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Our Team's Best Buys of 2020

The products that made this year a little better, from morning to evening.
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Leslie
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1. Peloton (now $1,895): This was easily my most indulgent and best purchase of the year. I'm someone who loves in-person group fitness classes (the combination of energy, exercise, and socialization is my favorite), so almost as soon as quarantine began, I started to look for at-home alternatives. I tried a variety of online classes until I finally bought a Peloton at the high recommendations of Jess, Kelly, and Geoffrey. I didn't even expect to love it as much as I do, but the instructors are fantastic and so motivating (even through a screen!) that it closely simulates the enjoyment I get from in-person classes. I also love that I can time rides with friends and see them on "the leaderboard," and the number of class options. I frequently switch things up between bike, barre, strength, and yoga so that I'm never bored and exercise is never a chore.

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2. Food52 Vinyl Kitchen Mat in 'Indigo' ($120): While most of our furniture thankfully works in Jonah's and my new apartment, we bought a few new items to round out the  space—my favorite of which is this vinyl kitchen mat. I've always loved the vintage runner Emily has in her kitchen, but I'm far too messy of a cook to even consider one. This one from Food52 resembles a vintage rug, but is vinyl so it easy wipes clean!

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3. Content Subscriptions ($5-$10/month per subscription): As someone who makes a living writing and creating content, I'm embarrassed to admit that, until this year, I don't think I've ever paid for any online content, outside of larger media companies, like New York Times. It honestly just hadn't occurred to me, since so much of what I read online was free. This year, I became a paid subscriber of Substack newsletters by Hunter Harris and Haley Nahman (which gives you access to her podcast), am a Patreon member of Rachel Cargle's The Great Unlearn (which offers monthly syllabi on topics around anti-racism) and Nicole Cardoza's excellent Anti-Racism Daily newsletter (the content is free but I opted into the Patreon subscription, and they launched a new community space for paid subscribers today!). I also received texts from Dr. Akilah Cadet for a month, for the small fee of $5. With the exception of a few free courses I took, my paid subscriptions were easily my favorite online content I've consumed all year and well worth the cost.

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4. Zojirushi Rice Cooker ($150): It's fitting that one of my favorite purchases this year is a carb-maker, since the best thing I bought in 2019 was my pasta maker (which we still love and use all the time). We bought this Zojirushi Rice Cooker on Black Friday at my mom's recommendation. It's an incredible kitchen workhorse for a few reasons: It makes perfect rice, every time (it even calculates for small human errors) and I love that I can "set it and forget it." We have rice bowls often, so about an hour before dinner, I throw some rice into the cooker and literally forget about it until we're ready (it also keeps it warm!). We've tested multiple rice varieties and farro, all of which come out great.

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5. Sony Bluetooth Turntable ($150): Most of my favorite music is from the 1960s and '70s, so I've wanted a turntable for ages to be able to play my favorite albums (a mix of British Invasion and Laurel Canyon musicians, from around 1965 to 1975). Beyond the sound, my favorite part about playing music on vinyl is the ritual. Similar to how Emily marks the end of her workday with a candle, I select a record to put on as Jonah and I cook dinner—most of which are my mom's from high school and college, which has provided a meaningful way to connect with her from afar.

A quick note: We bought a bluetooth turntable with the intention of pairing it with our Sonos speakers. Only problem is that Sonos aren't bluetooth compatible, so we had to use this app on our phones to convert it. This got annoying enough that we considered our options and ended up purchasing these bluetooth speakers—which still makes this turntable more affordable than most options with similar sound quality. 

JESS
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1. Beyond Yoga Spacedye Everything ($58 - $99): I know I sound like a broken record as I continue to mention these sets, but I don't think I could have made it through 2020 without them. They've made TV binge sessions, neighborhood walks, speedy grocery runs, spin, and yoga classes more enjoyable, and I genuinely feel good putting them on. I cycled through the few I purchased earlier in the year so many times that I opted to invest in a few more during their Black Friday sale and really love the new additions (the eggplant in particular is a favorite). They're the softest, coziest, most comfortable pieces of athleisure I own– and basically feel like wearing a hug. 

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2. At-Home Coffee Setup: The moment Los Angeles went into lockdown, I decided to make an investment I'd been putting off for a while: an espresso machine. After consulting G (he knows his gadgets), I settled on the Breville Bambino Plus, which feels luxurious and looks complicated, but is just intuitive enough to make at-home drinks easy for the average caffeine lover. It's also narrow, so it doesn't take up too much space on our counter. I then realized that the machine was only as good as the coffee I was using, so I upgraded to Patria's Ethiopian beans, which I love so much that I order them by the pound. Experimenting with various drinks each morning has given me something to look forward to, and the quality of the machine and espresso make me feel like a talented barista – basically, it was a win, win, win.

