Ethical Travel Tip #457: Support Local Artisans

Chiang Mai Walking Street

There are “mass made” cultural art and artifacts (Kenyan soapstone statues or Thai rice paper art) produced at major manufacturing firms, sometimes not even based inside country. How do you, the travelling consumer, support local artisans and shop ethically?


One of our favorite pastimes is  scouring the local markets anywhere in the world. Whether it is Chiang Mai’s famous Gat Luang, or the Market of Old Delhi, local shopping culture has a way of opening up history, design, and culture to the shopper.

When shopping for handicrafts or art, it’s always a challenge to figure out which stall to buy from.  There are “mass made” cultural art  and artifacts (Kenyan soapstone statues or Thai rice paper art) produced at major manufacturing firms, sometimes not even based inside country. Factory produced scarves, bags, or statues can deflate prices for local artists, and make it difficult to stay in business.

We at Shatter suggest cutting out the middle man, and the mass production, and trying to buy as local as possible. Here are some tips for buying locally.

  • Identify artisans by asking around, or finding them inside the market. Sometimes they will be making their product at the market and allow you to watch the production.
  • Be wary of “Handmade signs” at tourist markets. These signs can mean handmade in a factory, in unregulated conditions.
  • Stalls that have thousands of the same product usually mean it is manufactured, or bought en-masse from the maker and sold at inflated prices.
  • The best place to buy local is at the source. Find out where the textile, statue, or art you are interested in hails from, and you can find many artisans who may even teach you there craft. (Several of the Shatter staff learned to weave textiles in local villages as a result!)
  • When bargaining with local artists, it is ok to bargain down, but make sure you still show value and appreciation for their work.  If you are going to start bargaining with an artist, that should mean you have a strong interest in buying.
  • Do not get “taken” by the illusion of high end boutiques. For example, a Hill Tribe bag at a Bangkok boutique is being for 300 USD. The bag, at its source, from the maker, will cost 7USD. In this case, the  artisan sold wholesale to the boutique, and will never see that extra $293.
  • Speak the language or shop with someone who does. This will enable you understand the cultural meaning behind the craft, and allow you to build relationships  and bargain fairly with the artisan.
  • Be free of your subjectivity, money, power or privilege speaking for you. Show genuine interest in the craft and the artisan, and promote cultural exchange rather than buying power.


Weaver in Ban Mi Province Makes traditional Mat-mi fabric

We encourage you to seek stories and celebrate creativity when shopping the markets. Buying locally keeps traditions alive, creates stronger local economies, and enables people to earn a living wage while committing to a craft they take pride in!


For those of you who might not have a chance to travel in the next few days, we have compiled a list of vendors and artisans coalition that support local artists, intellectual property rights, and fair trade!

The Soul of India supports Indian Artisans- http://www.thesoulofindia.com/en/

The Akha Hill Tribe Craft Center-http://akhahilltribe.org/

Karen Women’s Organization http://www.karenwomen.org/

Serrv supporting local artisans worldwide –http://www.serrv.org/







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