Christmas Break

I am taking a break from scheduled posting and will be back on 30th December with the next writing challenge.

I hope you enjoy whichever holidays you celebrate!

Seven ways to become an Ebay bargain ninja!

Ebay is one of the best places to find secondhand and preloved bargains. Buying secondhand reduces waste and carbon. It used to be easy to find the secondhand and preloved stuff on Ebay but now it’s a bit harder. This article will give you the seven best tips to become a bargain ninja and find exactly what you want on Ebay (if it can possibly be found).

First, if you’re looking for something generic (e.g. “black skirt”), make sure you’re only searching for things that are “used” not “new”. Otherwise you’ll be presented with a million mis-priced badly-made “new” items from abroad with 30-45 days delivery. If you’re looking for something branded, this shouldn’t be an issue as 99% of real brands don’t sell on Ebay, and Ebay is very good at clamping down on fakes.

Ebay doesn’t actually work to give you the search results in the best order for finding what you want, and hasn’t for about ten years, since they changed the way they showed their results. Back in the early days of Ebay, items were automatically sorted by “time: ending soonest” so if something was about to end, you’d see it right away and be able to jump on a bargain.

Now, however, they automatically sort by “best match” which is usually neither best nor a match for your search term. I did complain to them when they changed this and I got a patronizing mansplaining nonsense reply which basically said “we don’t care what customers think we’re doing this anyway”. The default sorting of the search results is basically the worst way to try to Ebay. It’s disorganized and means you’ll miss items that might be exactly what you want at the price you want to pay. There are two MUCH better ways to sort search results and I suggest you do one at a time.

Buy it now

Filter the results so you’re only looking at “buy it now” then sort by newly-listed. Things that have only just been listed sometimes are available at a lower price than the rest of the “buy it now” items. As people buy secondhand items, they disappear from sale, so seeing the newest listings is the best way to find the good stuff before someone else gets it.


Filter by “auction” then sort by “time: ending soonest”. Things that are available at auction sometimes get to the end of their allotted time and no one (or only one person) has bid on it. Snap it up when it has only a minute or two left to run (this is called sniping, by the way, and some people think it’s bad form, but HONESTLY it’s a f**king auction site not an etiquette party, there are no points awarded for letting someone else win your child’s Christmas present).

Don’t waste your time bidding on things with more than an hour left to run unless you’re going to be in bed or at work when the item ends. Everything before that last hour is effectively meaningless posturing because the real price the item will end at won’t become apparent until the very end of the auction.

Bidding far in advance is also a bad plan for another reason: Artificial inflation of the price from fake bids. Basically, some unscrupulous sellers on Ebay will get their friends or family to bid against you on the item to try and get you to increase your bid. Ebay has taken steps to clamp down on this over the years but it’s still happening.

Save your searches.

This can speed up finding the items you’re looking for when you’re spending more than the one day looking for something. Just hit the “save search” button. If you can’t see it, be sure you’re logged in properly. However, if you want the gift to be a surprise, don’t do this on a shared computer (probably best not to let your children have access to your Ebay account anyway).

Vary your search terms

Be sure to change your search terms. Just because you know an item by a specific name doesn’t mean that’s what other people call it.

A prime example of this is any branded handbag or shoe. You might know a specific pair of shoes as Irregular Choice Cookies for Santa, but someone who bought them secondhand or threw out the box might only know they are Irregular Choice shoes (or not even know the brand name). Also, they might have listed the size in European sizes or UK sizes.

So in this case, start with a narrow search for exactly what you want. “Irregular Choice Cookies for Santa size 39”. This will show you any exact matches. If nothing comes up, widen your search. A search for “Irregular Choice size 40” (without the name of the shoe’s style) would give you a long set of results to trawl through, but it means you’ll catch all the shoes which have been correctly listed as Irregular Choice under your EU shoe size. IC shoes are sold in EU sizes so this is the most logical second search. Then, if that shows nothing, change the term to “Irregular Choice size 6”, which is the UK size closest to a 39.

Lastly, if you still can’t find them, try describing them by their most distinctive feature. “Cake heel shoes” might give you something. By this point, however, you are unlikely to find anything, so the best move is to save your search and try again later or tomorrow. Using this search method, you can find pretty much anything you want, no matter how rare or unusual, on Ebay. However, it is very time-consuming.

Time your searches

The vast majority of people list their items at the weekend, so Friday evening until Sunday evening is when you are most likely to find newly-listed items and items that are about to end. If you only want to spend a couple of hours on Ebay looking for something, Sunday night between 4pm and 8pm is when most items end. This all means that if you pick the right time, you will have more choice and potentially get the item for a better price. However, the flip side of this is, more people are buying on Ebay between Friday and Sunday night, so you may have to compete harder if you’re buying something at auction.

Check out the seller’s other items

If you’ve lost out or if you’re looking for a complete set of something (e.g. Teletubbies dolls), click on the seller’s username (not his feedback number) then hit “view other items” or “visit their store” and scroll through their other items for sale. They might have more varieties of the thing you’re looking for (they might have nothing). Don’t spend time doing this before you bid on a last-minute item or before grabbing a buy it now bargain, however, or you could miss out on the original item!

Pay promptly

Always pay sellers as soon as possible so they can send you the item quickly and leave you positive feedback. Customarily, sellers should leave feedback first because your part in a transaction is over as soon as you’ve paid. I don’t waste time leaving feedback for sellers unless I’ve received feedback from them first because some sellers don’t bother and it’s annoying. If you’re always returning items or if you open Paypal disputes for stupid reasons, sellers can and will blacklist you from shopping with them in the future. Remember, there are plenty of online seller forums and groups where Ebay sellers can talk to each other, and they will share your username with each other if you’re a bad customer. You should treat Ebay sellers with the same respect you’d use in a charity shop or other face-to-face setting dealing with real people.

This is part of a series on buying ethical Christmas presents. Find the others here:

How to find ethical gifts for children and teens

Complete guide to buying designer clothes from charity shops

Complete guide to buying designer clothes from charity shops

Have you ever wished you could find designer goods in charity shops? This guide covers how to do just that! From an environmental standpoint, the more things we reuse and recycle, the better it is for the resources of the planet. And buying a secondhand vintage designer piece is also better for your wallet!

With such a big fashion revival right now, secondhand designer clothes have never been so on-trend! Keep reading to find out how to identify designer clothes in charity shops, how to avoid fake designer clothes, how to assess the condition of the piece and why you should only buy things that fit/suit you.

Find something that you actually like/suits you

This is rule number one, and I learned this the hard way. Don’t just buy a designer item for the label. Remember, no one will see that label except you. But a designer item because it is a work of art. A stunning reminder of the very best of fashion. A piece that inspires you to be something bigger than the boxes other people try to put you in. Because that’s the point of good fashion. Don’t be a fashion victim. Buy something you love. Buy something that flatters your shape and size. Enjoy your vintage fashion.

When we moved to China, I had to pack our lives into two big suitcases (one each) and a carry-on each. We were such inexperienced travellers that we didn’t know about sending your belongings around the world as freight (thank God we didn’t, I dread to think what rubbish we would have kept) and we didn’t know about paying for extra bags.

My designer collection now only includes items that I completely adore, which still fit me (sniffle, my favourite Vivienne Westwood shoes had to go when they started being painful to wear because I’d worn them too much), and which make me happy. But it wasn’t always that way.

Back in 2006, when I first started investing in designer pieces, I bought some minor disasters. My worst buy by a long shot was my Givenchy silk suit. It was £20 on Ebay which seemed like the bargain of the century. Except it wasn’t. First, it was a size 10 and I was an 8. Now, that shouldn’t have been a problem as it was vintage (80s at least) and everyone knows sizes have changed since then. However, when I actually tried it on, the skirt’s waistline was so low on my waist that my shirts barely tucked into it and left an unsightly silhouette around my boobs as they rode up over the course of a work day. The jacket, on the other hand, didn’t have a flattering neckline (this neckline was wayyy too wide to look good on my DD-cup boobs) and instead of making me look pulled-together, it just looked awkward and shapeless.

But by far the worst problem with it was the colour. In the Ebay pictures it had looked a beautiful deep grey-blue colour, but when it arrived, it was pale grey. None of my shirts or shoes matched it.

Did I send it back? No. I was 24 and too determined to hold onto something because of the label. I kept that bloody suit for 6 more years and only got rid of it when we moved to China, at which point, you’ll be glad to hear I at least sold it for the price I paid.

Another early disaster was my Armani jacket. I’d thought it was black. It was brown. And from a time in the 80s when shoulder pads were the same size as the wingspan of a jumbo jet. The waistline was… generous. The silhouette was very androgynous. And, again, a size 10. I looked lost in it. This year it would have been so on-trend it would have been a massive classic as oversized blazers are the biggest thing ever at the moment. But fifteen years ago, I had a jacket I was (mostly) embarrassed to wear. Did that stop me from wearing it? NOPE.

I’m stubborn.

If you don’t remember 2006, it was one of a few years in the early 2000s when Victoriana was the big trend in workwear. Everything suit-based was fitted. Skirts had fishtail hems and generally came down past the knee. And since we were still living with the hangover from the 90s to some extent, no one in the 2000s wore anything that looked like workwear outside of a formal office setting. It wasn’t like today, where you can chuck a blazer over a pair of skinny jeans (we didn’t have skinny jeans yet) and go out.

My big mistake of the following year was not understanding that designer sportswear is never, ever going to be a classic piece. And that designer brands all have sub-brands which are more affordable but not “proper” high fashion. I had this gorgeous Armani Jeans tracksuit (this wasn’t a shell suit, don’t worry), which comprised a hoodie and jogging bottoms in pale blue. I loved them and wore them on slouch days for about two years, but those sports lines are never made to be as durable as the expensive main clothing lines so buy them, enjoy them, but don’t expect them to last.

How to identify a designer item

Familiarise yourself with the names and logos of the brands you are looking for. This will make it quick and easy to recognise labels. Be aware that some brands have changed their labels/logos over time so if you’re looking at true vintage stuff, the label might be a little (or very) different. However, be aware this could also be the sign of a fake.

Avoid the really obvious fakes

You won’t always be able to avoid fakes, the thing about a really good fake is it’s indistinguishable from the real deal. However, you can learn to spot signs that something isn’t as it seems, especially if the item costs more than you wanted to pay for a secondhand charity shop item.

I’d avoid any secondhand Louis Vuitton bags and purses unless you can get it verified independently. Those Louis Vuitton brown bags with LV all over them are literally everywhere. I could easily pick up about a hundred fakes in the markets in Italy for the price of one genuine bag without batting an eyelid and they were rife in China, too. I actually tune those bags out now if I see them, and when I see people with them, I’m more likely to think you bought a fake than that you paid full price for one, unless you’re obviously dressed at the same price as your bag. The multicoloured LV bags suffer from the same issue. I feel very sorry for Louis Vuitton as a brand as the sheer amount of fakes is shocking.

If you see something like this (or a high street brand with a very similar design to a well-known fashion piece) my advice is to steer clear. Copyright infringement in fashion is rife everywhere, and you can actually get into legal trouble in some countries if you’re walking around with a fake item (notably, Italy, where many of the fakes are being sold, and where the police are trained to spot them).

Fakes are less well made and made from cheap imitation materials, so they damage easily and don’t last very long compared to the real deal. People bringing these things back from a holiday then tire of them and give them to charity shops, so always check inside.

Here are some tips for avoiding fakes:

Check the lining. Usually in a genuine product, the lining is attached in a way so you see almost none of the inside stitching. This is true of coats, skirts and bags.

Look at the stitching around the edge of the product. Is it neat, even and straight? A true designer piece will not have any mistakes in the stitching.

Check for loose threads and “imperfections” in the piece. Loose threads on any item, a weird black blob on a leather bag, purse, or belt, or a place where the edging doesn’t quite match are all giveaways that this piece isn’t genuine.

Smell it. For leather goods, if it’s supposed to be real leather, it should smell like quality leather. If it smells like plastic (a sort of oily smell), nothing at all, or very strongly of tanning dyes, it’s a fake.

Look at the sheen. If it’s supposed to be real silk, the sheen is slightly less shiny than satin (which is usually part-silk, part polyester, cheaper to produce, and used more often on fakes) and definitely less shiny than polyester. Silk is usually quite thin and delicate, and may show damage more readily than other fabrics, so take extra care buying anything made of this fabric.

Don’t rely on labels that say “100% silk”, or “100% leather”, or “made in Italy” (the amount of marketplace items I saw in China that said “made in Italy” on the label was unbelievable. Italy is NOT importing designer goods to Chinese markets, I’m sorry to break it to you). Always use your senses to check for yourself, because the best fakes won’t put their real materials on the label. Why would they? They’ve lied about the brand already!

Assess the condition of the piece

Check for bobbles, especially around the armpits, where you also might find stains. Some people have ways of getting stains out. I don’t buy anything with stains because I find it a bit disgusting. Bobbles, however, are just areas of fabric that have rubbed against each other too much. They can be removed with a cheap bobble remover.

Many high-end items are dry-clean only. However, charity shops often have a protocol dictating that they have to steam clean every fabric item that comes into them. Check the piece for steamer damage and washing machine damage (in case someone got confused and put it through a wash at any point in its life).

You’re looking for shrinkage. This usually manifests as lining poking out at the bottom of sleeves/hems on skirts, items being a little mis-shapen or tight in some areas while the correct size in other areas. If any shrinkage of the fabric has occurred, I don’t recommend buying the item because it won’t hang correctly or flatter your form.

Check the labels.

Always take a good look at every label on the piece. There should be a brand label in the neck (or back of the waist in skirts/trousers) and a care label somewhere else in the piece. If the brand label is cut down the middle, this is “seconds” quality, which means it didn’t pass its final inspection at the factory.

With a cut label, it’s still a genuine piece, but it may have mistakes. The tolerance for mistakes depends on the brand. Some brands will reject a piece if the stitching is more than 1mm away from where it’s supposed to be. Other brands will might have a 3mm or 5mm tolerance for where the stitching should be. Items with holes or snags that were caused during the production process may also be classed as seconds by one brand, where another might send items with such severe faults straight to destruction, never to be seen by a consumer. Some companies don’t have seconds at all.

Seconds tend to have a much lower resale value later down the line, even if they’re a second of a very rare item, because it’s understood that the quality isn’t the same. However, they can still be worth buying as long as you’re happy with the item and it fits and flatters you, as you can get a great bargain compared to buying a first-quality piece.

If a piece has no label at all, it probably isn’t even “seconds” quality. Whether you decide to buy it anyway or not is up to you. I would probably look for a better quality piece.

