Souvenirs with style
Holiday souvenirs have always been a mixed bag. Tourist-targeted stores are often full of mass produced objects and you need to head off the beaten track to find those carefully crafted pieces that genuinely warrant investment. Artisan shopping in sunnier climes is an increasing rarity too with the British staycation growing in popularity due to the weakening pound. So luckily for us there’s a raft of e-commerce entrepreneurs armed with expert local knowledge that want to take buyers on a well-informed trip without leaving these shores.
You can now browse at leisure from an array of homeware and accessories from far-flung locations from your sofa, enabling you to choose carefully while in situ. What’s more many of these are feelgood buys that support local artisans. These new e-tailers can be viewed as part of the ongoing obsession with all things local and handcrafted, and their focus ranges from our closer-to-home European neighbours to exotic long-haul destinations in South America.
When Themis Zouganeli launched Themis Z, an elegant online homeware store with pieces inspired by the island of Mykonos, she was was looking to export the sunny feel of the South Aegean. Lines include portable items such as linen cushions and porcelain tableware (from £35 for a mug) bearing pared-back graphic Grecian-style decoration in a earthy organic palette – which can all be passed off as “something I picked up while in the Cyclades” – to a large-scale recycled timber topped Xenio Zeus table featuring a sculptural Greek marble base.
Stylish and contemporary, Zouganeli’s range is a distinct notch up from rustic taverna crockery and would work in any modern home that likes to bring an unique handcrafted element to their table. “Themis Z is designed to promote a real sense of escape and simplicity,” she says. “Mykonos has an energy and aura that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. I want these pieces to transport customers back to the islands and away from the stress of everyday life. The clean lines of Greek architecture and Doric style express a feeling of serenity. I think that even the shape or structure of a cushion can encourage the mind to travel.”
Similar sentiments drove Sophie Garnier, an independent art advisor and ex-financier, to create Kalinko, which specialises in homeware handcrafted in Burma. After holidaying there in 2013, she sent her husband back to “clear his head” and work out his next career move, he returned with a job and the pair moved to live in Yangoon in 2015. “Exploring Burma really opened my eyes to the array of beautiful products and traditional skills found across the country. I wanted to take them beyond the local market,” Garnier says.
The brand, which is named after a tribe in the North West of the country, adheres to Fairtrade principles and is currently self-funded. Handwoven cushions and rattan in natural tones and a range of soft, weathered shades features highly in the inaugural collection. There are rattan planters (from £15), placemats (£32 for 4), laundry baskets and even dog beds (from £168).
Another entrepreneur drawing upon the craft skills of local tribes is Wilbert Das. The former Dutch fashion designer swapped his creative director role at Diesel for that of “eco-luxe hotelier” in 2009 when he opened Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa in his and many A-listers’ favourite holiday hotspot: the idyllic Bahian fishing village of Trancoso in Brazil. Das already had experience in furniture, having collaborated with Italian brands such as Moroso and Foscarini to launch Diesel’s decor ranges. “Uxua itself grew from a holiday home to a hotel and then an entire rustic design practice, creating local residences based on artisanal and sustainable approaches,” he says.
Having worked with local craftspeople and the Pataxó Indian tribe creating sustainable furniture, textiles and lighting to furnish the hotel’s brightly coloured vernacular “casas” for years, Das decided to launch Uxua Casa to sell the pieces online. “I wanted to continue this collaboration with native craftsmen, finding innovative ways to use reclaimed elements and push forward the organic, sustainable design movement,” he says.
Beware, though, you will need a serious budget to tap into this homespun, coastal hippie-luxe look. Beautiful batik-like hand-dyed indigo cushions (denim-maestro Das’s past expertise includes in-depth knowledge of Japanese dying techniques) are some of the most affordable items, at £190, whereas a range of “native geometry” furniture hewn from eucalyptus branches have designer price-tags north of £600,000.
But, then, no two pieces are the same. Indeed, you could argue this range crosses the line between furniture and art. The series of woven palm-fibre and wicker lamps in bulbous organic forms are more like functional sculptures than simple light fixtures. Ditto the “rural modern” range that takes salvaged antique objects and transform them into furniture – like the ox cart reimagined as a two-seater sofa. Meanwhile, others take inspiration from celebrated Brazilian modernist architect Lino Bo Bardi, with steel incorporated with wood, leather, vine and palm fibres to create one-off seating pieces.
Why stop at promoting the artisans of one destination, though? That’s what Jessica Macias another globe-trotting ex-financier seeking to promote local crafts clearly thought when she established Maison Numen with co-founder Ana Caufman. Although they kicked off with a Latin American focus (a particular speciality for Macias), showcasing a raft of pieces by 35 artisans and designers, they now source from 15 nations and counting.
“We want to promote object with vitality; with a rich past and a long future ahead. It’s design, it’s culture, its history: they’re all objects with meaning,” explains Macais. Browse the site and you’ll find homeware spans the continents from banana-leaf serveware by heritage Portuguese brand Bordallo Pinheiro and delicate multi-coloured handblown Parisevetro glassware, to intricate basketry woven by indigenous Yanomami women of the Venezuelan Amazon.
For those staycationing in Britain right now, perhaps the most appealing item on the site right now is the Chinchorro hammock (£270). Handwoven by Jivi nomads from the Amazon, it’s just might inspire that island escapism mood in between those all-to-familiar British summer showers.
By Bethan Ryder. Originally published in The Telegraph.