Belfast Christmas Market is back and bigger than ever as crowds return for the first time without strict Covid controls.
While some things are back to normal, there are some additions this time around.
Among the bee tents, jewelery vendors and hot chocolate vendors are stalls selling vegan food, sustainable clothing and ethical beauty products.
Even currywurst and bubble waffle shops have vegan options this year.
Jessica Gracey, events manager at OutsideIn, a Belfast clothing brand, told this paper that her company has been working with the market since 2017.
For every piece of clothing sold by the company, which also has a store in the Dublin Road Trademarket, another piece is donated to a homeless person.
“Social impact is at the heart of everything we do. That’s why we do what we do,” Jessica said.
OutsideIn, established in 2016, was one of the first vendors of its kind to be offered a market stall.
Jessica said there is a growing appetite for products created by sustainable, local and ethical companies.
“It’s a great thing for people when they walk in and feel we’re from Belfast,” he added.
“They’re really excited to hear that and want to help and support us.”
The brand also has a manufacturing facility in the city where they do their own embroidery and screen printing.
“We try to be as sustainable as possible [in] where we source our products and the factories we use,” Jessica said.
“[It’s now] much easier to make sustainable choices. There are so many great local brands you can shop from, like us.
Ian Gabbidon is the owner of Iuvo Skincare, which sells natural and eco-friendly products that have been featured in Vogue and on ITV.
This is the company’s first year at the Belfast Christmas Market but they sell regularly at the London and Birmingham markets.
His late wife got the idea for the company while undergoing chemotherapy.
“My background is chef, so I encouraged her to mix and blend,” Ian said.
“There’s a lot of traffic around here [the market]. [Eco-friendly products are] massive. It’s a growing industry. People are becoming more environmentally conscious, especially young people, [but] even elderly people.
“A lot of people are more into recycling and things like that. It’s the way to go, I think.
Anna Byrne, from Cookstown, is the managing director and designer of Wave The Animals, a sustainable clothing brand focused on making affordable and environmentally friendly clothing.
He started the company with his brother during the first lockdown. This year is their second to market.
“I wanted to create a sustainable collection that an ordinary 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 businesses in the markets.
“Most of our sales would be in markets,” she said, adding that people between the ages of 18 and 30 tended to be “much more interested” in ethical fashion.
Simon Waring is the managing director of Soap Story, which sells handmade and cruelty-free soaps in Carrickfergus. This is the company’s first year on the market.
“We have placed a strong focus on sustainability as part of Soap Story’s brand ethos,” she said.
“We use consumer recycled plastic that can be recycled again. We think that’s really important.”
When trying to source ingredients, “if we can get local, that’s what we do,” Simon continued.
She also thinks interest in this type of business is growing, explaining, “I think there’s a big focus on everyone trying to shop local.”
George Koumarides is the owner and chef of Vegan for Vegan, which sells meat- and dairy-free Greek food. He mainly trades in Brighton markets.
He originally came to work at Belfast Christmas Market several years ago and “loved it”. This is the first year Vegan for Vegan has a booth in the city.
“I’m getting a great response,” George said. “I think it’s a great site for veganism. People like flavors.”
The Christmas Market takes place in Belfast City Hall until 22nd December