Elements of Style

Why Is It So Hard to Get the Right Gift?

Capitol Hill–based company Knack puts customers in the customizable gift-giving driver's seat.

By Rosin Saez November 20, 2018 Published in the December 2018 issue of Seattle Met

Founder Laura Jennings inside Knack’s Capitol Hill showroom brimming with gift potential.

Image: Amber Fouts

Oh, the act of gift giving: A practice that produces joy, frustration, and some anxiety-riddled combination thereof. With an occasion that calls for a meaningful present—birthdays, holidays, your sort-of acquaintance’s housewarming party—comes great expectations of one’s abilities to bestow the exactly right, heartfelt thing. Let the season of consumer dread, er, glee ensue!

Laura Jennings, a self-described gift expert, thinks she can quell your fear. The 56-year-old founder and CEO of Knack says the art of thoughtful gift-giving is, surely, connection. And she’d know. Her three-year-old company—a website and now shop on Capitol Hill—is dedicated to the pursuit of the holy grail present. “The core of what we do,” she says, “is build around this idea of the personalization of the gift-giving process.”

Knack helps shoppers choose from a pre-endorsed collection of goods. You pick out ready-to-go sets and revise as desired or make something entirely your own from knackshops.com’s curated pages, filterable by ethos (women entrepreneurs, sustainability, made in the U.S.), geography (ahem, Seattle), or interest (coffee, home entertaining). Knack, for all its focus on the simple act of giving, is a data-driven route to high fives and thumbs-up emoji reactions.

Jennings was a longtime Microsoft executive turned venture capitalist before delving into the retail scene: “I really come at this from a technology perspective.” So there’s a formula behind that unique gift. Knack’s in-store showroom doubles as a usability testing ground for new code and software: Passersby get 20 bucks to spend trying out new features on the website. The company also surveys the recipients of those gifts; a report accessible to customers shows stats such as the one regarding the 45 percent of millennials who like to share their gifts on social media, or the one about how artisan wares are most preferred by people in the South. “What should I give a business partner who’s a female millennial in the Southwest? We can give you some guidance on that,” affirms Jennings.

Offerings have always been a way to create bonds. In the Pacific Northwest, long before settlers arrived and afterwards, indigenous communities had the potlatch. The potlatch, or p’alshit, the Nuu-chah-nulth word that very roughly translates to “give,” is a native tradition in which sharing wealth was an economic and social necessity—and it established status and good standing, not too much unlike today’s gift scenario. Jennings agrees we have this innate desire to give and give well, but “we get caught up in it—because of the commercialization around the holidays—this idea of giving as a to-do list item.”

The key, then, as the oft-echoed adage goes, is it’s the thought that indeed counts—even if you’re thinking trendy, handmade stuff backed up by cold hard data.

Now Presenting…

Become your own gift expert with Seattle-made goods we’re digging this holiday season.

The Inspired Houseplant

Author and Wallingford-born Jen Stearns penned this guide for indoor gardeners of every ambition level ($25). sasquatchbooks.com

Filson Rugged Suede Backpack

A bag that can stand the test of time with full-grain, weather-proofed leather and stylish endurance ($750). filson.com

River Coffee Pot

Potter Sarah Steininger Leroux employs a sgraffito technique to create etched lines that evoke a rippling river ($175). saltstoneceramics.com

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