Lands of the spree
SHOPPING overseas, particularly in the Asian retail hubs of Singapore and Hong Kong, used to be so exciting for Australians. Marooned at the bottom of the world, we were always a season or two behind with fashion trends and the last market to get the latest in cameras and electronic gear. We would hit the great shopping strips of Singapore’s Orchard Road and Hong Kong’s so-called Golden Mile of Nathan Road, snapping up everything that was shiny and new.
The online revolution and the entry of big-brand boutiques into our capital cities has changed all that. What most of us now look for overseas are genuine retail discoveries, including handmade goods with a proper context and provenance. We are more likely to be found in the cottage-industry emporiums of regional India than haunting, say, the shrines to Louis Vuitton and Giorgio Armani in the twinkling malls of Dubai.
Goodbye, I say, to mass-produced souvenirs that are sometimes not even made in the destination they are supposed to represent (Eiffel Tower tea towels in Paris, for example, with Made in China tags).
Onholiday in Bali earlier this year, myonly purchases were fab glassware and ceramics by local company Jenggala, which has a showroom at Jimbaran Bay and a factory outlet at Kuta (Jalan Sunset, 1). The craftspeople at Jenggala make leaf-shaped platters, little bowls with furled-lotus lids, curvy jugs and dishes, and signature sellers such as a Frangipani Salad Plate finely layered with ceramic petals. So now I have a little bit of Balinese artistry on my dinner table, genuine and gorgeous. And this being 21st-century reality, I can buy more pieces online.
More of us are seeking community-based initiatives for our shopping sprees — outlets where home-based artists or craftspeople in small workshops directly reap the rewards. In Nairobi, Kazuri is a self-sufficient operation where ‘‘every bead has a story’’; established in 1976 on part of the old Karen Blixen coffee estate, Kazuri employs about 400 local women, mostly widows and single mothers, who fire and handpaint rainbow-bright ceramic jewellery made from Mount Kenya clay.
In Vientiane, US-born Carol Cassidy’s Lao Textiles has been operating since 1990 and she employs about 40 artisans who weave hangings, scarves, throws and cushion covers on site. Each item is a work of art, a far cry from the tat of the bazaars.
Near India’s prime tiger-viewing territory of Ranthambore National Park, Dastkari Kendra Craft Community Centre provides income for more than 100 villagers whose skills include block-printing, tie-dyeing, patchwork, pottery and leather-making. Some of the lengths of odhani shawls are passed on to women in nearby villages for hand embroidery or to sew sequins. The work is exquisite and many of the block-print motifs are taken from children’s drawings of local flora and fauna, including tigers on the prowl. These are but a few examples — be a thinking shopper and you’ll discover more.