Which areas of the UK are likely to have designer clothes in their charity shops?

I don’t know every area in Britain so comment on this article if you have suggestions, to help out other readers! Basically, you’re looking for a reasonably affluent residential area that doesn’t have a (proportionally) huge tourist/student footfall. This is because you want a shop that gets a good supply of designer stuff but without so many shoppers snapping it all up.

You also want an area that doesn’t have grabby charity shop managers. I’ve known a couple of managers and several volunteers at various shops in York tell me that they get the first pick on the best stuff, leaving none for the actual customers!

Google Maps Reviews of the shops in question are a good way to spot which ones often have designer wear and also which ones are selling overpriced Primark tat.

These reviews are also a good way to get the measure of the manager at any given shop. If they’re only responding to positive reviews, or if they’re arguing with negative reviewers (or accusing reviewers of lying or not being genuine customers), you know they’re a bad sort and that it’s not worth wasting time visiting their shop. If they’re not responding at all, you know they’re probably busy running their shop.

Northern Ireland: Holywood

Scotland: Edinburgh Morningside area or Leith (gentrification, y’all).

The North: Hebden Bridge, Harrogate.

Midlands: Lichfield, Ashbourne.

South East: Aylesbury, Ascot.

South West: Chipping Norton, Bath.

London: Kensington. The charity shops here are absolutely designer central. There are some outstanding ones in walking distance around South Ken underground station. I’ve also heard similar about Covent Garden but I haven’t seen it myself.

This is part of a series on buying ethical Christmas gifts. Here are the others:

How to buy ethical Christmas gifts for children and teens

Seven ways to become an eBay bargain ninja

How to find ethical Christmas gifts for children and teens

With all the problems our planet currently faces, more and more parents are looking for Christmas gifts that have been produced ethically. But what does that actually mean? And how do you go about finding them?

My criteria for “ethical” was a) not mass-produced plastic b) not transported halfway around the world to reach Europe c) not ridiculously expensive.

Obviously, there are more issues at play than this, and if you want to delve even deeper, you might want to read the FAQs (and even email companies) for any store before shopping with them. While I was researching this, however, I uncovered a range of bigger, long-term issues with Christmas (beyond the trendy “hot topics” people are currently worrying about) that need to be considered by anyone trying to be ethical and sustainable at Christmas.

How did we get into such a mess with Christmas?

Many people think that an old-fashioned Christmas as idealized in Victorian tales is an ethical Christmas. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Victorian Empire (as it was) was built off the backs of some of the most appalling harm any group of people have ever inflicted on anyone else. The end of the Victorian era came with the Universal Suffrage movement — most working class men in Britain didn’t have the vote at this point and had no say over who controlled the country or their lives. Working safety standards were non-existent.

Friedrich Engels wrote “the condition of the working class in England” to try and convey to his native Germany just how appalling the exploitation was in Britain when he visited. Child labour still persisted throughout the Victorian era, and the “abolition of child labour” people often quote as happening in 1833, was the Factory Act 1833, which literally only banned the employment of under 9’s in factories. The second date oft-quoted, 1842, was the Mines Act 1842, which prohibited women and girls from working in mines, and boys under 10.

And that was just what the British ruling classes were doing to their own people, who they at least vaguely accepted were human. Out in the colonies, the exploitation of children and adults was even more appalling, and never protected under law (despite attempts during the interwar years of the 20th century), including in Ireland (where conditions under British rule were horrific). Thankfully Ireland was never especially industrialized so wasn’t subjected to the factories but children as young as five were still exploited as chimney sweeps to make those roaring Christmas fires happen, and used extensively in agriculture.

The British, of course, were not the only nation doing this. Central Africa is still suffering from Belgium’s despicable damage to the Congo. Parts of East Asia have been left to pick up the pieces after the French colonized “Indo-China”, including Cambodia, which might just be the most impoverished country I have ever visited. It’s funny how human rights never seem to reach the places where they would have the most impact.

My point is, a lot of the ethical problems we have today began with the behaviour of various powers during the industrial revolution, despite what smug elderly people might remember about their own childhood in the relatively safe bubble of the postwar twentieth century. You can’t just “go back to how things were” because how things were was just as bad as how they are now (but without glitter and plastic).

These problems were then exacerbated by the sickening capitalism of the cold war, during which America basically pushed people into becoming good little consumers to support the “free nation”. Buy, buy, buy. Cartoons showing characters awakening with billions of gifts. Threats of social exclusion if you’re the adult who said no to too many gifts (How the Grinch Stole Christmas). Only by giving everyone lots of trappings of capitalism could the Grinch show himself to be a good person. Never mind that he was saving everyone from excessively sickening consumerism.

That wasn’t the American way. And it’s subtly been slotted into so much media such as films, books, games, toys and TV shows that most of us have grown up not questioning this narrative. Because, even though most people on this planet don’t live in America, their rampant evangelical consumerism has bled into every country around the world and now third world nations have swathes of people desperate to go to America and be a success (i.e. someone who owns lots of stuff).

Don’t believe me? Go visit Cambodia. They hardly even use their own currency because US dollars are seen as better. Visitors are treated like bottomless cash cows ready for milking by children forced to work long hours to pull on visitors’ heart strings for a dollar per postcard. Which is NOT the going rate for postcards even in the first world. America’s need to infect the world with consumerism, to get one over on the USSR, has compounded the problem quite significantly. According to UNICEF, one in six children worldwide are victims of child labour, and I strongly disagree that any five-year-old can ever consent to this.

America has twisted the narrative from the cynical “possession is 9/10 of the law” into “owning lots and lots of useless crap makes you powerful”. Look at pretty much any modern pop music song and you’ll see it. Ariana Grande’s 7 Rings is a prime example. Our whole culture worldwide is still designed to make us believe this narrative!

People are boycotting China all the time but why does no one boycott America? Because it’s not politically correct!

Flip your thinking on Christmas!

Basically, if you want an ethical Christmas, the best way to do it is to flip your thinking away from the idea of a “traditional” Christmas completely. You may have already done this. If not, keep reading. Do I do all of these things all of the time? No. Do I live in a yurt woven from wild sheep’s wool that naturally fell from the sheep? Nope. But if everyone does exactly what they’re comfortable with, we can all make a difference instead of having an all-or-nothing mindset. So pick the things from this article that you feel comfortable doing and do those.

A note on this: Something like this isn’t going to hit the mark for your children if, after 8-12 years of Christmas being an overload of too many gifts, you suddenly change the entire format without telling them. Get your children on board by sitting them down and talking to them.

You could say something like, “You know the environment is having problems? Well we’ve decided to help it out by doing Christmas differently this year. We’re still going to have tons of fun, but not because we’ve spent loads of time unwrapping so much stuff.” You could talk through (age-appropriate) news articles or videos with them, to show them the extent of the problem.

Get them invested in this whole thing well before the big day by asking them if they have any ideas for how they might like to make Christmas more sustainable or ethical at home. They may already have done something on this at school, or talked to their friends about it, and not know how to bring it up with you!

The main thing that will make or break a sustainable, pared-down Christmas is your attitude. If you’re constantly miserable about it all, disengaged from your children and spending all day on your phone, your children will notice and feel like they’ve not had a special day. Likewise if the adults in the house are ranting about how crap it all is, children will feel like this year’s Christmas isn’t good enough.

