Editor's Note: We're rolling out 10 Days of Indie Merchant Gifts, in our annual celebration of the artists, craftspeople, designers and other independent merchants who make one-of-a-kind products. See gifts in the categories of pets, jewelry, kids, quirky, food, eco-friendly, beauty and practical.
These days, "apparel" doesn't just mean a T-shirt, a sweatshirt or a pair of socks. More entrepreneurs than ever are getting creative in the field, making wearable art or handcrafted items with a variety of purposes. Still others are running socially conscious brands, donating proceeds from sales to worthy causes or helping the less fortunate make steady income.
Here are eight entries that we selected as the most groovy of apparel choices this holiday season. See our accompanying slideshow to hear about the stories behind the products, and why we chose them.
Product: Sseko sandals and straps
Sseko Designs, based in Portland, Ore., isn't your average sandal company. The footwear itself is different: It's a leather sole with interchangeable fabric straps that can be styled in a variety of ways.
But Sseko Designs also uses fashion to provide employment and scholarship opportunities to women in Uganda who are often not afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts. The company's sandals are made by young Ugandan women who must use a portion of their earnings to pay for their university tuition. (This also protects women from the social pressure they often feel to re-invest money into their families, the company says.)
"This is a special holiday gift because every sandal has a story to tell," the team at Sseko wrote in their submission. "It will be a story of hope, success and change."
Editors' comment: The sandals, which we tried out, are fun and functional, and the company's mission is a beautiful one that any gift giver would be proud to share around the Christmas tree or the menorah.
Makings of Shanna Tice
Product: Adult owl hat
As an art major in college, Shanna Tice made a commitment that she'd always make art a part of her life, "no matter what I was doing, what job I was working or where I was living," she says. As a stay-at-home mom, she says she has "extreme limitations on where and when I can go to create art." So she got creative and started Makings of Shanna Tice, a business for which she can crochet fashion-forward accessories (such as this owl hat with jumbo eye balls) while taking care of her girls.
Editors' comment: We like how this owl hat's enormous eyes make you feel like someone is constantly staring at you. The hat is unique, well-made and oh-so-adorable. It's also a great gift for kids.
Made For Good
Product: Apparel for socially-conscious consumers.
Made For Good is a collective of socially-conscious brands that share a common goal of using the power of retail to create sustainable change in the world. Each Made for Good brand aligns with a nonprofit partner to raise money through the sale of its products.
When you buy this Elijah shirt, made by the brand Jedidiah, proceeds of the sale help provide 300 specially designed bikes to students, health-care workers and entrepreneurs in rural Africa.
Editors' comment: We like how this site in general is one-stop shopping for socially-conscious customers. Apparel that matters? What a cool idea.
Product: India-inspired scarves
During a recent trip to India, Sumanta Ghose of Brooklyn. N.Y., who designs a line of modern Indian eveningwear, took many photos. She realized that elements from the photos might be great on an accessory -- and thus these scarves were born. "The scarves have been selling well at the artists markets around Brooklyn and Manhattan," she says. "They make a wonderful holiday gift because they are colorful, made of natural fibers and tell a story."
Editors' comment: We loved the beautiful fabrics, and the photo elements make these simple accessories quite exotic.
Product: Underwear subscription club
Two best friends, Jonathan Shokrian and Barak Diskin, realized that the most tedious thing, in their view, was shopping for underwear. So, they created MeUndies.com to simplify the process. MeUndies is an online underwear-subscription club for men and women. Users can sign up to put their underwear on auto-pilot and receive a new pair at their door every month without having to so much as lift a finger.
Editors' comment: This is a practical gift for the person who hates to shop. . . and a potentially sexy one for your better half. (Though be aware, if your man prefers boxers, this isn't the gift for him.)
Product: Women's caps
Madcapz was created six years ago when Carrie Bell was sick from Graves’ disease and losing her hair. "I wanted to wear a cap to cover my head when I went for my walks but was tired of wearing my husband’s sports or corporate-logo baseball caps," she says. Unable to find a colorful cap that was sporty yet chic, Bell decided to create her own. "Madcapz are made specifically for women by a woman," she says, featuring adjustable straps and a variety of prints from which to choose.
Editors' comment: Some people throw in the towel when they can't find something. Others, like Carrie Bell, start a business. We liked her entrepreneurial story -- and the caps are cute.
All American Clothing Co.
The team at All American Clothing Co. tells us that founder Lawson Nickol was inspired to create his own jeans company after learning that a previous employer – who purported to sell U.S.-made jeans – had begun to outsource. Today, the company makes thousands of U.S.-made jeans, and offers a "traceability" program that allows consumers to trace the origin of their jeans back to the farmer who grew the cotton.
Editors' comment: We like the "Made in America" commitment. What's more American than jeans? Plus the price, just under $50, is a good one for denim.
Rotem Limited Edition
Product: Artisan scarves
R. Jean Roth of Los Angeles developed the artwork for her scarves from her own line of local botanical photography. "I 'capture' the essence of the flower or branch," she says. She experiments with inks to create prints meant to evoke Zen paintings. "The nod to Asian artistic influence is no accident. My academic and professional [expertise] is in Japanese language and culture," she says, "and while my designs are not overtly Asian, the richness of Japanese culture often informs my design aesthetic."
Editors' comment: We dig the wearable art and like how these scarves (sold in limited editions) have few replicas.