I love Christmas. I love(d) the exuberance of excess and all the trimmings. But times have changed and habits must change with them.
I have always gone ‘slightly’ overboard for every celebration whether it’s birthdays, Christmas or Halloween. Too much food, too many costumes, drowning in decorations and spending waaay too much money on things that don’t last – or if they do last it’s because they’re plastic and will outlast me and my future 20 generations of offspring.
My five beautiful daughters! Wrapping for Christmas was expensive, time consuming and stressful...
and that was before I even considered the impact of waste on our planet.
A few years ago I decided to make reusable bags because I was sick of the waste – but I was also sick of wrapping presents for hours and hours on Christmas eve, fighting with the sellotape and searching the house for a pair of scissors. Now, everything is wrapped in half an hour, and on Christmas morning, everything gets stuffed back into the biggest gift bag and they get put away until next year. I knew I was onto something when mum and my sister copied me so now when we exchange gifts, we simply trade bags back and forth.
In 2018 I made my first 150 reusable Christmas Gift Bags and a circular economy was created in our family of reusing these bags year after year.
For 2021 we have launched Happy Everything Bags so you can have a reusable bag for any celebration. Our hope is to take the waste out of kids' birthdays and to relegate unrecyclable paper* gift bags and wrapping paper to the dust bin of history.
As a planet, we simply can’t afford to consume and throw out like we used to. We have to stop. Habits have to change and we have to say no to trash – even at Christmas and birthdays (especially at Christmas and birthdays).
Waste Free Celebrations is a way to have fun, decorate beautifully, and enjoy celebrations but do it responsibly.
*Hint, paper gift bags are rarely paper and very few of them are able to be recycled. A fair amount of wrapping paper is also unrecyclable as it is either coated in plastic or too thin to have any reusable fibres.
Our sewing legends
We have a team of sewing ladies located throughout Central Otago: Wānaka, Hāwea, Queenstown and Alexandra. Some of them are full time, some part time, but what they all have in common is a love of working from home in their pyjamas whilst doing what they love -- sewing!! They are making all our reusable gift bags and reusable Christmas crackers right here in New Zealand.
In June 2021, we opened a second sewing circle in Auckland. As I had been an aid worker living in Afghanistan for many years, I knew Afghan women to be awesome seamstresses.
With the help of Fahima Saeid from NFACT (New Settlers Family and Community Trust), the group of Afghan women volunteered to take on the work of sewing for Christmas. The goal of NFACT is to promote social cohesion and interfaith harmony as well as creating educational and employment opportunities for refugee women in New Zealand.
The beauty of Muslim women sewing for a Christian celebration is acknowledged and appreciated by all. “Mary and Jesus are very respected by us even though we are Muslim,” said Saeid. “We are very happy to be a part of your Christmas celebrations as new New Zealanders.”
The whole team in Auckland has jumped in boots and all to sew reusable gift bags and reusable Christmas crackers. The only problem is that they only had three machines between the lot of them which was clearly not going to work.
So, I approached Perry Taylor at Sewing Time in Christchurch. Sewing Time provides industrial machines to trade and he was super keen to support our fledgling former refugee team. Perry generously offered to supply three industrial sewing machines and three industrial overlockers at cost price to our former refugee ladies. This is over $10,000 of machines for a quarter of the price!!
One facebook post and a few messenger chats later, three NZ businesses offered to pay for those machines to each sponsor one women into work. Without their generosity, these women would not have work. Industrial machines also mean the sewers earn more money as we work on a per-piece basis here at WFC and the speed of industrial machines means you sew faster and earn more money. To say I was blown away was a total understatement!
So a HUGE THANK YOU to Create IP, Honeysticks, and George and Edi for their generosity and support:
Dr Fahima Saeid said, "With these contributions, we can finally purchase more sewing machines for our women’s group, allowing us to take on more members so that we may have a greater outreach within the community and create more employment opportunities for the group members. This group has helped many women who are new to the country find employment and rebuild their lives. Many of those who stand to benefit the most are war widows or victims of domestic abuse, and this contribution will play a significant role in their road to recovery. It has been a very moving experience to watch them rebuild their confidence and become more enthusiastic about their future. Opportunities like this aren’t often available to these women as many don’t have the necessary skills or language competency to compete in the NZ job market but it’s thanks to people like Emma and the sponsor companies for having faith and making a huge difference to these women’s lives."
