Shop Small: 5 Ways to Support Businesses That Really Need It This Holiday

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We all drop a lot of cash around the holidays. According to a poll, Americans spend an average of $942 on holiday gifts—amounting to $1 trillion total. And of the most popular gifts, cosmetics reign near the very top. Imagine the impact if a big chunk of that $1 trillion was spent supporting those who actually need it, like local salons and small beauty stores in danger of closing, or our friends, who are pivoting to new entrepreneurial ventures after facing unemployment? 

“This has been a year of trepidation, turmoil, and triumph. This year’s challenges have shown up differently for so many people,” says Lauren Napier, founder of Lauren Napier Beauty. “It was especially challenging for the entrepreneurs in my life, myself included. From manufacturing, fulfillment, retail, and restaurant closures, so many elements of the supply chain were harshly impacted.” For example, Napier mentions Marsh + Mane, a Black woman-owned Philadelphia boutique who managed to pivot traditional retail services to online shopping and curbside pickup. And as for her own business challenges, Napier explains, “We manufacture (luxury skincare) wipes, so we are competing with large corporations like Clorox and Lysol for manufacturing space on machines.”

After everything that’s happened this year (see: The economic fallout of the pandemic and the lack of capital available for BIPOC-owned business finally brought to light), now is the time to know exactly where your holiday dollars are going. We vote with our purchases, and shopping wisely can mean the difference between helping someone make rent or contributing to a CEO’s third jet. But sometimes, the appeal and convenience of big-box shopping (thanks to marketing, logistics, and other resources that their endless budgets can provide) is hard to resist. So we gathered up some ideas to help make shopping with a conscience a little bit easier. 

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Shop Your Network

So many people are pivoting their usual income source as a result of unemployment or out of necessity if their current business isn’t pandemic-proof. Share a post on your favorite social media platform asking your friends to comment with links or info if they offer a product or service you can purchase for holiday gifts. As a bonus, your social community will be able to see (and shop) them too!

Nomi Ellinson, photographer and founder of Boudoir by Nomi, notes the importance of support from within her network and community. “The first several months of quarantine when I was unable to do in-person shoots, a lot of friends and past clients purchased gift certificates for future sessions. It was a wonderful feeling of support and also something to look forward to when it was safe to open the studio. With the future months uncertain, the same has been happening now with session purchases for the spring.”

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Shop Local Salons and Beauty Professionals

Salons have taken a major cut in business this year. In addition to booking your usual services (or buying gift cards), why not call and see what products they’re selling to give as gifts? Salons receive commision from products purchased, which can help supplement the revenue they've lost. They may not have e-commerce set up on their site, but will be happy to help over the phone or in person.

They may also be whipping up their own beauty creations. “Many beauty pros have shifted due to COVID-19 and are offering more products their clients can shop, from topicals, to wigs, to extensions, to color kits, and more, “ says beauty publicist Eileen Arias who leads an initiative called AMP BLK BEAUTY. “For example, celebrity stylist Malaika Frazier created her own oil and herbal teas that support healthy hair growth in addition to wigs and hair for extensions,” Arias explains. 

For more beauty studios that offer great gift options, Ashley Grech, the global head of sales at Square, recommends Missy Moran Studios’s Holiday Bath and Body Gift Set (available for pick-up in the Bay Area, or for national delivery) and lumibella’s ‘Gift Bundle’ which is available for national delivery. “We’re seeing more and more beauty salons and retailers offering gift sets, providing another go-to gift for loved ones to feel pampered with a variety of products,” Grech explains. 

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Shop Indie Drugstores and Gift Shops

Aside from all of the obvious reasons we should be supporting small, local businesses, independently-owned drugstores offer the benefit of curated, unique merchandise. While you may not want to give someone a standard body wash from a big-box store, you can often find beautifully wrapped bar soaps, hand-poured candles, and more boutique items—often from local artisans—at the apothecary or gift shop in town. If you’re not comfortable physically going to these shops, check to see if they have a website or if you can place an order over the phone. 

“If there is an independent gift or specialty store by you with carefully curated inventory, that’s the second best place I would recommend after a brand’s own website,” says Kate Assaraf, the CEO and Co-founder or NOAP. “Small brands and small businesses only exist because of each other. Plus, if you purchase at a small store, they can wrap it in their paper and include their branded stickers and cards—this way the recipient of your gift knows where to shop to pay it forward.”

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Shop Virtual Marketplaces that Support Small Businesses

One of the main reasons people love shopping at large retailers, especially the virtual ones, is the convenience. You enter what you need into the search bar, thousands of options pop up, you add to cart, and it arrives in a few days. Luckily, more and more virtual marketplaces are popping up that offer the same ease, but with seriously admirable missions. 

Kate Assaraf of NOAP highly recommends for sustainable home, lifestyle, personal care items, and more. Aside from factoring in a products’ sustainability throughout their full lifecycle, they focus on inclusivity too. According to their website, their brand partners are “70% helmed by women, and 29% led or founded by BIPOC.” 

If you’re located in or near Brooklyn, NY, give a browse. Everything available on the site is supplied by small, privately-owned local Brooklyn stores. Orders are quickly and conveniently delivered (throughout Brooklyn and some of Manhattan) the next day. You can enter keywords in the search bar, shop by category or by store, or flip through their curations and recommendations. This site provides the “everything store” experience that smaller businesses typically can’t offer. Their slogan, “Shop Brooklyn, not Bezos,” probably explains it best. 

Another option we love is Post 21. "As a mother and wife, I am constantly buying a wide variety of items from self care for myself to toys for our children,” says Blair Paysinger, founder of Post 21. “I realized I needed to create the place I wanted to shop, expressing that the Black community is not monolithic. With Post 21, I've brought together all of my favorite Black-owned brands in a unique way to make shopping and supporting our community seamless and joyful." 

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Rethink Shopping on Big-Box Websites

We know it’s almost impossible not to, so when you do hit up the larger stores, try to be intentional. “It’s important to research and prioritize which brands and stores offer full-time positions and benefits to their employees,” explains NOAP’s CEO Kate Assaraf. “If you’re shopping in a big store where you suspect employees are not being celebrated, take the extra time to find a manager and let them know if someone went the extra mile to help you (or even the extra inch).” And of course, when you can, choose brands and products that are sustainable, founded by someone from a marginalized group, and/or that gives back in a meaningful way. 

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