We often use gifts as a substitute for spending time and attention on people we care about. If you take away some (or most) of the gifts, you need to replace them with the real deal – your input. This will obviously be a harder habit to unpick with older children and teens, especially if they are used to spending all day on screens. Don’t try to do too much at once.

Ditch the stocking

Children don’t need to wake up on Christmas morning to a stocking full of presents to know you love them. Half those “stocking fillers” are crap that gets discarded within minutes anyway in favour of the better gift. Children are natural foragers, and Christmas stockings teach them that when you get given something, you should occupy yourself with it only until something better comes along. Is that a life lesson I want my kids to learn? Absolutely not!

You could still put together a stocking but maybe only put one small gift inside it. Stockings don’t need to be full. The whole “Christmas stocking” thing is ridiculous, anyway. They’re not stockings, they’re giant socks that you can’t wear.

If you are going down the stocking route and don’t already have a stocking, instead of buying one of those garish polyester (i.e. plastic) stockings from the Pound Shop, you could use a long sock per child (football socks or hockey socks from the school uniform would be a good size) and put a gift in there.

Mainly, the child needs something to do when they wake up at 5am and you haven’t got up yet and aren’t planning to for a few more hours. So put something in the stocking that will keep them busy. A treasure hunt, perhaps, so they have to search the house for clues? Or a game they can play? Printing out some Christmas-themed word searches or crosswords might work for children old enough to read and write. Or cram a small book in there for them to read or a small colouring book. None of these things will use up plastic and they are cheap and easy to make at home if you want to avoid buying things.

One gift-giver = one gift

Children don’t need more than one present from each adult. One meaningful present, or one much-wanted present, that’s going to last a long time and be used often, is far better than a billion unwanted presents. In the nicest possible way, all they’re learning from those billion unwanted presents is how to grin and lie and say thank you when you don’t like a gift. Instead of looking for lots of wooden toys handmade in Austria, the waste would be less if you just bought that one plastic slide your kid has been hankering after. Think about what they really want and what it would mean to them to get it.

Avoid expensive “advent calendars”

Children don’t need a new advent calendar every year and they absolutely don’t need those big ones full of plastic junk. I am persistently horrified by the bloating that has happened to advent calendars over the years. I think I hit my limit when companies like Benefit released advent calendars with make up products in, aimed at teens and young adults. Where does all that makeup go by mid-February? The back of a drawer, never to be used again. And those calendars cost upwards of £50. What was the point?

Here’s how I did my DIY advent calendar for children (coming soon). You could make something similar or buy an unpainted wooden set of drawers ONCE, keep it year after year, and put little treats in the drawers, or activities, or riddles, or a cracker joke (you know, the jokes that adults think are awful but kids have never heard them before so find them hilarious).

An unwanted ethical gift is still a waste of resources

If your child doesn’t actually want that lovely wooden rocking horse handmade in a yurt in south Wales, they won’t play with it. If they don’t use it, it was a waste of resources. All physical objects (and data) use some environment up. That’s conservation of matter, a basic concept of physics. Don’t waste it.

Ask your child what they really want, then don’t pussyfoot around getting them something different or similar unless the thing they want is beyond your budget.

How about a no-gift gift?

We have gotten into a habit of thinking Christmas gifts need to be physical objects, due to the history outlined above, but what if you helped your child think outside the box and come up with something else they want? A meal at their favourite eatery? A trip to somewhere they love? You could write a little pretend “voucher” for this and put that in an envelope for them to open on Christmas day then plan together how you’re going to use it. Gifts are supposed to represent love and affection, not be a symbol of how much money adults can spend on children.

Shop ethically

Hopefully if you’ve reached this part, you’ve seen that buying ethically is only part of the bigger picture when it comes to achieving a more sustainable and ethical Christmas while staying true to its real meaning. As I’ve said above, I do buy a plastic toy when it’s what my kids want because it’s better to give them one valued present than a million things they don’t use.

However, if an ethical gift is what your child wants to receive, here are stores to consider buying from for your ethical, environmentally-friendly Christmas:


Ethical Superstore:

Good Gifts:

These are all nice places to buy gifts, however my only concern with them is the distance these items have traveled. Companies marketing their goods primarily as fair trade rather than ecological or sustainable are generally not as concerned with the environmental cost of moving those goods from Africa or other countries to the UK and Europe. They all ensure fair pay for the people who have made the items, and that the items aren’t made by child labour, but ultimately, many of the goods are still travelling a very long distance to reach the UK.

An alternative is to look for recycled gifts:



Natural Baby Shower (bizarre note, despite their website URL, they’re neither based in Ireland nor do they ship here, but great if you’re in the UK):

However, some of these companies are also in the habit of disguising certain aspects of their business practice which some consumers might find distasteful. For example, many of the “unique recycled toys” I’ve seen for sale in niche and mainstream stores are made by Green Toys, a US company. While their mission to turn milk bottles into recycled toys is laudable, shipping these goods to stockists and consumers worldwide isn’t necessarily very environmentally friendly.

Whether that would be a dealbreaker for you depends on how comfortable you are with these kinds of complications. At the end of the day, nearly every solution to the problem will bring a bit of carbon into your life, and some stuff (i.e. packaging) you’d rather avoid. Personally, I would buy from them if they were the right place to get what my child wanted. For example, if he wanted a fire truck for Christmas, and they sell a fire truck (they do), we’re onto a winner. But I won’t mindlessly shop with any company just for the sake of “feeling green” when the production methods, packaging, and delivery miles still have to be accounted for, whether stuff has travelled 2 miles or 2000 miles.

An even more environmentally-friendly option is to buy from local charity shops or secondhand on Facebook marketplace or Ebay (you can filter Ebay so you only find used items). The chance of finding something your child asked for might be low if it’s an on-trend item, but if you search for the item early enough in the year, you might get lucky.

Tips for snagging a secondhand Ebay bargain

It might take weeks or even months to hunt down that special something on Ebay but if you’re pragmatic and willing to regularly check the site for your item, you’ll eventually get it. Follow these tips so you never miss that bargain (article goes live on Saturday)!

Charity shopping

Finding something specific at a charity shop can be hard, but if you go in with a loose idea of what you’re looking for, you can almost certainly find something similar. For example, my husband collects Forgotten Realms books. Many of these are out of print and go for a lot of money on Amazon. These are easy to spot in a charity shop because they have a characteristic logo that’s visible on the spine and front of the book.

Another example is board games. These can often be found in the toys section of charity shops. If you have a teen who is into “proper” board games (Settlers of Catan, Hero Quest etc), you can potentially find all sorts of fantastic finds at great prices, because these are one of the few items left in charity shops where the volunteers don’t price them over the odds. Of course, the downside of buying a secondhand board game from a charity shop is that it’s unlikely to have all its pieces. Check this before wrapping the gift, then either look on Ebay for spare parts or, if it’s the tokens etc that are missing, make your own.

If your teen is hankering after something designer from a particular brand, check out your local “high-end” charity shops. Most areas have one or two charity shops with a reputation for getting designer donations. Or consider giving your teen money and taking them on a charity shopping spree (scout out which shops have the best goods ahead of time if you want to make this a streamlined experience). For suggestions on where to get designer stuff, check out my upcoming article on buying designer clothes from charity shops (article goes live on Friday).

