Belfast’s Christmas Market is back and bigger than ever as crowds return for the first time without strict Covid controls.
hile some things have returned to normal, there are a few additions this time around.
Among the bees tents, jewellery sellers and hot chocolate vendors are stalls selling vegan food, sustainable clothing and ethical beauty products.
Even the currywurst and bubble waffle stores have vegan options this year.
Jessica Gracey, head of events at OutsideIn, a Belfast clothing brand, told this newspaper her company had been working with the market since 2017.
For every item of clothing sold by the business, which also has a store in the Trademarket on Dublin Road, another item is donated to a homeless person.
“Social impact is at the core of everything we do. That’s why we do what we do,” said Jessica.
OutsideIn, which was founded in 2016, was one of the first vendors of its kind to be offered a stall at the market.
Jessica said there was a growing appetite for products created by businesses which are sustainable, local and ethical.
“That’s a big thing for people when they come in and hear we’re from Belfast,” she added.
“They’re really excited to hear that and they want to help and support us.”
The brand also has a production facility in city where it does its own embroidery and screen printing.
“We try to be as sustainable as possible [in] where we source our products and the factories that we use,” said Jessica.
“[It’s now] a lot easier to make sustainable choices. There are so many cool local brands that you can shop from, like us.”
Ian Gabbidon is the owner of Iuvo Skincare, which sells natural, eco-friendly products that have been featured in Vogue and on ITV.
This is the company’s first year at Belfast’s Christmas market, but it regularly sells at markets in London and Birmingham.
His late wife came up with the idea for the company while going through chemotherapy.
“My background is cheffing, so I encouraged her to mix and blend,” Ian said.
“There’s a lot of traffic through here [the market]. [Eco-friendly products are] massive. It’s a growing industry. People are becoming more and more conscious about the environment, especially young people, [but] older folks as well.
“A lot of people are more conscious about recycling and everything like that. It’s the way forward, I think.”
Anna Byrne, from Cookstown, is the managing director and designer at Wave The Animals, a sustainable clothing brand focused on making affordable and environmentally friendly pieces.
She started the company with her brother during the first lockdown. This year is their second at the market.
“I wanted to create a sustainable collection that an everyday person could wear,” she said.
This year, a portion of the company’s profits will be donated to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.
Anna believes there is a growing demand for sustainable local business in markets.
“Most of our sales would be in markets,” she said, adding that people aged between 18 and 30 tended to be “a lot more interested” in ethical fashion.
Simon Waring is the managing director of the Soap Story, which sells soaps handmade in Carrickfergus and not tested on animals. This is the company’s first year at the market.
“We put a big focus on sustainability as part of the brand ethos of the Soap Story,” he said.
“We use consumer recycled plastic which can be recycled again. We think that it’s really important.”
When trying to source ingredients, “if we can get local, that’s what we do,” Simon continued.
He also thinks that interest in these kinds of businesses is growing, explaining: “I think there’s a big focus for everyone to try and shop local.”
George Koumarides is the owner and chef at Vegan for Vegan, which sells meat and dairy-free Greek food. It chiefly trades at markets in Brighton.
He originally came to work at Belfast Christmas market several years ago and “liked it very much”. This is the first year that Vegan for Vegan has had a stall in the city.
“I’m getting a very good response,” said George. “I think it’s a very good site for veganism. People like the flavours.”
The Christmas market runs at Belfast City Hall until December 22