On the Road, with Tribe Member Tiffiny Epiphany

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”  Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Last month, my friend Recii and I went on a 4,000-mile road trip. We rented a car, packed our Ethnotek Wayu and Raja packs, and left town. 

The beauty of this trip is how unplanned it was. We had a skeleton of a route, but never knew where we were going to end up at the end of the day. We stopped for hikes on the way to our destination for the day, which often changed. I think this method of travel is the best, because it becomes about your journey and not about deadlines, the end, or time. 

Let your plans fall apart. You dont need them anyways. When you open yourself up, the world opens up to you and you get to experience things you could never have planned. 

During our trip, we hit 5 National Parks, 3 National Forests, stayed in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Texas.


We camped in the Guadalupe Mountains, watched the sunset at the Grand Canyon, meditated during sunset at El Malpais National Monument, and met new friends (including fellow Tribe-Member, Brooke Gaynes), at a #HikerChat (@HikerChat) snowshoe hike in the Wasatch Mountains! I even got to enjoy seeing some fresh new product at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

This was my Ethnotek packs' inaugural journey. I was SO excited to accomplish the challenge I set for myself: stuff all my things in to just two bags (Note: I have a habit of over-packing; I was determined to only take whatever would fit in my Raja and Wayu packs. I was successful!).

Using the Raja pack as my main suitcase, I folded my pants, shirts, and other clothes and simply stacked it into the pack. There is an opening on the side, so that if you want something from the bottom of the pack, you can just unzip, pull it out, and zip up without disturbing the top part of the pack, or unpacking the entire thing. 

My Ethnotek Packs & the new TetonSports pack I acquired at ORShow in Utah!
Is there such thing as too many backpacks? 

The side mesh pockets were useful for socks and beanies, and the front pocket on the thread was used to hold my swimsuit and undies. I loved how even though I filled my Raja pack to the top, I could still roll it closed, and clasp it shut with the buckle. This pack was so perfect for packing clothes in! 

My Wayu pack was my “media” bag. It easily help my laptop, magazines, Kindle, GoPro, chargers, cables, and anything I wanted quick-access to on the road or in the hotels we stayed in. I also kept my National Park Passport in the front thread for easy-access so I could whip it out at all the National Parks we got to visit! I use my Wayu pack daily instead of a purse, and I did the same thing on this trip. It was so easy just grab and go. 

The thing I loved about taking these packs with me was how many compliments I got about the colors and the intricate textiles on them. This also gave me a chance to tell the story about Ethnotek, which made me feel so happy to be an owner and a member of this wonderful community of people-helping-people. I love talking about this stuff and I love knowing something I own has helped another person. I am so happy to be a part of the Ethnotek Tribe!


"Tiffiny Epiphany" is an outdoor adventurer to the core. She's a blogger, artist, yogi and writer. And, of course, she's a Tribe member who spreads the word and supports the Ethnotek mission like crazy. Her Instagram is full of inspiration, positive vibes and outdoor adventures. Check out her blog and her recent blog post about Ethnotek. 

Burning Questions for Ethnotek? Check out this Q&A with Founder Jake Orak.

Join Anywhere But Home's "Nomad" Naomi as she chats with Founder Jake and asks the tough questions. From Naomi:

Ever wanted to get under Ethnotek’s hood? I have. The first time that I heard about Ethnotek, it caught my eye for a number of reasons: a company that supports local artisans? Intrepid travellers running the show? A mission to ‘keep culture alive’? Yes please. As a lover of travel and of the web of artistic heritage from around the world, I was intrigued and wanted to get in on spreading the word about its mission. But first, I had to do my homework - Ethnotek’s ideals might be there, but is the reality?

Saigon Buddies: Jake, Cori (Jake's wife) and Naomi

To get to the heart of the matter, I met up with Ethnotek founder Jake Orak and his wife Cori in Saigon to ask the questions I hadn’t seen answered in articles: for one, how was Ethnotek staying fair-trade? How did they find & select artisans they worked with? How do they pursue people-to-people business with all those language barriers? And though the THREADS come from small-scale artisans, what about the actual bag bodies? Nylon from China?

It was time to get down to brass tacks.

True sustainability

Jake and Cori have been living in Saigon for the past few years, so they seem to know all the hidden spots. We cab it to a restaurant out by the Saigon River, where we can see the sun coming down low over the water just next door. As we sit down to beer, I start our chat by asking about where the idea for Ethnotek came from.

