The hand-made tale: Christmas presents with real heart

We Make Good in Smithfield (and soon online) sell great gifts with a social conscience

We Make Good is a brand new Irish design brand operating as a social enterprise. Photograph: iStock

We Make Good is a brand new Irish design brand operating as a social enterprise. Photograph: iStock

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If every Irish adult spends €100 on Christmas presents for other grown-ups this year – presents destined for children are taken care of by Santa in the North Pole, obviously – then the bill for all our festive giving and getting will reach €300 million before the old acquaintances are forgotten when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Many of these presents will be lovely and full of thought, and they will be cherished for years to come. And as many again will be rubbish – meaningless tat or booze bought to tick a box that will mostly likely stay in the box they came in for ever.

Or maybe two people will end up buying each other a bottle of gin, despite neither wanting or needing gin.

That’s just the nature of Christmas.

But what if there was another option? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a place we could go to buy presents that were both lovely and enhanced by a backstory imbuing the act of giving with warmth?

There is now. Last week Pricewatch stumbled upon it by accident. This consumer-focused page was aimlessly wandering through Smithfield Square in Dublin 7 when we came across a shop we had never seen before. It was bright and airy and full of all manner of things we could easily imagine spending money on. There were cushions and cuddly toys and chopping boards and cards and odd-looking tin jugs and beautiful pieces of furniture and candles and chocolate and coffee.

It all looked great, but what really made the shop stand out wasn’t what was in it, but what it was called: We Make Good.

We Make Good is a brand new Irish design brand operating as a social enterprise. Every single product on its shelves has the noble aim of making “Ireland a better, more equal place by creating opportunities for disadvantaged people”.

There are 15 different social enterprises involved in supplying the new shop with stock, including Traveller groups, ex-prisoners, people with disabilities and refugees. The people behind the project reckon as many as 70 jobs are provided by the enterprises making the products it will be selling in the run-up to Christmas.

Product range

The products are conceived by some of Ireland’s leading designers and brought to life by people facing challenges who have been supported by various organisations to develop skills and find work in their chosen craft.

Solas in Dublin has supplied gorgeous hand-made bowls and beautiful wood-turned products made by young people in the criminal justice system. The high-end chutneys come from Camphill Thomastown and are made by people with disabilities. Shuttle Knit has created knitware as a partnership between Traveller women and the settled community in Wicklow, while Wee Choco has supplied all the chocolate that has been hand-made by people with autism and learning disabilities in Co Down.

One of the most popular lines sold in the pop-up store is the tinware made by James Collins and Thomas McDonnell. There are hand-made tin cups – which, the makers say, keep tea hotter for longer than regular cups – and jugs and pots. All the stock quickly sold out and the shop has had to place a second order with the makers, who have set about reviving an ancient Traveller tradition.

UC Solutions in Wexford has provided posters and woodwork crafted by members of the Roma and Travelling communities, while Loaf Pottery is simple pottery hand-made in Belfast by people with learning disabilities.

These are just some of the products to be found on the pop-up shelves but what binds all the products together is their provenance - nothing that has not been made by a social enterprise somewhere in Ireland is being sold and although gifts for the season ahead are its immediate focus, this business is not just for Christmas. It hopes to double the numbers of jobs across the social enterprises that supply it over the next couple of years and it plans to be here for the long haul.

“We believe the things around us should reflect who we are and what we want the world to be,” says Caroline Gardner, the strategic director of We Make Good. “We want to create Ireland’s first social enterprise brand. Becoming a skilled maker means people can change the trajectory of their life and that of their families and communities.”

Developing skills

The programme has been more than a year in the making and it began “with the idea that things could be better,” she says. “For some people in Ireland who are staring from a point of disadvantage, whether that’s due to ethnicity, disability or time in prison, getting a job is a goal, but not one that feels attainable. We Make Good exists to support the development of Irish social enterprises that provide people from disadvantaged backgrounds with opportunities to develop their skills as makers and craftspeople.

She points out that the makers benefit on the double. They are being employed and paid a decent wage, and there is also “the feedback that they get from consumers and the sense that they are not only making a product but they are making something that other people really value”.

She says customers who have found the shop have been “buzzing” after seeing what is on offer because “they quickly see that what we are selling represents more than just the acquisition of more stuff – it represents hope and the future and it is all about giving the people behind the products a chance to change the course of their lives, and doesn’t that chime with the spirit of Christmas?”

“Products in We Make Good are priced from €4 to €250, and the pop-up can be found in Smithfield just beside the Luas stop,” she adds. The We Make Good online store will be taking orders from later this week.

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