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3. Second Parachute Robe ($99): When Justin's parents gifted me my first Parachute robe for the holidays two year ago, I was ecstatic – I'd been on the hunt for something breathable, comfortable, and that would be easy to slip into after the shower. Plus, it's made of 100% Turkish cotton and has pockets. Little did I know it would become the most worn item in my closet in 2020. During their biannual sale, I added a second, this time in tan, to my cart and wish I'd done it earlier. Indulgent to own two? Perhaps, but I live (and even frequently sleep) in these perfect, lightweight robes.

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4. An Extensive Candle Collection: Sure, I liked candles prior to 2020. But they were more of a luxury, since I was unwilling to burn through them too quickly. Over the past few months, lighting them has become an everyday ritual that keeps me feeling grounded and calm (and the house smelling divine), and since I didn't anticipate this new habit going anywhere soon, I began to stock up. I now have a shelf in my closet dedicated just to candles, with a few of my favorites being Soho and Casablanca by La Botica, Woman No. 1 by Brooklyn Candle Studio, Woods by Byredo, and Feu de Bois and Baies from Diptyque. 

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5. Maelove Love 31 Face Oil: I could point you to the many places I've already written about this, but it deserves one more shoutout. Maelove became my superhero skincare brand in 2020 (I own and love the Glow Maker, NIA 10, The Hydrator, and Moonlight), but the oil in particular stands out. While I alternate between serums, moisturizers, and retinoids daily, I use Love 31 in every variation of my routine, and have gone through two bottles in just a few months (which, considering I apply it twice a day, every single day, is pretty impressive). One drop covers your entire face in a subtle scent that's reminiscent of a spa, and it locks in all my other products to ensure they work effectively. This is one of those finds I know I'll be using forever. (I was first gifted this product, but now pay for it!)

KELLY
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1. Content Subscriptions (around $5/month per subscription): 2020 was the year of craving information, all day, every day. I’ve never spent so much time devouring the news, current events, pop culture, books, TV shows, personal essays, and other content like I have this year. To satiate my need for never-ending content, support journalists, and avoid paywalls, I bought digital subscriptions to the New York Times, New York Magazine (which includes The Cut and Vulture), and Haley Nahman’s newsletter and podcast, Maybe Baby. All three have become a very important part of my week, and I haven’t regretted it for a second. I’ll continue with all of these into 2021, and now I’m always on the lookout for other subscriptions that might be a good fit for me.

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2. Collective Laboratories Hair Growth Serum ($39): The stress of 2020 (and late 2019) took a real toll on me both physically and mentally. My hair started falling out in February, and my hair regrowth journey began soon thereafter. A friend recommended this hair regrowth serum from a local company in Santa Monica, and I’ve been using it ever since. It took a few months, but by the summer I had a ton of baby hairs growing in, and I’m finally feeling like I can wear my hair down again about nine months later.

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3. The Broken Earth trilogy box set ($37): At the time of writing, I’ve read 56 books so far in 2020. You can see my Top 10 reads in this post, but the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin stands out to me as a ‘best buy’ of 2020 (technically I bought my favorite book of the year in 2019, so it doesn’t count!). Collectively, the Broken Earth trilogy was my third favorite book that I read this year, but since it’s actually three books that are all around 400 pages and packed with so much detail, it was a substantial investment of my time this year that really paid off. It’s an epic story about oppression, racism, family, and heroism that I know will stay with me. For anyone who loves sci-fi and fantasy, do yourself a favor and grab this set for yourself or a friend.

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4. Gray Malin ‘The Onlookers’ 24x36" framed photo ($1,259 – but I bought it for 25% off): I’ve been decorating my apartment for about a year since moving in last December, and buying art has been something I’ve found to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. A moment of honesty here: I invested quite a bit of money into making a gallery wall for my living room, and I epically failed. I just don’t have the eye for it, I guess, and I spent a large part of the summer feeling really down about it and unsure of what to do next. After seeing a really beautiful framed photo in a friend-of-a-friend’s apartment on Instagram, I looked up the photographer, Gray Malin, and discovered that he’s practically my neighbor (I also didn’t realize until recently that the tryptic in Emily’s office is a Gray Malin piece as well!). Supporting small businesses, artists, and entrepreneurs is something that is important to me every year but even more so in 2020, and I decided to make an investment after falling in love with a piece on his site. I waited patiently for a site-wide sale on Labor Day, then pounced on it. This was definitely an investment piece, but it has made me feel so happy and relieved in a way that’s hard to explain. Since buying it, I’ve realized that investing in art I truly love and supporting the artists is worth it to me. I also now own a Justina Blakeney piece (salvaged from my failed gallery wall and put in a different place than originally intended) and a piece from another LA photographer, Max Wanger.