You can find out more about NFACT here: www.nfact.co.nz
(Do you know a super crazy fact? In 2004-2006 I worked for the UN in Afghanistan and I lived on the corner of road 5, street 13 Wazir Akbar Khan. Fahima Saeida from NFACT, grew up 30 metres away on the corner of road 6, street 13 Wazir Akbar Khan. Decades later, with me in Wānaka and Fahima in Auckland, we are brought together by Christmas!)
Kiwi fabric designers
We realised pretty quick that core to the success of our reusable gift bags and reusable crackers, would be the production of original fabrics that set us aside from other craft products. Whilst our 2020 collection was all generic designs from mass box stores, we have developed 11 original fabrics for 2021. Our goal was to produce fabric designs that have meaning for a Kiwi audience. Snowflakes and reindeer look lovely but they are soooooooo far removed from the reality of a hot summer Christmas Eve followed by summer strawberries for breakfast and dip in beach after a lazy Christmas lunch under a Pohutakawa tree.
So, we commissioned Emily Moffitt to paint some original NZ birds and flowers for our Kiwiana fabrics -- these are awesome for Christmas but can also be pulled out for any other occasion. We also had White Light Designs in Wānaka design our Christmas fabrics: snowflakes that hint of a 'traditional' Christmas pattern but when you look closely, they are silver ferns and korus. White Light Designs also did our 'Words" design, taking the words from the book of Isaiah in the Bible about the impending birth of Jesus as a nod to the religious beliefs that underpin the meaning of Christmas for many Kiwis. Better yet, those words are in English and Te Reo which celebrate the Christian message being for all humanity.
White Light Designs also wokred with us to design our Good King Wenceslas, Away in a Manger, and Oh Christmas Tree patterns.
Based in Taranaki, Emily is a young artist who explores the practice of watercolour painting, focusing on and celebrating the beauty of New Zealand flora, fauna and native birds. Her works are displayed as original paintings, prints, cards and also can be found printed on t-shirts.
Painting in her spare time, Emily is in her third year of studying a bachelor of fine arts.
Theresa… “patiently waiting to see some gorgeous birthday bags !!!! My goodness Christmas Eve was awesome ..... so stress free !!!”
Fi… Stoked for you you total set of legends! Love our bags! Got HEAPS of them and it’s so exciting!
Louise… We loved using our bags at Christmas time. Now my Mum and sister are planning to do it too.
Amanda… loved them so much, I doubt I will use wrapping paper again. Will be ordering heaps more, especially your ‘larger’ ones. Would also be uber keen for some non-Christmassy ones for birthdays etc.
Sarah… Fabulous, I love mine. We had only a small box of rubbish this year compared to our usual pile. The bags look amazing under the tree.
Amy… We loved it! And they bags are just so beautiful!
Andrea… I LOVE my bags!! They look gorgeous, take seconds to pack and no clean-up, just popped away for next year. Genius
Grace… So great not having to clean up as much paper! Will hopefully use only bags next year.
Lynda… Whanau tried to steal them! Best Christmas purchase!
Natalia… When will more be in stock? They look amazing!
Erin… Can’t wait for preorders to open for next year. We need a family pack.
Etana… Mine arrived!!!! So beautifully made, we will treasure them.
Shannon… Trying to wrap a ball made me wish I had these bags!
Victoria… Your awesome! Such a great initiative. Maybe do advent calendars instead of the cardboard plastic ones. (Thanks Victoria… we like your suggestion and will have calendars for 2021!
Pip… Love your story 😍 - would definitely have bought some for this xmas - gutted you are sold out.
Juliet… Amazing! Love your work. Love your story . Love how you source helpers and workers locally. Ps each time ive looked to buy they have all been sold.out. I'll be sure to be in early next year
Karyn… What a fabulous story and a beautiful product - easy to see why you've sold out! Pre-ordered for 2021 from Australia.