Browsing the boutiques and bazaars of a foreign city is one of the many pleasures of travel. It’s also becoming easier to do from your couch.
Increasingly, expatriates and frequent travelers are proffering regional specialties — Berber wedding blankets from Morocco, silk scarves from India, pillows from Peru — through their personal websites and blogs, providing a level of interaction, even customization, that better approximates the experience of shopping in a local boutique.
Here are some of the less widely known virtual markets that just might transport you.
BEYOND MARRAKECH: For those unable to comb Morocco’s souks for leather pouffs, vintage Beni Ouarain and Azilal carpets and Moroccan wedding blankets, there’s Beyond Marrakech, a blog and online boutique by Danielle Donker. Donker grew up in the Netherlands and London, but these days she lives amid Berber villages with her husband in Morocco’s Ourika Valley, where they run a guesthouse with river views. In 2010, after nearly 15 years of collecting textiles and Berber carpets, Donker began selling them online.
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“At a certain point my private collection was really large and I discovered that it was not so much the fun of having the pieces but finding them and giving them new life by cleaning and repairing them,” she said in an email. Now she hunts for merchandise in weekly markets and the bazaar in Marrakech. The carpets she offers are made by various Berber tribes, including the Beni Ouarain. “Even though it has become a small business, I only purchase the things that I personally like as if I am still collecting for myself,” she said.
The items online (and more) can be seen in person at her guesthouse, should you be lucky enough to be in Marrakech. Information: beyondmarrakech.blogspot.com.
FLEAING FRANCE: Simone Bernard peppers this blog about her life in Provence with photographs of her treasure hunts through boutiques and markets there and in Paris. Her virtual “brocante,” as she calls it, is modest. There have been books from the 1800s, teacups and French pharmacy bottles among other trinkets.
“My goal is to always provide finds at a number of price points,” she said in an email. “Just because someone doesn’t have a large budget doesn’t mean they can’t have a French treasure in their home.” Visitors to France can also hire her to accompany them on shopping trips. Information: fleaingfrance.com.
MAVEN COLLECTION: The items on this shopping site — baskets, seed necklaces, silk scarves, wool pillows, leather and kilim bags — are all handmade by artisans in Peru, Morocco, Guatemala, Mozambique, India, Bangladesh, Chile and Mexico.
“We are constantly shopping the souks for new products,” Laura Hebden, Maven Collection’s founder, said. Everything is ethically sourced, said Hebden, which to her means that “every artist gets paid a fair, living wage for their time and talent.”
Hebden, based in Chicago, founded Maven Collection last year after working with a startup called Collaborative Group that aimed to employ global artisans by partnering with socially conscious retailers. Information: mavencollection.com.
RISING TIDE FAIR TRADE: “Picture a woman sitting at a hand loom the size of a grand piano looping threads to make an ikat pattern,” said Virginia Dooley, a co-founder of this website offering bags of all sorts. “Or a group of women sitting in a circle stitching kantha fabric.”
She was referring to the traditional methods used to create the various bags — clutches, hobos, beach totes, weekend, crossbody and cosmetic carryalls — that she and her business partner, Nicole Jones, sell on their website. In 2004, they founded Rising Tide, offering bags handmade by fair trade artisans in India from textiles usually bought at markets in West Bengal and Orissa. Information: rtfairtrade.com.
TEN THOUSAND VILLAGES: This company is many times larger than the others mentioned here, though in 1946 it began with one woman selling her wares from the trunk of her car. Today, the company is a founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization and sells handmade jewelry, home décor, art and textiles from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Sales of its products — like necklaces from Nepal ($34) and decorative boxes from Haiti ($39) — help pay for basics like food and health care for artisans in dozens of countries. Information: tenthousandvillages.com.
Those interested in shopping international fair trade sites may also want to check out serrv.org, globalgoodspartners.org, greenheartshop.org, globalgirlfriend.com and worldstock on overstock.com.