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5. Ouai Fine Hair Conditioner ($28): Normally you’d see something that goes on my face in a list of top buys of the year (Jess’ pick, Maelove’s Love 31 is up there for sure) but 2020 was really ‘The Year of Hair’ for me. Since my hair loss horror story that began this spring, I have a new appreciation for a good conditioner that doesn’t make combing out my hair after a shower an anxiety-inducing task. Ouai’s fine hair conditioner is IT for me. I love the scent, the lightness (it doesn’t weigh my fine hair down at all), and combing my hair out is a breeze. Ouai is also very committed to becoming more eco-friendly with their formulas and packaging, so when I need a refill (which is soon), they have a large “refill pouch” available to cut down on the plastic used from buying a brand new bottle each time. Genius.

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1. Brother Sewing Machine ($189, if purchased new): At the beginning of quarantine I decided to finally address my growing pile of "need to be mended/altered" clothes. It was mostly a loose button or a small seam rip but making my clothes good as new with these quick fixes gave me such a strong sense of satisfaction. After binge-watching a lot of youtube DIYs and thrift flips, I decided to take the next step and get my own sewing machine. We found this one brand-new on OfferUp. The color is a little quirkier than we preferred but it quickly became a household favorite. Even my roommate who had never sewn before quickly got the hang of it and started making his own masks and tote bags. Now, whenever I find interesting vintage pieces, I'm thrilled by all the possible ways I can transform them. 

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2. Candle Accessories: I've always enjoyed a good candle but I must say that working at cupcakes and cashmere has given me a new sense of appreciation for the art of burning a candle. I don't know how I lived so long without a wick trimmer. Aside from the fire hazard of tall flames, I also hate it when the wick's ash drops into my candle wax. Picking up a candle snuffer and wick trimmer has helped me create my own little lighting ceremony. I also found this match striker at The Well Refill, my favorite zero waste shop in LA. Then I found out it was made by a fellow Filipina who owns a small business named Salamat Ceramics. Salamat means thank you in Tagalog and knowing the back story of such a simple accessory just made it all the more special. 

3. Blackout Curtains ($60): That scene in The Holiday where Iris activates some very fancy blackout curtains in Amanda's dreamy LA home is ever-present in my mind when I can't get to sleep. I'm very sensitive to light and as much as I love the sunlight pouring through my windows, they don't do me much good after a night spent working. I ordered these blackout curtains here in the Philippines and they're truly a game changer—they've helped me improve my sleep vastly. Bonus: I can have a blacked out room perfect for movie screenings at any time of day.

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4. HAY Colour Crates ($5 for the smallest size): Hay is one of those brands I constantly find myself lusting over. Their approach to homeware and furniture is both minimalist and quirky which really speaks to me. I'd seen these crates all over my Instagram and Pinterest feed but never knew where to get them. They're pretty affordable and I really like the look of them stacked together. Currently, I have two sizes and a couple of colors. They're so lightweight and easy to collapse that I know I'll have no problem bringing them back home to LA.

5. Pastel Colored Embroidered Dress: I usually sound like a broken record when talking about my thrift finds (everything is my favorite) but this dress in particular stands out. When we were younger, my grandma would send my sisters and me these hand-embroidered dresses from Mexico. Back then, I couldn't appreciate them, but now I can't get enough. It's so interesting to see just how much the embroidered cottagecore look has taken off, especially in Southern California. A lot of local and fast fashion brands have their own iterations but what truly sets this dress apart is the thick linen material and rainbow gradient details. Holding it in my hands, I get this wave of appreciation for the handiwork that went into making it even if I don't know exactly where it's from. It was only this past year that I started incorporating less form-fitting pieces into my wardrobe. I used to follow strict rules about dressing to accentuate my figure, but embracing fun dresses like this reminds me that I dress for myself. Pro tip: What makes something wearable is how it makes you feel, not how you think it looks to other people.

This is our last post of 2020! Our team will be taking the next two weeks off of blog content to plan and rest before the new year. Happy holidays and see you back here Monday, January 4th! xEmily

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