Shop ethically and choose the story you’ll tell this Christmas.

As the Christmas shopping season hits its stride, it can be hard to remember the pleasure one gets from picking just the right gift, for a family member, a friend or a child. Stressed and under pressure as the big day approaches, we have all made purchases we might have thought better of, if given a chance to stop and think.

A market dominated by the products of outsourced mass manufacturing has symmetrically brought on the revival of the handmade, the local, the custom and the pre-loved, available through arts and crafts markets, independent retailers and online, where artisans have found a direct path to their customers. More than commodities, these objects tell stories we all like to hear – about their makers, their origins, the inspiration and aspirations behind them.

The R.E.A.L Group, headed by CEO Virginia Bruce, is a collective of businesses that crosses retail (the r.e.a.l store), Social enterprise (Hands That Shape Humanity) and Brand consultancy. With over 25 years of experience in brand consultancy, strategic marketing, brand licensing and creative product design, the R.E.A.L Group represents a new direction, both in Bruce’s career, as well as in the way businesses operate globally. At its core is the notion that profit and philanthropy aren’t mutually exclusive, while creativity is harnessed as a powerful tool to inspire human potential.

At the R.E.A.L Store, we care about the social, ethical and environmental origins of our products. We source our products based on our concept of ‘ordinary and extraordinary:’ ordinary products with extraordinary messages, ordinary people with extraordinary talent, brands that are inspired and people who are passionate. All the brands and products are carefully selected to communicate a message for humanity. Each respective message can be found in the provenance, concept, design, writing or graphics in, on or around every item or brand for the store. Some products we source from around the world, and others we nurture into existence.

As part of Hands That Shape Humanity, we set up the Hand Up Mentoring Program through which we were able to mentor aspiring designers as they found ways to harness their own creativity into designing ‘ordinaryproducts with extraordinary messages’.

Some of those projects include Santina Ingui’s ‘Life in Parts’, Visala Wong’s ‘Take a Walk in My Shoes‘, and ‘Protect the Child’, a project by Jason Giam in partnership with NGO Save the Children, which aims to address the mineral fueled crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In order to raise awareness of this issue and support the ongoing efforts to resolve it, Giam designed a range of graphic T-shirts and posters surrounding the subject of ‘conflict minerals’ in the DRC. These are available online and in-store.

In 2009, Niki Banados, a graduating design student from the College of Fine Arts, designed S.E.A.T, a little stool entirely made of bamboo which was designed to create a positive impact every step of the way, from its inception and production to its distribution.

Manufactured in Vietnam in a sustainable bamboo factory, the production of S.E.A.T ensures safe employment and fair wages for a large proportion of women in the village where the factory is located. Back in Australia, S.E.A.T forms part of an integrated educational package which is implemented in primary schools across the country and educates children in social values, sustainability, raises funds for indigenous literacy and encourages community engagement. 10% of all proceeds from S.E.A.T sales are donated to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Fund which implements award winning programs to eliminate illiteracy in indigenous communities.

We are currently in the second round of S.E.A.T production with a shipment arriving from Vietnam to our shores in time for Christmas or you can shop for S.E.A.T online.

This summer, Hands That Shape Humanity and Myer have partnered up with the Ethical Fashion Initiative and launched an exclusive range of summer tote bags, which were designed by leading Australian fashion designers (sass & bide, Karen Walker, Fleur Wood, Manning Cartell and Jason Brunsdon) and then embellished by skillful Maasai beaders, screen-printers and embroiderers in Kenya.

Each design provided employment for a month for at least ten women, each of whom supports an average of eight members of their extended families. This project enabled women to fund medical expenses and the education of children.

The bags are on sale now exclusively at selected Myer stores nationally (1800 811 611), retailing at $69 and $89. All proceeds go to Hands That Shape Humanity who help to fund ongoing projects in ethical fashion and sustainability globally.

In addition to projects we have been directly involved in, the R.E.A.L Store stocks many more products which were all carefully chosen to reflect our priorities: products that are beautiful, ethical, and meaningful.

This Christmas, take a moment to choose gifts which tell a story you can be proud of. It makes a world of difference.