11/09/2011 03:11 EST | Updated 10/31/2012 09:33 EDT

How to Shop Consciously This Holiday Season

I strongly believe that if we were exposed to the whole life cycle of design, starting with inspiration, we would value what we own that much more. And then we would maybe spend more on what we value, and maybe we would keep our things for longer.

I love a good piece of jewellery or a beautiful handbag as much as the next girl, but more and more, as it's becoming a lot easier to shop consciously, I've started to pay attention to ways that I can exercise my love of pretty things while staying true to my values.

Recently, I was interviewing a duo of ethical fashion mavens and their premise was that telling people to buy sustainable products will only do so much -- the fashion industry has to find ways to allow people to attach more value and meaning to what we buy so that we are not feeding an endless fast fashion cycle. In other words, we can't just preach. We need to satisfy existing needs and open up the space for igniting desire in ethical buying.

Think about it: If we still keep designing and producing at the same pace, even if designers and manufacturers are using sustainable materials, then we're not really solving the problem of people buying copious amounts of stuff, just for it to be tossed aside at the end of the season.

The real problem is the value we place on our possessions, on our clothes, on our accessories, the things that express our style. Easier said than done, though. Many of us who love fashion tend to spot something pretty and buy it, without giving it much thought. I'm guilty of that as well, sometimes.

But until recently, it's really been the only way to shop, the only way we view our purchases. Most of us aren't going to the local farmers' market to buy a handbag or to Value Village to pick up some earrings -- it's just not our style (and if it is, I commend you). Most of us would love to buy ethically, but there just aren't that many options available that we could easily fit both our personal style and tastes into.

When Etsy first popped up a few years ago, it was an exciting thing for me. I saw in it a way to support independent artisans and designers. If I scoured hard enough, I would find a beautiful trinket that said more about my style than anything mass produced I could find at the mall. But as Etsy has grown, finding something produced independently, that ignited my fancy at the same time, is almost like finding a needle in a haystack. Sure, there's a lot of beautifully made, independently produced pieces there, but it takes time to sift through everything else to get to that one thing I like. And I know many of us don't have that time to spare.

I recently stumbled upon an avenue worth perusing if you're searching for both style and substance. That avenue is Boticca, an online boutique and marketplace featuring the work of independent jewelry and accessory designers from all over the world. Boticca's focus is on creating accessibility and facilitating meaning between designer and end user.

A team scours the world for emerging talents in the jewelry and accessory design world, uncovering work that hasn't been exposed to the mainstream. Quality, of course, is a must. But what makes it more than just a marketplace for independent design is that part of Boticca's core mission is underscoring the value of meaning and story in design, sharing the inspirations and stories behind the designers they feature. Why do we really buy what we buy? If there are so many pretty things in the world, can we go beyond to think about another dimension -- past practical, past pretty, and into values and meaning? I strongly believe that if we were more exposed to the whole life cycle in design, starting from inspiration, we would value what we own that much more. And then we would maybe spend more on what we value, and maybe we would keep our things for longer.

The best thing -- and perhaps the most important for many of us -- is that the things Boticca curates are things that have sparked "oohs" and "aahs" in me. Though the styles and design aesthetics vary, there is something that ties everything together, and that is that they are designed well, and can compete in the same arena as the mass produced hundred-person design team lovelies of the world. In other words, they would fit right into your wardrobe, or in the wardrobe of your girlfriend with a penchant for jewelled trinkets, or in the closet of your sister who always has a new handbag to show off.

As you start your holiday shopping this year, it might be time to think about what you're really giving. Make it time to challenge yourself to give the gift on both sides of the equation -- for the receiver and the maker -- while moving towards a way of buying that values both beauty and substance. You might be giving up the brand name, but you're gaining an appreciation for the heart and soul that goes into independent design talent.

Happy shopping!