Doing your Christmas shopping on Facebook marketplace

This is more hit-and-miss for me, because Donegal doesn’t exactly have a thriving Facebook marketplace and Facebook is an abysmal failure at showing me local items, preferring instead to randomly mix in results from Dublin (but never Derry which would obviously be infinitely easier to travel to).

What I have learned is there are a lot of sellers on there who are wary of time wasters, especially when it comes to free stuff. To avoid this, sellers list things for odd prices like €1 or £1. Sellers also expect you to mind your manners. They are much more likely to deal with you favourably if you say please/thank you. Always check where the item is before messaging the seller to save both of you lots of time and effort. If it’s further afield and you can’t collect, expect to pay full postage costs.

However, some sellers are scammers or timewasters and you need to take reasonable steps to stay safe shopping this way because it’s the least secure way of buying anything. Never give them your bank details and don’t fall for the line about “oh I’ve just moved for work/uni but I’ll post it to you”. If they’re saying that, it’s a scam and they aren’t ever going to post it to you because they basically don’t have the item. When you get there, check (in a well-lit place) that the item is what they say it is (ALWAYS OPEN THE BOX), and that you’re happy with the condition of the item. You have very few rights to redress if you get scammed in a private sale, so Facebook Marketplace is my least favourite way of sourcing secondhand items but some people swear by it.

Check out car boot sales

Some people might think this is a dated way to shop, but either buying your child something from a car boot or even taking them to one to pick their own gift could be another great way to find something for their Christmas gift. If you’re like me, you might end up buying more than you intended, though!

Same rules apply to car boots as Facebook marketplace – always open the box to check what’s inside before parting with cash.

17 natural insect repellants in home made soap making: As proven by science

The past few weeks I’ve had a new problem which I’ve never had to deal with in my life before. I don’t know if it’s because I’m heavily pregnant (do the hormones change the way I smell?) or if the wasps in Donegal are just more persistent than the rest of the world, but I keep getting them showing way too much interest in me.

I actually got stung by a bee for the first time in my life last week! I was stuck at some roadworks and a bee flew between my dress and the car seat. I had no idea it was there, so when I leaned back to wait for the line to move, it stung me! Usually, insects avoid me. So I started wondering about natural insect repellants.

Being a scientist at heart, I couldn’t just buy any random essential oil rumored to work as a natural insect repellant, so in this article I’m going to give you an overview of the scientific evidence with links back to the original research so you can investigate for yourself which essential oils make the best insect repellants for soapmaking.

The factors affecting how effective an essential oil is as an insect repellant:

One of my favourite articles on this topic is a really detailed meta-analysis done by Maia and Moore in 2011, where they compared the results of a huge number of studies done on essential oils including citronella, neem, and the pine/cedar and mint families of essential oils. They found varying effectiveness. The main factor affecting how well an essential oil worked as an insect-repellant was the type of insect. Even different sub-species of the same insect could react differently to the same oil.

For example, two different types of mosquitoes are An. Arabiensis and An. gambiae. Studies have shown that citronella oil gives 90% protection from An. Arabiensis for 6 hours, and 100% protection from An. Gambiae for 6-7 hours.

Another example is thyme (variety: thymus vulgaris). This was found to offer 100% protection against An. albimanus for up to 105 minutes while it only offered 91% protection against C. Pipiens sallens for 65 minutes in a different study.

The concentration of the various natural compounds in an essential oil also makes a difference to the effectiveness. Using the above example again, thymus vulgaris offered 91% protection against C. pipiens sallens for 65 minutes when it was applied topically (directly on the skin) as linalool. When it was applied topically as thymol, it offered 91% protection for 70 minutes against the same insect. And when it was applied topically as carvacrol, it offered 95% protection for 80 minutes against the same insect.

This shows that different compounds in the essential oil can make it more or less effective. For best results, you need to ensure your essential oils are top quality and not diluted with any other compounds before you add them to your soap.

So if you’re looking to repel a specific type of insect, such as headlice, wasps or mosquitoes, it’s worth reading through this article to find out what will work best.

Which common essential oils work best as general insect repellants?


Citronella is widely known to be an excellent insect repellant. And now studies have been done to support this. The Israel Medical Journal published a double-blind study showing that, when citronella was used on school-age children, 12% got headlice, compared to 50% of the control group (who didn’t use citronella). That’s a reduction of 76%! Article here. It was also studied extensively in the article I discussed above, by Maia and Moore.


Neem oil is well-known as an insect repellant. It has been shown to repel mosquitoes effectively by Sharma et al (1993) who found it provided 100% protection for 12 hours against mosquitoes. They mixed the neem oil with coconut oil then applied it directly to the skin. The results were published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association. Article here.

In a second study, researchers looked at how effective neem oil was for repelling headlice. The study can be criticized as it had a complicated design measuring multiple factors at the same time (making it impossible to control variables), and a very small sample size (only 47 participants in total). The results showed combing with conditioner alone was 25% effective in removing lice while combing with conditioner and using neem oil was 35% effective in removing lice. The results were published in Advances in Pediatric Research. Article here.

Potentially confounding factors that made this research not very scientific include: The age of participants. Anyone from 6 months to elderly could participate. The participants were recruited from the local area and had to have at least “one headlice” to participate. Obviously, the treatment for someone with a mild headlice infestation or “one headlice” is going to be significantly easier than dealing with a severe infestation that has affected someone’s entire family for months. The home situation was not considered: It wasn’t considered whether pillows, bedding, towels etc were causing re-infestation before the person had been assessed as “cured”. In a home where multiple participants all have lice, the whole family should have been treated together and this was not done because they excluded anyone with specific hair treatments (e.g. coloured hair) and they didn’t control for cleanliness of the house, or sharing of hairbrushes, hats etc, all of which would cause re-infestation. So overall, I’m not happy with the lack of rigour of this study but it’s a great example of why “proven” results don’t always work the same way in real life.

In another multi-study review, Rossini et al (2008) found that neem oil had documented anti-lice activity. Link here. And in an analysis comparing evidence for neem oil and other natural oils for headlice, Heukelbach et al (2007) found that neem oil had an effectiveness of over 98%, repeated across two different studies. Unfortunately, the natural oils they looked at in this study were often mixed into other products so it’s not clear if it was the essential oils or other ingredients in those products that got results.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is sold almost everywhere in the UK and Ireland and I think a lot of people use it to try and repel head lice. Di Campli et al (2012) found a 1% concentration of tea tree oil killed 100% of headlice within 30 minutes, and a 2% concentration also killed 50% of lice eggs (full article here).

In other parts of the world, it’s used against other insects. In a study in Indonesia, researchers showed tea tree oil repels and even kills T. castaneum (commonly known locally as the red flour beetle). Research results here (this will download a PDF file from the researchers, as the researchers haven’t put this on a web page for some reason).

Meanwhile Fonesca-Santos et al (2016) researched whether a commercial mosquito repellant could be made from tea tree oil and found it was very effective against the A. aegypti breed of mosquito. You can read about it here.

Great, but what about using essential oil to repel wasps?

Wasps are my main concern right now. We had two more in the house while I was researching and writing this article, today, and I’m so tired of ejecting them.

A study was done by Boevé et al (2014) to assess whether essential oils worked to repel wasps. They tested many different essential oils alongside conventional chemicals, and repeated their tests several times with different wasps, which makes the study more reliable. They found winterberry oil (galutheria procumbens), marjoram oil (o. marjorana), anything from the artemisia genus (over 400 species of plant, including tarragon and mugwort) and wild mint (m. arvensis) were all highly effective at repelling wasps (more effective than DEET, in fact). As far as chemical compounds go, they tested linalool (a natural chemical found in a lot of citrus plants, including citronella) with good results too. You can read about it here.

