As a travel writer, I prefer to invest in travel products that go a long way. Also, I’m not a shopper. So when I do buy something, it’s usually because I need it. Or it’s a book. But if I’m prepared to spend a little more, it’s almost always because the product stands for something I believe in.
Like Ethnotek bags.
I found out about these travel bags through my best friend Ning (aka ‘Magic Babe’ Ning). We were planning a trip to Thailand at the time, and she thought it might be cool to check out this socially-responsible line of bags, recently brought in to Singapore by The Bag Creature.
I accompanied her down, of course, and what I found out about Ethnotek really impressed me. The business itself originates from the U.S. but the founders – two young men who are also travellers – have committed to supporting the work of local artisans in remote villages around the world, so that their traditional weaving practices can be kept alive.
These intricate weaving techniques are amazingly tedious and time-consuming. And at the speed fabrics are being mass-manufactured in urban factories these days, traditional artisans are not only losing their jobs, but also their cultural heritage. There is no longer an impetus to pass on the craft to the next generation.
Check out this insightful video to get an idea of just how intricate the process is…
What the Ethnotek founders did was to travel to these remote villages in Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Guatemala etc. and seek out these artisans, and negotiate a fair price for their handiwork. Not only are these weavers paid fairly through direct transactions, their unique culture and traditional practices – as well as their livelihoods – are kept alive by a global stream of demand.
“The one thing that all of our weaves and artisans have in common is the fact that their craft is dying out. Every year, they experience less and less local demand for their fabrics due to low yield and long lead time. Traditional techniques are quickly being replaced by machines and factory labour in major cities, drastically reducing the amount of jobs and industry in the regions where it is needed most. By creating new demand for these traditional handcraft practices, we are in a sense forging an effort to keep them alive and well, and in the same villages from which they came.”
– Founders of Ethnotek bags –
I respect this. I believe in this. It’s responsible business.
And the way Ethnotek does this is by creating quality base bags that allow you to swap ethnic threads like you would swap smartphone covers or straps for Swatch watches. It works like this:
The base bags come in various sizes and shapes. The bigger backpacks are called Raja Packs, and Ning was keen to get one of those for the trip, together with a Messenger bag for regular work on-the-go. Ethnotek also carries a line of pretty tote bags!
The price for a Raja Pack ranges from S$225 to S$289, and you can also get replacement Threads at S$59 each. Different ethnic designs and weaves from around the world are showcased in these unique Threads; and truly, they are precious pieces of dying art!
For my own needs as a travel writer, I prefer a smaller day pack. When I check-in my luggage at the airport, I just want a compact knapsack that I can carry around, but one that’s also big enough to slip in my 13″ MacBook Air, in case I need to work while on transit. Furthermore, it has to double-up as a day pack when I’m out exploring new cities or hiking.
I picked the smaller Wayu Pack because it has a separate section for my laptop and is just nice, size-wise, for my “on assignment” needs. My Ethnotek Vietnam 6 Wayu Pack costs S$189 from The Bag Creature – online orders available.
I also got an additional Vietnam 5 Thread (S$79) so that I can swap designs when I feel like it, and blue is my favourite colour. This Thread incorporates a hand-embroidered textile from the Tai Lü tribes of Vietnam. Each and every piece is unique and different from the next, and best of all, there are only four in existence!
These gorgeous bags aren’t cheap – I admit – but they are good quality, they promote fair trade, and help sustain the livelihood of villagers in indigenous communities.
I don’t normally promote travel products, but I’ve been so pleased with this travel bag and what it stands for that I’ve started following Ethnotek on Facebook and Instagram (@ethnotekbags). I guess it’s the satisfaction of being part of a community of world travellers that believes in fair trade and keeping cultures alive. Or as the founders call us – #etktribe 🙂
But above all, just as my 42-litre backpack reminded me of how much (or little) I really needed while on the road for 9 months, may your travel bag remind you too – in an unconventional sort of way – of what’s more important in life.
“Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn