are helping them.

Sustainable Sleeping

Ryan North, owner of the sustainable-themed mini-department store Moss Envy, in West Calhoun, says he’s seen the trend building over the past couple years. “The focus used to be making buying decisions to save the environment. People who visit our store now tell me they’re concerned not only with the impact their purchases make, but with how their buying affects their own and their family’s well-being.”

It’s a trend that’s backed up by statistics, with Consumer Reports noting that nearly 90% of shoppers consider the health and environmental impact of products when deciding what to buy. And people are buying much more than reusable commuter mugs or hemp shopping bags when they decide to shop eco. Some of the fastest growing merchandise categories at North’s store, for example, include bigger ticket items like furniture, or even organic linens. “People spend a third of their life in bed,” he says. “They’ve been eating with great intention all day, so now they want to spend their nights sleeping on something sustainable, too.”

The Joy of Conversation

No matter what they’re buying, these customers often appreciate the ability to have a conversation with the very people who have been involved in selecting, testing and stocking the products on display. “That personal connection is huge for shoppers,” North says. “After spending all summer talking to the farmers who’ve grown the food you eat, it’s great to continue in that spirit by having a conversation with someone who is passionate about the gifts you’re buying for the people you care most about.”

Animal-Friendly, Fashion-Forward

At Ethique Nouveau, in Tangletown, that conversation can take place with your trusty pet by your side. The non-profit, vegan-themed shop, which is run by the Animal Rights Coalition, gives all its proceeds to fund animal advocacy programs in Minnesota. Pets are welcome at the store, as are kids, friends of vegans, and even open-minded carnivores who are curious about all the possible options for cruelty-free and animal-friendly products. The surprising depth and variety of the stock includes many stylish and fashion-forward items, like the vegan purses from Big Buddha or Shiraleah, microfiber ties and a wide range of local-artist crafted jewelry.

“Our goal is to put an exponent on the good you can do with one purchase,” says Executive Director Dallas Rising. “The economy is tough and people want to be more conscientious about spending, period. When they do make a purchase, they think about it in a different way, and they consider issues like fair trade and veganism.”

Julie Kendrick's last article for The Line was a report on the City Camp "unconference," in our November 16, 2011 issue.

Photos, top to bottom:

Dallas Rising shows off Ethique Nouveau's animal-friendly wares.

Fair-trade jewelry at Ethique Nouveau

Ryan and Tina North relax outside their sustainable-furnishings store, Moss Envy.

A clock made of recycled bike parts by Resource Revival, plus picture frames, on sale at Moss Envy

Typewriter-key pendant necklaces

All photos by Bill Kelley

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