In another study by Zhang et al (2012), 21 different essential oils were tested to find out how effectively they repelled wasps (if at all). 17 of the essential oils were found to be highly effective, including clove, pennyroyal, lemongrass, ylang ylang, spearmint, wintergreen, sage, rosemary, lavender, geranium, patchouli, citronella, Roman chamomile, thyme, fennel seed, anise and peppermint. Read the full study here.

And finally…

As you can see, there is a huge amount of rigorous, repeatable, reputable scientific evidence proving that essential oils can make excellent insect repellants. For soapmaking, this gives you tons of options for making soaps that are insect repellent but which also smell nice. From my own experiments in this area, I recommend combining no more than three essential oils in one soap. Don’t try to make one soap that repels everything.

I suggest you make a test batch and try it on yourself in the shower before making a bigger batch to give to friends and family, as some of the strong insect repellant essential oils can also be irritants in soap or shampoo bars. For the same reason, you may want to reduce the amount of essential oil in your soaps to avoid ending up with itchy skin. Lastly, be extra-careful using any potent essential oil or other insecticide on children’s sensitive skin.

Recommended for you:

10 ways to get essential oils to be more intense in your soap (melt and pour and cold process)

So you’re probably looking for how to get your essential oils to be more intense in your soap. You might be making cold process soap or melt and pour soap. Maybe you’ve made some homemade soap with pure essential oils and it didn’t come out with a strong scent, or perhaps you’re planning your first homemade soap making project and are hoping to execute a perfect first-time soapmaking recipe…[read more]

How to safely use essential oils in home-made soap (infographic)

Essential oils can cause harm if used incorrectly because they are potent substances. Putting the essential oil on the skin neat (undiluted, or straight from the bottle) causes irritation and can leave your skin burnt. The oil is diluted in soap to a rate of about 3% (average) which makes it less likely to…[read more]

All about essential oils in melt and pour soap (infographic)

Essential oils are often put into homemade melt and pour soap. They can create delightful fragrances that make your soap feel more luxurious. But there’s a lot to know about essential oils in soap. A lot of articles only focus on cold process, ignoring melt and pour, despite the fact melt and pour is a better choice for people with young children, pets or making soap in a campervan.

When I started soaping, I assumed essential oils would behave the same way in cold process soap and melt and pour soap, but this is not true. I have experimented with a lot of different essential oils and found…[read more]

Two essences COMPARED! SKII Facial Treatment Essence with Pitera and Innisfree Firming Energy Essence with Fermented Soybean

So I had already finished up three bottles of the Innisfree Soybean Energy Essence (which is now called Firming Energy Essence with Fermented Soybean in the US) by the time I got my curious little mittens on a bottle of the SKII Facial Treatment Essence, two years ago.

I have now tried the SKII facial treatment essence for over two years and I’ve used the Innisfree Firming Energy Essence with Fermented Soybean for six years, so I have a strong insight into which of these products is best (and for whom… because one product is much better for one skin type than the other one is, keep reading to find out more).

I’d seen one or two people in the K-beauty blogging world say the Innisfree Firming Energy Essence with Fermented Soybean is a great dupe for the SKII Facial Treatment Essence. That actually put me off trying the SKII Facial Treatment Essence, for two reasons:

a) SKII Facial Treatment Essence is significantly more expensive in the full-size bottle.

b) I really, really, really, really loved the Innisfree one already. It’s a perfect product in its own right, and it’s so good that I don’t think it deserves to be called a dupe of another product.

So I decided the only way I could now write a review of the SKII product was to write it as a review/comparison, like my eyelash growth serum reviews or my Innisfree Perfect 9 Eye Cream vs Innisfree Orchid Eye Cream review.

I’ll also share the one packaging improvement both products would majorly benefit from (which you can do at home).

Here’s my full review/comparison of Innisfree Firming Energy Essence with Fermented Soybean vs SKII Facial Treatment Essence:

What the manufacturers say:

Innisfree Firming Energy Essence with Fermented Soybean: “6-in-1 liquid skin hero with a water-light feel helps visibly improve skin’s firmness, brightness, tone, smoothness, dewiness and moisture barrier. Formulated with high concentrations of antioxidant-rich Fermented Jeju Soybean Extract and Oil.” (from the US Innisfree site)

SKII Firming Treatment Essence: “Our iconic essence for crystal clear skin, loved by millions of women around the world.” (from the SKII site)

Scent: They both smell like nothing. You could completely mistake them for water if you decanted them into other containers.

Colour: They are both colourless. So keep them away from littles because babies/toddlers could think these are water and accidentally drink them.

Taste: Unknown. Seriously, don’t taste cosmetics.

Texture: Exactly like water. They absorb into your skin very readily and are not even slightly greasy.

Effect: Both products have a noticeable effect on fine lines, skin texture and brightness. In my own opinion, the Innisfree Firming Energy Essence with Fermented Soybean was just as effective as the SKII Facial Treatment Essence when I had younger skin, but six years after I first started using the Innisfree Firming Energy Essence with Fermented Soybean I’ve noticed the results aren’t as good as they were when I was younger. The majority of beauty bloggers are in their early or mid-twenties and don’t have the same skin ageing concerns as those of us in our thirties. As I’ve aged, I’ve found the SKII Facial Treatment Essence to grow with me, and still be as effective as when I first tried it in 2019.

Comfortable during pregnancy? Yes! Both of these have still felt comfortable to use during my two pregnancies and neither have any nasty ingredients that you would want to avoid when pregnant, either.

How to get better results: Instead of trying to get the product out of their original bottles every day, and using a cotton ball, which I find a bit of a faff, I use a cosmetic decanting syringe (which I bought in Japan) to decant these products into a travel spray bottle, then I use them as a facial mist on cleansed, dry skin before putting any other products. I use them twice a day.

Availability: This is where the SKII Facial Treatment Essence wins a lot of points, and why ultimately this is the one I buy now instead of the Innisfree product. See, the Innisfree Firming Energy Essence with Fermented Soybean is difficult to get unless you live in a country with an Innisfree online store. And Innisfree is (I have learned from bitter experience) very quick to discontinue their products. In fact, all of my favourite Innisfree products are impossible to get in Ireland. You might strike lucky in a TK Maxx but more than likely, you won’t. And if you want a product to become a reliable staple in your beauty routine, the SKII Essence will be around for a long time to come.

The SKII Facial Treatment Essence is also available in the duty free of almost every airport in the world, as well as being sold in most department stores worldwide. I have seen the SKII Facial Treatment Essence for sale in Dubai, China, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, America, Ireland, the UK, Greece, Turkey, Russia, France and Thailand. The only airport I haven’t seen it for sale in was Kathmandu, in Nepal, which doesn’t have any branded cosmetics or duty free shopping.

You can buy SKII Facial Treatment Essence on Amazon (US) for around $130 and UK Amazon where it’s about £200 (work that currency conversion out because it makes no sense), both for a 7.7 floz bottle.

You can buy Innisfree Firming Energy Essence with Fermented Soybean in the US for around $40 and it’s not currently available on UK Amazon or anywhere I can find in Ireland. You used to be able to buy it on niche K-beauty import sites but it has sadly disappeared this year for some reason.


