Novica: Handcrafted, Fair Trade Products

Derek Everything Else 20 Comments

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:

“We want to give artists and artisans around the world a global platform to express their true artistic talents and to spur their creativity. And, we want to provide you with access to unique, hard-to-find items at great values that only the Internet infrastructure can allow.

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)

Mexico Glasses

Novica Artisan

Parachute Hammock from Indonesia

(which will certainly come in handy on my travels!)

Novica Hammock from Bali


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?

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Comments 20

  1. I have to say that I did not know about this website, it is just a brilliant idea!! Now I do not have to carry in my backpack the presents for my family and friends, I can just make an online order and for sure the products that I purchase are authentic 🙂

  2. I’ve actually used a similar (sounds exactly the same) website before called Ten Thousand Villages. It’s been around (in different forms) since the early 60s! I’ve really liked using it.

    1. Hey Laura – That does look to be a very similar concept…and it’s quite impressive they’ve been around for so long! It’s good to know there are a few of these organizations out there promoting fair trade and giving a global platform to local artists around the world.

  3. I’ve known Novica for a while and I absolutely love their mission and their items. It works for me because as a traveller, I don’t want to buy too much stuff while I am in a country because then my backpack gets too heavy, but if I want to get something for my family or my friends, I simply go to their website and get it. The quality of their products is excellent! =)

    1. Hey Elizabeth – It’s good to hear this support from someone who is already familiar with Novica. So far, I’ve yet to hear anything negative about the organization at all and everyone who does use the site has only had positive experiences. Like you said, it’s the perfect alternative to having to carry around gifts for weeks or months at a time while traveling!

  4. Sounds like a fantastic website. I too have had the problem of figuring out whether items are genuine or not when travelling around the world. Sometimes you even get hybrids where a local person will weave a fabric, but the dyes will be cheap chinese dyes rather than traditional dyes etc.

    I feel uneasy that they’re giving away gift certificates to promote their clients, but it seems many businesses are doing that these days.

    1. Hey Adam – I definitely understand your feelings about the gift certificates and believe me, I wouldn’t have accepted one if I didn’t fully support their mission. In fact, this is the first one I have accepted after declining every other offer I’ve received from other companies and organizations over the past year. Knowing that the exposure they receive will directly help the local artisans, both in the form of increased sales and through the microfinance program (which involves giving 0% interest loans to the artisans), makes me feel much better about their approach.

    1. @colehaber: I do believe that everything comes already assembled, even the larger furniture items. What you see on the website is what you get delivered directly to your house!

    1. Hey Brian – The parachute hammock is more than ideal. And it folds into its own pouch, making it tiny to carry around. Well worth it!

  5. Dang, that was my idea!

    Very cool idea. I’ve never heard of this particular website before but I love the concept. If I wasn’t saving every dime to travel I might even do a little shopping…

  6. I must say that I have never heard of the site until now. It certainly sounds like a wonderful idea. I like the idea of fair trade for sure. PS–Love that George Carlin bit.

    1. @optionsdude: That is a great Carlin piece. The only problem is that as soon as I found that clip, I ended up spending the following two hours listening to more of his stuff and not getting any work done 🙂

      1. Sorry about that. Don’t know if you listened to some of his more risque stuff but that is where he was when I was in high school in the early 80’s. It was really weird knowing his background and watching him as Mr Conductor with Thomas the Tank Engine on my kids shows. Awkward!

        1. @optionsdude: I’ve watched almost all of his stuff by now! Every few months or so I find myself stuck on YouTube watching his material for hours on end 🙂

  7. This actually seems pretty awesome. A much better idea than having to buy something and carrying it around with you all the time. Especially if it’s a gift and not even something you need, now you can just mail it to them.


    1. Hey Ozzy – You summed up the benefits of Novica quite well! When it comes to gifts, this is just a much easier and more practical option than carrying something around with us in our backpack or suitcase until our adventure is over, wherever we may be in the world. Now it just takes a few clicks and pretty much costs the same.

  8. I have tried taking smaller suitcases to avoid getting more ‘stuff’ to fill up the house with- didn’t work!
    I have been familiar with Novica for some time but never purchased from them.
    For those who take smaller luggage on travels, it is a good solution but I still find the need to touch and feel. I agree with you about the plentiful shops with the same trinkets but I have managed to find ‘stuff’ that is unique or just simply speaks to me.
    God knows why we have this inner desire to collect things but at the end of the day, they are a reminder of our moments in the places we cherish on our travels that we can’t let go or we cannot go back to.

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