Gift Inspiration From Small Businesses

The founders of jewelry start-up Altruette know what a difference the holidays make for small business. Here are some of their favorite products from start-ups and small shops.

By Lee Clifford and Julie Schlosser The holiday season is crucial for small businesses–especially those in retail. As the owners of a start-up retail operation–it’s called Altruette, and we sell jewelry charms associated with charitable causes–we found that last year close to 60% of our sales came in the weeks leading up to the end of the year. This fact radically changed how we do our own shopping. To us, there’s no better feeling than supporting entrepreneurs who have poured their heart and soul into getting a product they truly believe in to market. To that end we’ve rounded up our favorite gifts made by small companies. Happy holidays!

How’s this for a sweet story: Dawn Casale began baking in her tiny West Village flat in New York City, quit her job at Barney’s, opened a shop, and hired a pastry chef…who would eventually become her husband. (He spelled out “Will You Marry Me” in sugar cookies and asked her to check the oven). One Girl’s tiny delicacies–like this assortment of Whoopie Pies–are almost too pretty to eat. But One Girl’s second store in Brooklyn was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Pitch in to get this beloved shop back up and running! Cost: $30 for 12

Tegu’s magnetic blocks are so addictively pleasing to play with that even adults will find themselves fiddling with them. Tegu was founded by Chris Haughey in Honduras (the name is derived from Tegucigalpa, the capital city). Every block is made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified trees, and Tegu prides itself on paying living wages, promoting from within, and donating a portion of revenue to replanting efforts. This pocket pack is perfectly sized for keeping little hands busy during errands or holiday travel. (Or keeping bigger hands busy during that conference call that just won’t end.) Cost: $30

These gorgeous cutting boards by Philadelphia-based Lostine are collaboration between creative director Robert Ogden and Tyler Hays, a fellow Philadelphian and owner of custom furniture company BDDW. Hays used smaller pieces of domestic hardwood created in the making of Lostine’s larger furniture pieces, and finished the boards with vegetable tanned leather, food-safe milk paint, and grape seed oil. Cost: $96-198

In 2006, techies Patrick Buckley and Craig Dalton met while training for the Ironman. Buckly, a mechanical engineer and Dalton, a veteran of several start-ups dreamed up DODOCase, a way to help keep the art of bookbinding alive and “off the extinction list” (where the Dodo bird resides). It adapts the techniques to the modern world of iPads, e-readers, and tablets. Its San Francisco HQ includes an in-house print shop, bookbindery, and wood shop. Cost: $64.95

When Erin Brennan Allan moved to Kenya after 9/11 to work at a school for children with special needs it was certainly a change from her old life, which included working for Tina Brown at Talk Magazine. Eventually, Allan, by then a mother herself, created Toto Knits as a way for local women–many of them single mothers–to use their knitting skills to earn a living. All her products are made with organic cotton and bio-friendly dyes. Cost: $35 to $40

Northwest tastemaker April Allison founded the innovative Kaars Koker in 2008 as a way to reinvigorate the tired world of chandeliers with colorful patterned “sleeves” printed with everything from latticework to skulls. More recently she launched the kkCandlestick–traditional silver or brass candlesticks you can customize with a huge range of prints to dress up a holiday table. Cost: $26 for a pair of candlesticks; sleeves $9 to $16

These adorable (and customizable) photo flashcards are from Pinhole Press (founded as a division of family owned Mohawk Fine Papers and is now owned by Bay Area-based liveBooks). The cards serve double duty: not only do they help toddlers learn the names of their nearest and dearest, they’re so well designed you won’t mind seeing them splayed across your living room. Uploading photos is a snap on Pinhole’s site. Cost: $24.99

Portlanders Tom Bonamici, Lynn McInnes, and Lesli Larson used to have to scour hunting and workwear catalogs to find the kind of sturdy, stylish luggage and clothes that used to be commonplace. That is until 2010 when they took inspiration from these vintage products, updated the specs, and launched Archival Clothing. All their products are made locally in Springfield, Oregon. Their heavy-duty waxed cotton rucksacks are perfect for work (or working out). Cost: $260

Sister and brother duo Amy and Andy Finkel have long been pet lovers, and their line of feeders, leash hooks, and pet accessories made out of powder-coated steel make the perfect present. (Did you know that raised feeders facilitate better health for animals by aiding digestion and reducing back and neck pain?) Their feeders come in breed specific designs–beagle, boxer, Boston terrier to name a few–as well as mod designs like The Temple, in bright pops of color. Cost: $90 and up

As a mom of three, a few years ago Kea Rensch bought a big tote to lug all her kids’ gear around. But there was a problem. “I found that everywhere I put the bag down it was in a puddle; a puddle by the pool, a puddle at the beach, a puddle on a boat, or a puddle in the ski parking lot. My stuff inside was always getting wet.” So she created the tote she’d always wanted: a roomy, monogram-able bag with interior pockets, a cell phone slip, a key clip, and yes, waterproof fabric that truly “keeps your bottom dry.” Cost: $88