If you are under thirty, and can find it, buy the Innisfree Firming Energy Essence with Fermented Soybean. That’s probably why all the twentysomething bloggers are raving about it: It’s the most appropriate product for your skin.

If you are over thirty, buy the SKII Facial Treatment Essence. Not enough bloggers are talking about this but the SKII product is absolutely the best for more mature skin, and I highly recommend it (in fact, I haven’t bought the Innisfree one since I turned 34). It’s expensive for a reason and that reason is, it really works.

And do decant your product into a spray bottle it makes the BEST facial mist ever!

How to calculate the yield from a soap recipe

When you’re making a soap recipe, one thing you might wonder is how to calculate the yield from your soap recipe.

Yield noun – the amount or quantity produced or returned.

There is a really easy way to calculate the yield from any recipe. However, some real world variables will affect the calculation, and in practice, you will find that the yield from any given soap recipe is a bit less than it ought to be.

Why don’t soap calculations produce an exact weight?

A viscous liquid is thick. As a liquid gets more viscous, it pours less readily, until eventually a liquid can be so viscous it doesn’t pour at all (like whipped cream). Soap is a liquid which is viscous, whether it’s melt and pour or a cold process soap that has reached trace. A light trace is less viscous than a heavy trace, but both are more viscous than water.

When you try to pour a viscous liquid, some of it will stick to the sides of the bowl or jug. It will also stick to your stick blender or stirring spoon. This results in a loss of about 10-20g of soap batter per batch. If you are making a small batch such as a single bar of soap, you can lose a significant amount.

The best way to compensate for this loss is to make a bigger batch, because you will not lose much more batter from a larger batch than from a smaller one.

With that in mind, here is how you calculate soap yield:

Add together the weight of all the solid ingredients. Convert water into grams (1ml of water weighs 1g). Other liquids don’t convert 1:1, because a ml is a measure of capacity while a gram is a measure of mass, and the mass of a given capacity is dependent on the density of its molecules. Oils have long chains of molecules, where water has small molecules made of only three atoms, so more water molecules fit into the same space as any oil, so water will always be heavier and more dense than oil for the same capacity.

Confused? Here’s how it works on a practical level. With liquid oils, such as avocado oil, you will need to weigh them separately. Do this before you mix your ingredients together. With electric scales (recommended for soaping), you can do this by turning on your scales and putting an empty container on top, then pressing “tare”. This will set the scales to ignore the mass of the container and just weigh what you put inside it. Next, pour your oil into the container. This will tell you how much it weighs. Add this to the mass of all the other ingredients and this will tell you the total yield of your soap recipe.

Lye dissolves in water, so do I need to weigh it?

Yes. This is because, when you add the lye to the water, even though it dissolves, it is still in the container. The mass of the water increases by the mass of the lye. Any time something soluble (like salt, sugar, or sodium hydroxide lye) is dissolved in water, the mass doesn’t go anywhere.

You can put this to the test if you want to do some at-home chemistry by getting a cup of 100ml water, stir in 50g of salt, and weigh the total mixture. You’ll see the liquid will now weigh 150g and it will have noticeably increased in volume, too. This is because of one of the laws of physics which explain how the universe works.


Melt and pour recipe (taken from my Easy AHA exfoliating melt and pour soap recipe which you can find here). These are the ingredients:

10 ml Cherry kernel oil

90g Melt and pour soap base

1 ml Cherry blossom fragrance

A pinch of sliced up loofah

The cherry kernel oil needs to be weighed. It weighs 8 grams. Add this to the melt and pour soap base and we get 98 grams. It wouldn’t work to try to weigh 1ml of fragrance so we will round it up to 1 gram although it’s more like 0.9g.

In a higher yield recipe (e.g. making a kilo of soap) we would use a lot more fragrance so we would be able to weigh it but here it will not make much difference. So our total is 99g. In a 100g soap mold, this leaves a tiny bit of room for the sliced up loofah to go slightly under the surface of the soap without it spilling over the mold.

90g + 8g + 1g = 99g

So that’s how to calculate the yield for a soap or cosmetics recipe!

PS I’m super excited that my lye just arrived, so I’ll be trying out some cold process soapmaking as soon as my new stick blender gets here (mine died last year before the first lockdown), and I’ll be sure to share my makes (and fails… part of the learning process) as I move into this awesome new world of handmade soapmaking!

Soapmaking: What is a water discount?

A water discount is a reduction in the amount of water needed to dissolve sodium hydroxide lye. When you use a water discount, the soap will harden faster because there is less water in its batter (the mixture that eventually becomes soap). You only use a water discount for cold process or hot process soaps that use lye. You don’t need a water discount for melt and pour soap because the oils are already saponified and the lye has been used up before you ever get the melt and pour container!

Advantages of a water discount:

  • Your soap will cure faster
  • Your soap will be harder (ideal for Castile soap)
  • The soap can be taken out of the mold more easily
  • The mold will be easier to clean (less residue = less cleaning of the little corners of your molds is required – a constant problem I’ve had with homemade cosmetics, especially my all-natural conditioner bar).
  • A water discount helps balance the recipe if you’re adding other ingredients that contain water such as if you are using milk (including breastmilk) or if you’ve mixed mica powder with water rather than alcohol before adding it to your soap.
  • If you want to force a strong gel phase for a specific soap design, a water discount is a great addition to the other things you can do such as using heat pads around your soap while it’s curing.

Disadvantages of a water discount:

  • Your soap batter will thicken (solidify) faster, making it harder to work with. If you’re doing a color effect such as a swirl, you will want your batter to reach trace (ideal thickness) then to solidify slowly, to give you time to make your desired effect.
  • It can also effect your colors by messing with the heat of the soap. The reaction between lye and oils (saponification) is an exothermic reaction — it gives out heat. And if it heats up too much, it will affect what the soap looks like. If you want to avoid gel phase (e.g. when making cold process breastmilk soap, you do NOT want it to get too hot or the milk will spoil before the soap is done), don’t water discount more than you need to for the extra liquid in the milk.

To calculate a water discount, you use a percentage:

The usual amount of water to lye is 70% water to 30% lye. That means you use 70ml of water for every 30g of lye.

Discounting the water by 10%, you would have 63ml of water to 30g of lye.

Discounting the water by 20%, you would have 56ml of water to 30g of lye (this is a heavy water discount).

You also need to factor in whether your recipe requires a superfat (leftover oil for more nourishing soap bars). In this case, you usually wouldn’t discount your water.

Stuck? The very best resource on calculating the amount of oils, water and lye for your recipe is the Brambleberry Lye Calculator (it also calculates fragrance, but beware in the EU some of the fragrance results are higher than permitted under EU law if you’re selling your soaps). This tool is phenomenal!

I just want normal trousers

I have a shopping problem. Tops are fairly easy. But every time I need to buy a pair of trousers, I take hours. I don’t know why clothing retailers waste money making trousers in shapes and sizes that no one actually wants. I mean, let’s say you’re in a marketing meeting. You’re working for a big company. You’re well respected and until now, you have quite a good track record at making sensible decisions about products.

Then someone gives you the trouser account. And instead of thinking, legs haven’t changed for tens of thousands of years, let’s just go with what works, you decide that the way for you to make your mark on trouserland is to change everything. And to test the market, you decide to manufacture these monstrosities in size 2-4 only.

