Licentiate Column 06/12/12: Buy Irish (and Make a Better Christmas)

Even though I’m writing this column a week in advance, I think that I can predict with eerie, Nostradamus-like skills that it is cold, it is wet and it is utterly miserable outside. As temperatures drop and shoes made of natural fibres begin to degrade due to extreme schlepping through slush, it becomes more and more convenient to shop online.

I don’t need to extoll the many advantages of shopping online; if you have an internet connection and a credit card, then you’ll know what they are. However, buying presents from the safety of a small screen poses one quite distinct problem.

Buying online usually means not buying Irish. Not pumping money into the local economy means less money for everyone. I’ve skipped a few logical steps there, but this is not an economics column and I am not John Maynard Keynes.

Buy Irish, if you can. This is easy when it comes to fresh produce; we’re very lucky in Ireland in that respect. When it comes to fashion though, we literally are floating out on an island on our own.

But, and this labours the metaphor further, there are a limited number of life preservers to grab on to.

Craft fairs. One of the unexpectedly great things about a recession is seeing the reserve of strength and creativity being mined by an ever-increasing amount of people in Ireland. Stalls at craft fairs are no longer loaded with tat and fake-turquoise necklaces; now we can buy jewellery that isn’t self-consciously ‘crafty’ or homespun-looking but slickly executed. The democratisation of fashion makes professional techniques and materials more accessible, so your crafts are going to be of a better quality. Many designers and vintage sellers can be found at craft fairs. I quite like the The Fair Alternative, which is held in the old Unitarian Church near the English Market (next date – 8th of December).

Shop locally – online. I know, I know I said earlier that shopping online was the devil, but there’s always a loophole when Beelzebub is involved. Etsy (etsy.com) is a global marketplace but you can search for shops based in Ireland.  The new kid on the block, Prowlster (theprowlster.com) is an online magazine-cum-boutique that sell the best of Irish designers, including jeweller Merle O’Grady and designer Emma Manley. If you can’t choose just one thing, Prowlster also offer gift vouchers.

Local boutiques. If you have to buy that British-label dress, think about buying it in a local shop instead of online. While it’s important to shop for the best price, don’t immediately expect things to be cheaper online – you may be pleasantly surprised. You’d also be surprised at how many boutique owners are willing to haggle, which is more than can be said for online high-street retailers (trust me, I’ve tried).

Buying Irish this year isn’t just an easy way to give something unique to the person you love. It’s also a way for use to sew a tiny thread of confidence back into a country that has been torn, socially and economically, into shreds. If everyone does this, we make the first step towards mending ourselves.