Back in his past life, Jake had been a bag designer for a larger company which incorporated mass-manufactured fabrics into their products. But during a trip into the tribal regions of northern Vietnam, he began seeing small-scale artisans who were creating quality, hand-made textiles at their backyard looms. It was an industry that was ancient, and endangered.

 Hani, at the Cham village in Vietnam

“I knew this was a cultural tradition that certainly not a lot of people see anymore,” he says, “and I knew that the demand was diminishing because of the cost and the time it takes to create these textiles. The textiles and the culture surrounding them just inspired me – how can I do something about raising awareness and demand for these textiles so that they don't become extinct?”

At first, his thoughts went to starting a tour agency or a garment company, but then he (wisely) decided to stick to what he knew best: bags. However, it wouldn't be enough to simply buy up fabrics and make product – he wanted to make a business that was sustainable, not wasteful.


“It was kind of that Eureka moment,” Jake explains as he came up with the idea for Ethnotek's changeable front-panels. “People could continue to support the artisans while owning only one bag. The one core body provides all the functionality, but they could continue to purchase textiles – THREADS – from each of the villages to continue on with the preservation, and keep demand up.”

Bhuj, Gujarat, India Master Weaver Vankar Shamji and his father Vishram Valji.

Sustainability is also why the bag is made from a durable, 840-denier water resistant ballistic nylon. Made in the local Saigon workshop of Jake’s old coworker, Mr. Ai, the bags come from his family business that produces the entire nylon body from start to finish - no mass production from China here. And though nylon isn’t a natural material, it's extraordinarily durable – so much so, that Ethnotek is changing its 5 year warrantee to a lifetime warrantee.

“That's part of the sustainable mission,” says Jake, “making something that lasts as long as possible, and isn't just a throw-away.”


Alright, so I was feeling the idea of a quality product made from sustainable materials for the benefit of small communities and heritage art forms. But there was a new slant to Jake’s business model that, for me, set it apart: the question of respect.

As Jake stresses, Ethnotek doesn’t dictate the designs that its partner villages make. The artisans, instead, are asked which are the most traditional or which are their favourite.

“We don't wanna go in and say, 'We're doing this!'” Jake says with a laugh.

One the ground partnerships (L to R) Hani, Head Artisan, Hani's son Jaka,
Ethnotek Founder Jake, Packaging Developer Bao, and Head Bag Developer Ai.

But respect runs deeper than just guaranteeing artistic freedom. Most importantly, it lies in the quality that makes Ethnotek so often called “fair-trade,” and what Jake refers to as the “Village Sourcing Guide.” This guide is a list of questions that Ethnotek asks its partner villages in order to ensure that a long-lasting business relationship can be made. After all, helping these villages revive their dying textile traditions isn’t just about increasing demand: it’s about ensuring that an increased demand lasts.

“We just have to ask the right questions, like 'Who here speaks English? Do you guys e-mail? Are you familiar with shipping via DHL or Fedex? Can we wire money directly to you? Who's going to be our main contact?'” Jake explains, “All the logistics that are tied to 'Can this actually be a business to business relationship?' Because that's the best way that we can help preserve their own culture.”

Partnering Artisans Dying Fabric in Indonesia

I don’t know why this consideration and professionalism surprises me. I suppose I’m used to seeing products similar to Ethnotek run under a ‘rich uncle’ model - Western company sees dying traditional art form, swoops in and starts throwing money around - but what Jake’s describing is built on respect. It’s an attitude of approaching all artisans as equal partners, meeting eye-to-eye, and aiming to create a mutually beneficial relationship.

It isn’t patronising or charity - it’s empowerment.

And I can respect that.

People-to-people business

The afternoon rainstorm is just starting outside restaurant’s windows, and we can see freighters heading down the Saigon River towards the South China Sea. It puts me in mind to think about the origins of all those wares inside, so I turn the conversation to how Ethnotek does its in-person sourcing. Currently, Ethnotek fabrics come from five countries: Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Guatemala, and Ghana. Fabric from the latter two countries come from, respectively, an NGO from Colorado and a fair-trade certified trader from California which Jake has personal contacts with. But Indonesia, Vietnam and India are where Ethnotek's business partnerships get down to trade in its simplest form: just dropping in.

