Whether I’m looking for the perfect pair of earrings, a unique painting to spruce up my living room, or a distinctive gift—felt skirt, hand-drawn note cards, or vintage lamp—for my fashionista friend (who already has everything), I have a few no-fail resources to find what I don’t even know I’m looking for.
While there are thousands of merchant-, artist-, and design-showcase Web sites out there, a few stand out among the rest. When you don’t know what you need, but you do know it needs to be one of a kind, check these sites first:
Launched in June 2005, Etsy is a virtual emporium of artists, craftspeople, and designers—all with individual Etsy “shops” (e.g. web pages) to sell their handmade wares. I did most of my Christmas shopping here this year—and sometimes it was hard to choose just one gift, as there are so many great finds here. Block out some time on your calendar for your shopping; this is one site that’s so alluring, with so many enticing possibilities, that you’ll lose hours if you’re not careful.
Matthew Stinchcombe, vice president of communications, recommends treating each visit to Etsy like a new journey. “You can shop by color—sort by parameters, if you’re just looking for blue jewelry, for example,” he recently told me. “Shop local—you can type in your location and see sellers close to you and support your local economy.” Browse around within your areas of interest, or take advantage of cool tools such as the Time Machine, which provides a scrolling spiral of recently listed items, or the Treasury, where members curate their own lists to showcase their favorite pieces.
My favorite part of the site? Their new feature called Alchemy, which allows any shopper to request a custom item. “Let’s say you want a blue sweater with a picture of your husband embroidered on it,” Stinchcombe began. “It has to be cashmere, and you want to wear it to your anniversary party in May, so you need it by late April. You’re willing to pay $150.” Merchants will then bid on it, offering their specs, price points, deadlines, and examples of past work, and the customer can then choose the artist based on the return bids. Additionally, “sellers that opt into this program can put a note on their shop that they’re an Alchemy participant,” says Stinchcombe. “Custom orders can be requested directly from a specific seller as well.”
Need some inspiration for your home? If you’re looking to spruce up your surroundings, start at Design*Sponge, a site that covers the best in home and product design. Features include product reviews, artist profiles, home and studio tours (my personal favorites), holiday gift guides, and more.
Brooklyn writer and design expert Grace Bonney founded the site in August 2004. “Design*Sponge has always been my own personal place to discuss things I love,” she told me. “I started the site in a much more personal way, but as it’s grown, I’ve backed away from including too many ‘me’ posts and have tried to focus on students, designers, and projects that give back to the design community.” In addition to Bonney, the site has four new contributors with backgrounds ranging from retail crafts and gourmet food to art history and photography.
To get started, Bonney suggests checking out the site’s weekly features: Sneak Peeks, Product/City Guides, DIY projects, Before/Afters, and recipe column “In the Kitchen With.” “As the site has grown, I’ve tried to move away from just being a product blog toward providing original content readers won’t see anywhere else,” she explained. She also highlights podcasts with experienced designers as a good balance to the host of content representing (relative) newcomers to the field. “We just posted a podcast that artist Matte Stephens recorded with legendary designer Irving Harper. I hope people will give that a chance,” she said.
Who doesn’t love a cool T-shirt? With Threadless, you can find truly unique tees with just a few clicks. The designs are irreverent and snarky, fun and laid-back. Among the current offerings include T-shirts depicting a refrigerator running, the correct use of there they’re and their, and Darth Vader’s topiary skills, among countless others.
Started in November 2000 as a means for artists to design great shirts—and then sell those shirts—the site features new options every day. It’s as much a community site as an online store, however. Visitors can rate designs, submit ideas for new shirts, enter contests, read blogs ... the list goes on and on.
Spokesman Bob Nanna emphasizes Threadless’s community-based content. “I’d say the ‘participate’ tab is the one we’re most proud of and the most essential to the operation of the site,” Nanna recently told me. “From there you can score designs, submit designs, and peruse the blogs. Every week, there is a new Podcast that people can download, a song that gets posted every Thursday on the blogs, and there are new Store Art panels for sale every week as well.”
Sometimes function isn’t enough—you want your essentials to look fabulous, too. That’s where Delight comes in. The product scouts/contributors take their jobs seriously—each hand-picked item has a great use, as well as a great look. Items currently gracing my “must-buy” list: Nellie’s Dryer Balls, to replace wasteful chemical dryer sheets; a take-out menu organizer; and the perfect thermos. (Yes, I’m practical.) There are also a variety of accessories, baby items, gift ideas, and kitchen gadgets to peruse.
I like reading the site’s expert and customer reviews—you get a well-balanced take on each product, and can determine whether it’s truly a good value for your money. The shopping categories are well organized and easy to follow: the breakdowns are by demographic (“Treats for Me!” tends to be the one I go to first, natch), color, price, and miscellaneous (eco-friendly, quirky, office/organize, etc.). So whether you have a specific item in mind or just want to browse, you’ll be able to shop with ease.
My favorite one-of-a-kind purchases are usually one-of-a-kind bargains! What if I told you there was a place to find Doc Martens for $50? Discounted Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana, and Prada purses, some nearly 40 percent off? Michael Kors coats for less than $150? I’m not lying—I’ve seen all these deals (and many more) at Overstock.
Now, like any good clearance shopper, you have to do a bit of digging here—and oftentimes that perfect pair of pumps, fun spring dress, or designer jeans might be available in every size but yours. Or, that pantsuit might be in stock—but only in electric lime green or a fuschia/coral hue. So, yes, sometimes there’s a bit of heartbreak here. But when the stars align and you find that great deal, it makes it all the sweeter.
In addition to fashion, there are plenty of items for home decor, too. I actually purchased a beautiful armoire for my living room from Overstock, and have also found great deals for designer linens. And the discounts extend to delivery as well—with the site’s $2.95 shipping for all purchases (even furniture), getting the merchandise is also a bargain.