Every now and then, while traveling around some faraway land, I’ll come across something for sale, perhaps in a small shop or in a local market, that I am interested in purchasing. Maybe it’s a piece of artwork, some local craft or maybe even a musical instrument of some sort. Sometimes I want to purchase the item for myself while other times I feel that it would make the perfect gift for someone in my family or for one of my friends.
However, nine times out of ten, I walk away without buying the item.
First of all, I travel around with only a small backpack and I simply don’t have the space to add, what George Carlin used to rant about, more stuff. And besides, I never know when I’ll be returning ‘home’ and so I really don’t want to carry around a Mayan rug from Guatemala or a Tibetan Kalachakra Mandala painting for 9 months.
Secondly, I often hesitate about buying something because I never know if the item is authentic. Shopkeepers around the world will do their best to convince you that that rug is hand-made or that the painting hails from a village high up in the Himalayas, however, I’ve learned to be a little cautious upon hearing such claims. The salesperson may very well be telling me the truth, but sometimes it’s hard to believe the authenticity of something when there are fifty shops in a row selling very similar items.
As an example, here in Mexico, I’ve noticed plenty of shops stocking their shelves with ‘traditional Mexican products’, such as Oaxacan handicrafts and Mayan pottery, that are being unpacked from boxes labeled “Made in China”. I of course have no idea if they are actually arriving from factories in China (and I’d like to think that’s not the case) but it certainly does make me wonder.
So, for these very reasons, I tend to finish an adventure in possession of the exact same items with which I began, having made very few purchases along the way.
Well, I have now found a solution.
It’s called Novica.
And as a result of this one organization, it’s possible for any of us to have instant access to a wide variety of cultural items from around the world, many of which are the very same items we probably debate buying during our travels. However, instead of trying to determine the authenticity of something while on the road, Novica takes care of that process by seeking out and working with dedicated local artisans in many different countries.
Operated in association with National Geographic, Novica has quite an impressive mission:
At the deepest essence of our philosophy, we want to create a bridge between you and the many talented artisans across the globe.
We want you to know about who you’re buying from. We want you to feel that attachment to the product and to the hands that created it.
In the spirit of the Internet, let us bring you together.”
At it’s core, Novica gives us an opportunity to purchase fair trade items from skilled local artisans who are dedicated to their craft. As a result, we can be fully confident that the items we do purchase are authentic and of high-quality.
I found it quite unique that, when browsing the website, instead of reading quick item descriptions, we can actually read the stories of every artisan who has an item for sale. You can even watch short, interesting videos of many of the artists as well.
As for the prices, luckily (and surprisingly), Novica appears to have been created with the typical consumer in mind as the website is definitely not the high-end online shopping mall that one might expect. The prices are more than reasonable (with items as low as $15 USD) and with thousands of products available, there’s no shortage to choose from. Just to give you a quick idea, you can find artwork, clothing, musical instruments, furniture, jewelry, sculptures, fair trade corporate gifts, eco-friendly products and even a royal throne (yes, a throne) from an artisan in Peru.
How It Works:
- You can search through the items on the website, either by item category, customer favorites or region of the world (Andes, Bali & Java, Brazil, Central America, India, Mexico, Thailand or West Africa).
- The ordering process is easy and the actual shipping time is remarkably fast. Given that most of these items are shipped from the developing world, great care is taken to ensure that all items are shipped safely and efficiently to your doorstep. The hammock I purchased from an artisan in Indonesia took only 3 days to arrive to Florida, even though I had chosen the 7-10 day shipping option.
- Most items arrive creatively packaged, complete with a certificate of authenticity and a story card that provides additional information about the artisan and their work.
Here are some photos of two of the items I’ve recently ordered:
‘Cobalt Rings’ Tumblers from Mexico
(this was a gift for my mom)
Parachute Hammock from Indonesia
(which will certainly come in handy on my travels!)
Before I conclude this post, I do have to admit that I had never heard of Novica before they contacted me a couple of months ago and asked if I would be willing to test out their website in exchange for a gift certificate. And while I was under no obligation whatsoever to write a positive review, I can honestly say that my experience has been nothing but positive so far, putting Novica at the top of my list of places to look whenever I need to buy a gift.
At the end of the day, to put it simply, being able to purchase authentic cultural items from around the globe, while knowing that my money directly supports the local artisans who create them, is a concept that I fully support.
*Novica also runs an admirable Microfinance program which allows anyone to lend money (any amount) to a local artisan in order to help them expand their dream business. It’s an excellent way for travelers to support the communities we visit!
Are you familiar with Novica? Does the concept appeal to you?