Or, as Jake puts it, “seat-of-the-pants sourcing.”

A People to People Business: Jake and Master Weaver Vankar Shamji

It was this element of Jake’s business model that really intrigued me, because the idea of rocking up to a remote village and diving right into the culture and lifestyle is something that adventurous travellers often dream about.

“When you go to these villages to set up relationships yourself,” I have to ask, “how do you deal with the language barrier, to start? I mean, how do you get an insight into the village?”

Jake laughs and says, “It really is just like parachuting in and hoping for the best.”

To do this type of on-the-ground sourcing, he starts as every backpacker does: arrives in a village, and finds a place to spend the night. From there, action mode begins. Usually with the help of the guesthouse or homestay, he’s got to find someone with enough English to understand what he’s looking for.

“Usually it's tricky at first, because they'll just escort me to the nearest souvenir shop, like, 'Here you go – textiles!' And I say, 'No, I don't want to just buy once and then go home, I want to go behind the shop to see where it's made, meet the family and set up a long-term relationship.’”

Jake, in the Cham village: "Seat-of-the-Pants Sourcing"

And so these business relationships begin - seat-of-the-pant sourcing, indeed. But the benefits of connecting with a community at the ground level are apparent. In the case of Ethnotek’s partner village in India, Jakes has been able to see how the artisan Shamji has had to expand his workshop to keep up with the demands of Ethnotek’s customers - newly involving more family members and neighbours in the business.

“That was total proof of concept for us that the mission is happening on its own volition. It's just evolving as it should.”

Community involvement

So with the new year, what’s next for Ethnotek? The answer actually surprises me. Outside of experimental new products - you’ll have to check back here to see them unveiled! - Ethnotek has a bigger mission: involve more of the Tribe.

In one of our last e-mails, Jake mentioned trying to open up possibilities for travellers to collect fabric on their own travels and have a THREAD made upon visiting the Saigon workshop. I ask how that’s coming along.

Jake immediately gets animated. “That's something that we really, really, really wanna make happen so badly,” - his emphasis is unavoidable - “because that's the ultimate closing of the loop in the mission. The whole idea is to reduce the distance between the customer and the artisan, to increase more transparency – that's the ultimate awareness of celebrating and promoting and keeping culture alive.”

 Jake's Wife Cori with a Limited Edition Ghana Raja Pack

The way Jake sees it, actually getting Ethnotek customers to visit the villages and artisans making these fabrics, to learn about those cultures directly, would be the ultimate benefit. Though it’s just a seed of an idea, there might be a day when Ethnotek can help customers and travellers visit its partner villages themselves.

Jake sees these village visits as a type of scavenger hunt: “Maybe just give out a cool, fun info dump of what to look for, who to meet, who you can stay with, and exciting things to see - but the rest is just like any backpacker would want, just kinda up in the air, just make your own adventure.”

That, I know, was exactly what caught my eye about Ethnotek in the first place - its spirit of adventure. This company was created by, and for, people with insatiable curiosity, who reach out with open arms to the diversity of the planet, who feel energized by possibility and thrilled by new experiences. It doesn’t matter if you’re hitting the streets of a city or the trails of a mountain: Ethnotek was designed to bring the world to travellers whereever they are.

And, most importantly, to carry adventure with them.


I'm Naomi, an occasional expat and permanent nomad celebrating an infatuation with the whole wide world! 
In 2010, I left home to pursue travel as a full-time lifestyle...and haven't looked back since... (check out her blog)

Ethnotek + Soul Poles Mobile Soul Tour

Hey, hey Tribe! We've got some exciting news to share! This weekend, Tribe Leader Megan will be joining the Soul Poles Mobile Soul Shop Tour in Beaver Creek, Colorado at the Men's World Cup event, where Tribe Shaman and 2x National Ski Champion, 2x World Cup Ski Champion, 2x Olympian Steve Nyman will be competing. We are stoked to be a part of Soul Poles' 45 city tour from Colorado to Alaska this winter. You may have seen or heard of Soul Poles via our Instagram or Facebook feeds; here is a quick rundown of who they are and what we're collectively up to this winter on their Mobile Soul Shop Tour...

Founded by World Cup Downhiller, Bryon Friedman, Soul Poles is motivated by a deep connection with the mountains and the observed need to set a new standard for truly sustainable business in the ski industry. Soul Poles are made in the US and sourced responsibly. From a sourcing standpoint, they are a lot like us, in that they source their materials (bamboo) direct trade from a family in the southern province of China. Also, much like us, they have an extreme passion for adventure, travel and exploration. Direct trade promotes the aspiration of the farmer not just the protection of co-op grown crops. In order to eliminate supply chain imbalances and offer the highest quality bamboo ski poles in the world, Soul Poles buys direct, much like we work directly with our partnering artisans to source textile for our little slices of culture. 

This Beaver Creek, CO event is one stop on a 12 state, now 45 stop, 6 month tour. The Mobile Soul Shop will be set up at the base of the race venue this Fri-Sun and at the Coyote Cafe in Beaver Creek village from 4-9pm on Friday, where you can come and check out our bags, win raffle prizes (including some Ethnotek swag), build custom sized and engraved bamboo ski poles, adorned with your choice of colored grips and baskets. The Soul Poles team can either work you through a Build Your Own (BYO) or shape and assemble your custom poles there on the spot. Our packs, coupled with these customized poles, make the perfect gift for you, family or friends this holiday season.

This photo of Founder Bryon with his Ghana 12 Raja Pack was from a bamboo sourcing trip to China last summer. It was the only piece of luggage he took on his journey. He approved.

For more details and for information about how to get involved as a Soulbassador at a tour stop near you, check out their Mobile Tour page. Hope to see you this weekend at the festivities!

Keeping culture alive, 

Tribe Scribe

December 04, 2013 by Tribe Scribe

Exploration with Ethnotek

As a Tribe, our mission is to keep culture alive across the globe. We do this by connecting with each other and with our partnering artisans, and through exploration...exploration of other cultures and countries, exploration of the outdoors, exploration of the cities we call "home" and beyond.

Thank you to all of you Tribe members who participated in the "Exploration with Ethnotek" contest on Instagram over the last week! It was a blast to explore the world through the  collective lens of our Tribe members, and we look forward to continuing the exploration. 

Without further ado, here are the five lucky owners of a limited edition Ethnotek keychain and Tribe Hand sticker pack: 

Winners: @tiffinyepiphany / @jonkuntz / @ana_snow / @hiking_mom / @kidwithoutmusic

Please send an email to megan@ethnotekbags.com with your full name and mailing address, and Megan will get your little slice o' culture in the mail this week!

For those of you who participated, we'd like to extend 15% off to you on a bag of your choice when you use the discount code "tribevibe" at checkout. Stay tuned for more chances to win free swag in the future. Until then...continue the exploration and authentic connection. 

Keeping culture alive, 

Tribe Scribe 

November 22, 2013 by Tribe Scribe

Celebrate Diwali with Tribe Member Arushi's Family

Diwali has come to a close, and the Ethnotek crew is full of good vibes. Diwali feels good. It celebrates all of the things we hold most dearly as a community, namely connection and celebration of culture. Sure, we can learn a lot about the historical significance of this holiday and its cultural traditions from the numerous sources, but in order to truly understand how the cultural traditions play out in modern India we thought it'd be fun to talk to one of our favorite Tribe members to see how her family celebrates in Mumbai. Check out the below, and enjoy!

From Arushi:

If you follow Ethnotek on Instagram you would’ve already read a fair bit about Diwali and why it’s celebrated. (If you haven’t, follow @ethnotekbags right away!)

Diwali is called the festival of lights and celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

According to Hindu mythology, Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, was banished from the kingdom by his father. His devoted wife Sita and faithful brother Lakshmana accompanied him to the forests where they lived for 14 years. While in exile, the demon king of Lanka – Ravana – abducted Sita. Rama fought and killed him, rescued Sita, and returned to Ayodhya. The story goes, that the people of Ayodhya were so happy to hear of their beloved prince’s return, that they celebrated it by lighting up their homes with lamps and decorated the entire city. This is believed to have started the tradition of Diwali.

But this was a very long time ago! What does Diwali mean today? How is it actually celebrated? What significance does it have? For me, Diwali has always been a time for family. Wherever in the country or world, we all try our best to be home for the festival.

In my home we have a couple of traditions that have been following for as long as I can remember. I may not always understand completely why we do what we do, but through them I feel a sense of connection and rootedness. We light 11 earthen diyas on Choti Diwali (literally meaning Small Diwali – the day before main Diwali day) and 21 earthen diyas on main Diwali. Soaking the earthen diyas in water, drying them, filling them with oil, making the wick for each, lighting them, and then distributing them in every room of the house along with my sister has somewhat become my own tradition of sorts.

Ever since we were little, my mother would enlist our help in creating the ‘Rangoli’ outside our home door. Just the other day, as I sat outside the door, creating a new rangoli, I realized how calming the process was. The white powder slowly being released from in between my pinched fingers to form whatever I was visualizing almost put me into a tranquil daze!

It is said that those that give and receive freely on Diwali, will receive in abundance through the rest of the year. On Diwali night, my entire family sits down to play a couple of rounds of ‘taash’ (cards). We wager measly sums of 10 paise per point, and by the end of the games someone is richer by a few Rupees while others not so much.

These are just some of the traditions and memories that make Diwali special for me. In general though, the camaraderie that is experienced and the joy that is seen on people’s faces during these 5 days (and even the days leading up to Diwali) is truly a reflection of their inner light. Sharing, giving freely, and a spirit of community are so visible and I find myself wondering why we can’t hold onto this spirit and joy all through the year.

It is also said that because the night is darkest on Diwali (Amavasya – no moon) that the Lights shine brightest!

Love, Light, Prosperity and Abundance to all of you awesome people!



A little bit about the guest Tribe writer, Arushi:

Arushi is an Indian product designer who likes to define herself as a "people-centered designer and maker" and has recently started a socially responsible brand dedicated to empowering women through design called The Initiative (follow on Instagram @_theinitiative). 

She never ceases to be amazed by the wonders India beholds. She's not exaggerating when she describes India in saying that the people, language/dialect, food and crafts change literally every 100-200 kilometers. Arushi is currently working with a group of women in omen in rural Maharashtra to empower them to be more economically independent through making what they know best - 'godhdis' - traditional quilts made from old sarees. In Arushi's words: "It's an amazing and challenging experience, as I fill several roles - sales and marketing person, funds manager, designer, counsellor, delivery woman and friend!" She loves handmade things and is intrigued about the story behind each item...in fact, her happy place is full of every conceivable craft supply on earth. 

November 08, 2013 by Tribe Scribe

Batik Week: Culture, Art and Beauty Collide Outside

Brooke on a recent hiking adventure enjoying a Mount Timpanogos Sunrise. PC: John Gaynes

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience." - Eleanor Roosevelt 

Join Tribe member Brooke as she shares her story, her passion and energy for all things adventure and the great outdoors, and her love for Bali and Batik...

After graduating from college, I spent some time in Bali, Indonesia where I hiked, ate well, and fell in love with the beautiful culture. One of the aspects of Indonesia that has inspired me was the way the Balinese people intertwine nature and art. Moss covered statues carved from stones, beautiful handcrafted Hindu offerings made with rice and flowers on the sidewalks, and the vibrant textiles that mirror colorful native spices and flowers. The sacred, and stunningly beautiful temples are as much an outdoor space, as an indoor space. Creating batik art, participating in religious dances, and shopping in the vibrant market are all events that happen outside. The Balinese people taught me a way of life that is full of beauty, art, reverence, and nature.

Since I have returned to the states, I have found myself longing for this way of life. Not only do I like my home to be filled with inspiration from our natural world, but I also like to express my personality with vibrant clothing and beautiful accessories while on my outdoor adventures. In a world of black and grey and single-tone outdoor accessories, it isn't so easy to do this. When I first saw the beautiful packs and Threads (the interchangeable front design panel) on the Ethnotek Instagram account (@EthnotekBags), I knew I wanted to bring one along with my on my mountain bike rides, summits, and climbing trips.

When I received my Raja pack, I studied the many pockets and zippers, deciding how to best use the pack for outdoor adventures. Having a pack that is hydration compatible is essential for my mountain biking and hiking outings. I used the laptop compartment to house my 3L CamelBak by leaving the zipper open just enough for the hose, and threading the hose through the ring on the shoulder strap. The side pockets (and pocket on the Thread) are amazing for holding items that I want to be readily accessible. I love to stash my headlamp, GoPro, and a few pistachio chewy bites in the left stretch-mesh zip pocket for quick access. The right side pocket holds my cell phone, car keys, and sunglasses. I like to use the front pocket on the Thread to hold larger items that I want to access without having to dig through the main compartment (maps, guidebooks, and more pistachio chewy bites).