Not satisfied with your contribution to the world, you flood every single online retailer with your stupid designs. Cropped jeans. Skinny jeans. Super skinny jeans. Ultra-high-waist jeans. Jeggings. Wide leg jeans. Extra wide-leg jeans. The low-rise. The high-rise. The rise-and-shine (now made without leather)…

And that’s just the jeans!

Dear God is it too much to ask for a fucking pair of trousers that go on past my feet, and go around my legs, and fasten at the waist without making me look like one of those nurses from the 90’s with those awful elastic belts, and simultaneously not gaping at the back showing my knickers to all and sundry? How hard is it to just… make a pair of jeans? I don’t want options other than “these ones will fit you”. I don’t have some weird body type. I am a normal-sized woman with average-sized bones. I am 5’6” tall so my legs are regular. I don’t want jeans that scrape the floor when I walk and therefore the seams get ruined after about three hours and I have to buy another pair. I don’t want jeans that look like someone dropped paint on them or vomited on them. I don’t want them to look like the man at the dyehouse was drunk and incompetent and somehow made the seams dark blue and a big oval around my arse light blue so everyone behind me thinks I sat in bleach.

When men buy jeans? They walk to a shelf, pick up their size, pay and leave, knowing this pair will fit exactly the same as all their old pairs did.

I want that. I want to find all the jeans and trousers in one category in any given online store, and I want two options. Jeans or trousers. We only have 500 options because every last one of them is an inadequate trade-off designed to ruin our self-esteem so we are forced to go shopping again.

I am sick of taking on the mental load of thinking about clothes. I just want to not be naked in public. That’s really all I want from my clothes. Why can’t the clothing industry make that happen with the least amount of fuss and fanfare as possible?

Could you imagine if some totally random industry, like the car industry or the gardening industry, had options as stupid as women’s trousers? They’d never get investors!

“Uh, yeah, so I want to bring out a brand of car that has seats that are too short, so the headrest stabs people in the back. I want the steering wheel to be triangular so it looks really cool but doesn’t turn the car around corners. And I want no cupholders or those little door pockets. Gloveboxes are right out. Every car owner will need to buy a trailer which will be sold separately and may or may not actually fit their phone and purse. Oh, and the paint will flake off after six months so you have to scrap it and buy a new one every year, and we’ll manufacture them in Shantytown, Nowhereistan, so those people who attend protests all bully their friends for owning our cars. For colour ranges? Why don’t we just get a cat to shit on it and sell it like that? We’ll call it post-post-postmodernism.”

“Hi, I’m designing a new seed for people’s vegetable patches. The plant will have no leaves, flower heads, fruit, vegetables or petals and the root system will only work in a climate that’s Everest in the summer and the Sahara in the winter. We’ll make it sell by removing any actual vegetables from the seed catalogue this year. Oh and we’ll size it so there’s half a seed in each packet. It will be inedible. We will call it post-foodism and target 18-25-year-old gardeners with about two acres of land who live in the inner city.”

It’s like clothing companies utterly misunderstand the average requirements of their customers. And they’re wondering how the Arcadia Group and Debenhams collapsed within about a year of each other, emptying half the British high street in any given town. We don’t want to be sold shit that is impractical and has a lifespan of about 3 months unless you wash it. There’s only so many times you can rip off customers before they just stop buying.

So if you’re a clothing designer and you just got your first big contract, how about making trousers like this:

  1. They actually fit. Around the waist and the leg. At the same time.
  2. They are made of a fabric that you can’t see daylight through when you hold it up to a window.
  3. The seams are stitched so they don’t tear apart or unravel in normal use.
  4. The button holes are big enough for the buttons.
  5. The colour is something you could see the average woman wearing on a rainy day in Sutton Coldfield or Twickenham.
  6. There are no stupid words on them. If you must put your brand name on them, the only appropriate location on trousers is a leather patch near the belt loops.
  7. Don’t ruin them by embellishing them with some stupid ribbon down the sides of the leg that means I have to buy new trousers in a year and can only wear them with two jumpers unless I buy more.
  8. Refer to an actual size chart with measurements before calling something a size 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 etc. In this day and age, people don’t want a size 8 that only fits a size 10, or a size 16 that a 12 couldn’t get into. People are shopping online and returns are expensive and make people mad because they didn’t get to wear their clothes when they wanted to. Standardize your fucking sizes. I had to send about £125 of a £200 order back to recently because sizing is meaningless to clothing companies. I am a very consistent middle-of-the-road 8. There is no reason for jeans to be sized with a different system to trousers, they both go on my same legs. I don’t know what a 26, 27, 28, S, R or L mean, or how you’ve sized the hips if 28 is the waist. I know I am an 8. Make trousers in an 8. Jeans are trousers, stop kidding yourself that they’re special or different.
  9. If your clothing is targeted at over 30s (which I recommend; there are a lot of us and we’d be more economically active if you sold stuff we wanted to buy), consider the fact that we are likely to have had at least one pregnancy, and therefore our ribcages and waistlines have shifted. Letting out the waists by about 1-2 inches would give a much better fit for each size.
  10. Don’t bother making clothes in a size 2. I can 100% guarantee you’ll have several thousand pairs of trousers left over in a size 2 which you won’t even be able to get rid of in a sale.

Sort your shit out and make normal trousers for normal people. What is normal? How about stop wasting time on pointless unanswerable pontifications and go make some better trousers, fashion industry!

Dr Jart+ Cicapair beauty tips for the new year

The weather is improving, and the Chinese Lunar New Year is approaching quietly. The Spring Festival symbolises the start of the New Year, bringing new surprises and joy. In this warm festival, the temperature of the heart brings people to resist the cold of the season and brings a glowing new beginning. In the laughter, they tell the hopes and expectations of the upcoming year, and puts kind blessings into joyful sweet gifts. . In this happy and warm season, Dr.Jart+ presents new beauty tips and brings new facial mask products: the Cicapair range, with a repairing and rejuvenating soothing mask, and a new lock moisturizing repairing mask, creating a New Year’s beauty for the skin, making you smile this New Year! At the beginning of the New Year, skinimalism starts!

Tips for perfect skin this year:

  1. Sleeping mask: Getting your beauty sleep has never been more important. And now, with the Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Sleepair Ampoule-In Mask you can ensure your skin is repairing while you drift into the land of nod! Inspired by the legends of tigers in Asia, this mask is infused with K-beauty wonder-ingredient, Centella Asiatica (tiger grass). Get yours here.
  2. Color correction: For those with problem-patches of redness, the Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment SPF30 is your new hero. Pricey for only 50ml (2oz), nevertheless this product is currently getting rave reviews amongst K-beauty aficionados in the know. Get it here.
  3. No more irritation! If your skin is dry, red, irritated by daily life and you have swollen blue veins beneath your eyes, the Dr Jart+ Cicapair Cream could be the answer you’ve been looking for! Check it out!
  4. Double up: Always use any face cream with a serum as part of your K-beauty routine! The matching serum is designed to work with the cream and increase the bioavailablity of ingredients. Here’s the serum.
  5. Spritz your way to perfect skin with the Dr Jart+ Cicapair facial spray available here.

These products are selling out fast because they are the new beauty trend of 2021. They may not be available by the time you read this article. Cica has taken the K-beauty world by storm and is the miracle ingredient on everybody’s lips right now, so this is definitely 2021’s hottest skincare trend.

This article contains affiliate links which do not affect the price you pay. All opinions my own.

%d bloggers like this: