Lands of the spree

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

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.

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