One of the aspects that I love about the Raja pack is that the side straps allow me to control the size of the bag. This allows the pack to be used for many different types of travel and adventure...

When mountain biking, I like to pack light and minimize bulk. I pack essentials, like a multi-tool, mini bike pump, shock pump, spare tube, rain jacket, head-lamp, and GoPro. With the roll-top functionality, I am able to strap the bag down, making it low profile, and easy to ride with.

For a hiking trip, I usually need to pack a few technical layers, extra socks, and more food and water. The straps not only allow me to adjust the size of the pack according to the amount I need to carry, but they also hold my hiking poles on the side for stretches of technical scrambling when I need my hands to be free.

On climbing trips, the large size of the Raja pack really comes in handy. My 70-meter rope, 20 quick draws, harness, down jacket, long sleeved shirt, rain jacket, and food (we usually eat well during long days at the crag) fit nicely in the main compartment of the pack. With my climbing shoes and chalk bag clipped to the side straps, I am ready to go. 

Being able to bring this beautiful piece of culture on my outdoor adventures has enriched my experiences. Not only does the stunning batik thread stand out in photos, but I have also had several people come up to me and ask about my pack. The Balinese people taught me that interaction and communication with others is an integral part of life. The beautiful Batik threads are a reminder of the Balinese culture to me. It brings me much happiness to incorporate culture, beauty, and art when I’m out adventuring.


Brooke is an absolutely incredible hardcore chick and outdoor rockstar! She is quite the adventurer and we're beyond full of gratitude she has chosen Ethnotek to carry with her on her everyday trailrunning, hiking, biking, climbing, soon-to-be-skiing (with her VaRuna rain cover) and all-around mountain-conquering adventures. Check out Brooke's instagram @BrookeGaynes - it oozes FUN and ADVENTURE and will inspire you to get up and get out. There is a big ol' world out there that deserves to be explored!

Never stop adventuring,

Tribe Scribe

October 10, 2013 by Tribe Scribe

Two Rajas Take on Four 14ers: Wandering Vines

"You don't really conquer a mountain. You conquer yourself. You overcome sickness and everything else - your pains, aches, fears - to reach the summit." - James Whittaker   

Check out Tribe members Kim and Kyle Vines on their blog, Wandering Vines.

Since snagging their Vietnam 6 and Ghana 19 Raja Packs a few months ago, they've traveled from Costa Rica, to four 14,000 foot mountains most recently. 

Here's an excerpt from their blog: "A long cold day in the Colorado Rockies. Kimberly and I hiked to the summit of four peaks over 14,000 feet (14ers): Mt. Democrat (14,148'), Mt. Cameron (14,240'), Mt. Lincoln (14,286') and Mt. Bross (14,172'). It was a great challenge and a rewarding accomplishment."

Check out the pictures below, and check out their blog for more!

Kim and Kyle: you've set the bar high - 14,000 feet high - for the Tribe! Thanks for making adventure travel a way of life...we're stoked to be a part of your journey.

Adventure away,

Tribe Scribe

October 05, 2013 by Tribe Scribe

What is Direct Trade: Getting to the Point

Cham Village. (L to R) Hani, Head Artisan, Hani's son Jaka, Ethnotek Founder Jake, Packaging Developer Bao, and Head Bag Developer Ai.

At Ethnotek, we've dedicated our lives and livelihood to the cause of building a bridge between artisan and customer. To elevate our global awareness and celebrate our cultural differences. To keep culture alive. 

We partner with indigenous artisans in Ghana, Guatemala, India, Indonesia and Vietnam to provide them with an opportunity to tell their story through direct trade. Without middlemen mediating the process, we're helping artisans have a real say in their craft. Curious to learn more about the term "direct trade"? Let's dig in...


Direct trade connects local communities across cultures. 

Direct trade refers to direct sourcing from farmers, craftsman and artisans. Often the standards of this trade are worked out between both parties on an individual basis, allowing the deal to be catered to each community's needs. Direct trade is often seen as an alternative to Fairtrade Certification, because communities have more control over their craft. Some of the benefits of direct trade include:

1. Larger premiums paid to local communities.

2. Ease of participation due to individualized partnerships. 

3. A greater quality-incentive for craftspeople. 

4. Lower costs due to fewer barriers between community and consumer. 

Founder Jake inspecting the weave motif for Vietnam 4 Thread fabric. Cham Village, Vietnam.

