You know the drill: Always carry a foldy bag for souvenir loot. A scarf from Paris, silver bangles from Mexico, smuggled salami from Rome.
Then there’s our pal SURevolution founder Marcella Echavarria, who needs shipping containers.
The sustainability entrepreneur, stylist, and writer (how’s that for a business card?) travels the Southern Hemisphere in search of secret gold mines; unheard-of materials; and talented, local-minded artisans whose work she distributes through her shop and designers. Who better to take us on a shopping spree of amazing goods that benefit the communities that produced them?
The Silk Road
Cambodia’s silk secrets are best revealed on the outskirts of Siem Reap at the hidden ateliers of Eric Raisina and Kikuo Morimoto, foreigners who blend Asian, European, and African influences. Raisina turns precious yellow silk into velvet, organza, feathers, and fur that make their way to Parisian and New York runways. Morimoto’s project, The Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles, restores silkworm culture using traditional chemical-free weaving and dying techniques and four “silk grandmas” who teach younger women old techniques. And all 150 villagers benefit from the work.
Afghan silk was considered among the finest in the world. Then decades of war crippled the once-fabled industry, and ancient embroidery patterns were lost. Gabriella Ghidoni founded Royah in Kabul to reclaim the handicraft with help from skilled Afghan women using local textiles, including precious handmade silks and cottons. The result? Dream jackets that fuse vintage Afghan fabrics and buttons with slick Italian patterns. (Check out our photo gallery for more images.)
Get Felt Up
Felt made from sheep, merino, and mohair wools from the Lesotho area of South Africa is an eco material whose socially responsible, by-hand production employs hundreds of farmers. Johannesburg artisan Ronél Jordaan uses the versatile textile in an impressive range of products — three-dimensional scarves, sculptural light fixtures, and pebbles she transforms into striking cushions and carpets.
Ancient Indian Secrets
Khadi soaps — in scents like jasmine, rose, and lime lavender — are handmade with wild herbs handpicked by locals. The formulas are based on ancient Ayurvedic recipes and embrace traditional Indian values. That means no animal testing, no mineral oils, no synthetics, no artificial colors, and minimal packaging, as befits a company founded by Gandhi.
Yak in Style
Yak is the luxury fiber of the future. It combines the softness of cashmere with the strength of a camel, according to Norlha, a company that employs nomadic herdsmen on the Tibetan Plateau to spin and weave the fiber into beautiful scarves and throws. (Visit SURevolution to buy.) Finery meets sustainable development? Let’s hope this is the future, too.
You’re totally into this artisan thing and want to see more firsthand. But how the hell will you get to Lesotho and Tibet? The Travel Desk will arrange everything. Available online at blacktomato.co.uk.
Photos: Courtesy of Eric Raisina; Courtesy of The Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles; Courtesy of Khadi USA; Courtesy of Ronél Jordaan; Courtesy of Royah; Courtesy of Norlha