We talk to Olivia Knight, founder of gift registry website Patchwork about giving people presents they really want, creating a community and protecting the planet

What inspired you to set up Patchwork?
When I got married a couple of years back me and my husband-to-be knew we didn’t want a department store gift list. We’d lived together for ten years and had two kids already so we didn’t need stuff. So I built a very simple site that let us show our friends and family our dream honeymoon and then allow them to choose which part of the trip they’d like to treat us to. And that’s where it all started.

We launched Patchwork to enable friends to collectively fund gifts and experiences that are really wanted and needed. And at the same time stop people wasting money on unwanted gifts that end up in landfill. But in the last year we’ve also added new functionality in response to user feedback and enable people to contribute not just cash, but also their time and skills towards a gift or event. So if a couple are getting married they can ask friends to make cakes, help decorate or promise to DJ instead of buying physical gifts.


Do you try to track the amazing environmental impact you are having by helping people get one thing they really want rather than loads of things that might end up in the back of a cupboard/a bin?
We’re currently in the process of applying to be a B Corp and this is something we will look to do as part of that process. It’s a tricky one. People can use Patchwork to fund anything - including a honeymoon to the Maldives. So we can’t claim that every individual patchwork has a positive impact on the planet. But we do use our patchwork templates to inspire people with gift ideas and experiences that do have a positive impact – whether that’s inspiring people to collectively fund experiences over stuff, and also by suggesting environmentally friendly physical gifts from bikes to beehives.

However the most useful thing we can all do when it comes to gifts is buy things people actually want so they will be loved and used rather than surprising people with unwanted gifts and novelty presents that, at best, end up in a charity shop, at worst, straight to landfill.


What do your users tell you about why they use Patchwork?
Because it quite literally helps make dreams come true. Sounds Disney, but it’s true. They get the one thing they really want. Their friends get to contribute what they can, and give a lot together. It’s a personal, fun and meaningful experience for those giving and receiving. 

What is the most popular present that people ask for?
For wedding gifts - Adventure honeymoons, big ticket items like a piece of art, a piece of furniture, help with a DIY project like doing up the kitchen or the garden. For kids, it tends to be bikes, a playhouse, big piece of lego or everyone chipping in towards an ipad or expensive computer like an Xbox.

What is the most wacky present you’ve seen asked for?
A joint tattoo, a yurt (the couple moved to Spain and now live in it), a piece of woodland (with guests chosing to buy a packet of seeds, a metre of earth, a tree etc.) we’ve had people patchwork puppies and even a pony.

Has there been one present idea that has made you really go ‘wow’ – what was it?
Yes, a couple who wanted to use Patchwork to fund IVF.

Have there been many surprises along the way?
The idea to enable people to contribute time and skills came from our users who started hacking with the site to ask friends to make and do stuff for their weddings. So that was a surprise – and a good one – as it’s led to a whole new side to the business. Patchwork is free if you use our platform to ask people to contribute their time and skills towards a gift or event. It’s just something we want to encourage.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever been given and why?
Our honeymoon to Cuba. A six week familymoon with our two kids backpacking around the island, staying with families and learning how to live more simply and sustainably – and enjoying precious time together as a family.

What tips would you give to people who would like to reduce buying stuff they don’t need or want?
Be honest about what you really want and need. Buy less and buy better. If everyone chips in, you can have that gallery membership, vintage coffee table, new handbag or second-hand washing machine that you really want instead of 15 gifts you don’t.

Loads of people feel awkward about asking people to contribute to something they really want. What tips would you give for people who’d love to do this but worry about how it comes across?
It is embarrassing to ask people directly for cash. That’s why we launched Patchwork in the first place, to remove the awkwardness by transforming financial transactions into meaningful experiences to be shared.

Creating a patchwork is super easy and fun and it allows you to share something about your life and your aspirations with people who love you and will want to help. Just think about it, with Patchwork your friends and family don’t have to wander around the shops wondering what you buy you. You are saving them time, stress and money – so you’re giving them a gift too!

And if you still don’t want to create a patchwork for yourself, drop a heavy hint to your mum, sister or partner so they can create one for you as a ‘surprise’.

Visit the Patchwork site and follow them on Twitter and Instagram for great inspiring ideas for gifts you really want, and can ask for in a fun, creative way.