Hani, weaving at the loom in the culture center, Cham Village, Vietnam

Direct trade promotes direct communication and price negotiation between buyer and supplier, along with systems that encourage and incentivize quality and craft above all else. 

There is no universal definition of Direct Trade, because direct traders focus on developing individual community partnerships, and respecting the different situations each partner works within. 

Check out this write-up in The Guardian for more details around the benefits and challenges of Direct Trade practices.

We are full of gratitude, as always, that you've decided to join us on our mission to keep culture alive globally. Consider sharing this with a friend. Sharing is caring.

Keeping culture alive,

Tribe Scribe

ETHNO-TEK: The Beginning

 Hani, weaving at the loom in the culture center, Cham Village, Vietnam

As you head into your Friday, I just wanted to leave you with a few Ethnotek musings. Enjoy (and get outside this weekend!)...


The idea of Ethnotek began humbly, sprouting from our travels in Southeast Asia. In the highland villages of Hmong tribal communities, we discovered beautiful textiles, steeped in tradition, each telling a unique story. 

Understanding those stories connected us to the Hmong people, shedding light on their experience, and inspiring us to learn more. That discovery is at the heart of Ethnotek. We believe in connecting across cultures. 

We've dedicated our lives and livelihood to the cause of building a bridge between artisan and customer. To elevate our global awareness and celebrate our cultural differences. To keep culture alive. 

We partner with indigenous artisans in Ghana, Guatemala, India, Indonesia and Vietnam to provide them with an opportunity to tell their story through direct trade. Without middlemen mediating the process, we're helping artisans have a real say in their craft. 

But more than just connecting across the globe, we build laptop bags to get you there. Our designs were discovered while braving checkpoints in Bangkok, hopping dusty buses through Ahmedabad, and on white-knuckle morning bike commutes through Los Angeles. 

So, whether you're an artisan, an adventurer, or just someone looking for an honest product, we can't wait for you to join our Tribe. 

Here's to keeping culture alive. Together!

Tribe Scribe

September 13, 2013 by Tribe Scribe

Fast & Inspired: A Note from Jake

A Monday AM Note from Founder Jake...


This shot was from my train ride from Jakarta to Surakarta to meet our artisans. It had a change in Yogyakarta and in total was about a 8-12 hour journey. Along the way was the video that is in our Batik Hunting video. What video can't capture is a single moment that the photographer scrambles to hit click. This was one of many on that train ride. I walked away from the coach car after about 15 minutes of sitting there. It felt too contained, too stuffy, too air conditioned. I then walked all the way up to the conductors box. Before their box was an open car, that I had all to myself. I rode that for the entire time. Smoking clove cigarettes, drinking water and crying tears of joy, for this I knew was going to be my life, my job, my calling. Dude in a box car with not much more than a camera, a sketch book and a ton of inspiration...

The mission was to find textiles that REI liked. They loved what we had at the time, but wanted something really new, really fresh, and "only at"...I had committed myself to move back to Vietnam to make ETK happen and budgeted the Indo trip on every last penny I had left from the startup. Low and behold, took some snappies from Iwan's workshop and our contact from REI Russell totally dug them. FW12 happened because of this trip. 

I digress. Back to the dude getting on the train in the shot...

So somewhere in between Yogyakarta (Jogja) and Surakarta (Solo), we had many moving stops...you know...the ones that aren't scheduled to stop to pick up passengers, but legally have to slow down through pedestrian areas as to not, well, hurt people. One of those. At those stops, a lot of street vendors peddled snacks, drinks, smokes, fruits, etc. This dude got booted from the conductor's car, my solo adventurer ETK dream car (only because he was moving too fast for me to notice), and the passenger car behind me, but I loved his passion. He was so smiley. So I said, come on...COME ON!!! And he sprinted and freaking caught up (I snapped the photo), he came aboard the dream car, I bought some fresh tamarind and he jumped off again...I slunked down...and laughed super-hard. He was like, thanks for the sale, PEACE! Ahhhh life!


Love me some morning storytelling from Jake! Don't you?!

Live life fully, respect the unexpected, 

Tribe Scribe


September 09, 2013 by Tribe Scribe