Fly Icarus fly

Remember the last couple blogs where James Pham helped us spread the good word on Ethnotek, the story of how we began and about our mission as a whole? Yeah, he's the man, and now it's his time in the sun!

James' writing, photography and blog Fly Icarus Fly has been featured in MSNBC News, Smarter Travel, Boots N All, Oi and Vietnam Pathfinder. Do yourself a favor and get inspired by his travels and musings here:

About James, from James:

Born in Vietnam, our family emigrated to the US when I was two. Since growing up in Virginia, I’ve worked in Toronto, Phnom Penh, Bangkok and now Ho Chi Minh City.

My background has always revolved around my love of language. I’ve been a translator, proofreader, teacher, educational manager and now writer and photographer.

As an ENTJ “Field Marshal”, I’ve dedicated my insane and sometimes exhausting focus to traveling. Low and slow. Shabby and chic. I love it all.


As I was telling my friend about an upcoming dream trip around the world (and the sizable chunk of change it was going to cost), he looked at me incredulously. “Think of all the gadgets you could buy with that!” True, travel eats up a huge part of my savings, but looking around my home and seeing the hand-knotted rug that brings back memories of hours of friendly negotiations over milk tea in Kathmandu, or the simply woven grass basket from the Okavango Delta in Botswana or even the soap dish I bought outside of the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo after the freshest sushi breakfast ever, I know that all my travel memories are priceless. Gadgets come and go. Souvenirs break. Rugs fray. But memories last a lifetime. Those are the moments when you experience pure giddiness from seeing something that you’ve dreamed of forever, or something so completely unexpected…

Thank you for coming along on my journey. Please have a look around the site at my magazine writing and photography. For more of me in my more unguarded moments, “like” Fly, Icarus, Fly on Facebook or Twitter. You’ll hear all about wardrobe malfunctions, catch photos of the weird and wild that is my everyday life in Saigon and see things that you cannot unsee.

And no matter where you are in the world, may you experience endless Icarus moments of your own!


September 14, 2014 by Jacob Orak

Acaat In Review


Experienced and avid world traveller, photographer and journalist, James Pham, took his Vietnam 5 Acaat Messenger for a test drive and wrote about it for Oi Magazine Vietnam. below is the break out of his review. Enjoy! 

"I really wanted to like Ethnotek’s Acaat Messenger. But inspiring backstory aside, the pragmatist in me needed to know whether the bag was worth the price point and wouldn’t be confused for something Sapa-inspired that I could pick up on Bui Vien. In a word, yes and yes. As a travel writer, at minimum I carry an iPad with keyboard case and a DSLR (sometimes with more than one lens) everywhere I go. On longer trips, a laptop comes along.

The problem with most messengers for me is that the body of the bag is too slim, with little give on the sides, which makes for a very awkward fit considering the bulkiness of the camera. The Acaat Messenger not only has a padded sleeve for a laptop (with an unexpected textile finish and a fuzzy poly-tricot lining), there’s also a second sleeve that fits a tablet.

The generous 20-liter body is large enough to house a camera and a couple of lenses with plenty of room to spare without being unwieldy to carry. There are also four slip pockets for accessories as well as a zippered pocket for documents. If you’re not using the luggage trolley pass-through on the back, zip it up and it becomes another large pocket. The “tech” side of Ethnotek comes through with some geek features, like removable bumper inserts (to snugly fit a 13” laptop) and a stabilizer strap, so you can cinch the bag close to your body, handy for running through airports or when riding a bike, true messenger-style. Small touches are also well thought out, like the extra loop to hang your bag up and off the ground, or the compression straps on the bottom of the bag that double as a place to roll up your jacket or a yoga mat.

Another gripe of mine is narrow straps that bite into your shoulders when the bag is fully loaded. Thankfully, Ethnotek’s bag has a wide padded strap while judicious use of Velcro makes everything easily accessible, including the ability to change out your thread (the textile flap on the front of the bag). While the bag itself is solid (made in Vietnam of 840-denier water-resistant ballistic nylon) and comes with some really nice features, its uniqueness springs from the interchangeable threads. I bought an extra one (more muted and not out of place at business meetings) and love that I can carry a tangible piece of Vietnam with me wherever I travel.

My one reservation with the bag is actually with the handmade textile covers wearing out with use, but at USD 29-39 for a new one, it’s a small price to pay to basically reinvent your bag."


Thanks James! It means a whole lot to us to receive such a shining review from a world traveling tech savvy digital nomad such as yourself. 

Want to learn more about James, see him and dive into his creative works? Us too!!! Stay tuned to our next blog for the reveal.

Survival Gear

This month we made it into print with Oi Magazine Vietnam and we couldn't be more excited!!! This is one of very few times we've been in print and not only is it crazy to see our story in physical form, it's a deeper dive than most of our other reviews! Journalist James Pham discovered us and came to Ethnotek Founder and Head Designer, Jake's studio in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for a quick interview... Which then turned into a four page spread for Oi, a product review and a partnership to do a written piece for the Cham community, complete with one-on-one interviews with the Inra family and partaking in the annual Kate Festival. Yup, there's lots of excitement around this project that we could talk about for ages, but for now, we'll just let you read the Oi article. It's a good one, enjoy!

Survival Gear

Ethnotek’s mission to keep culture alive, one bag at a time

Trekking far off the beaten path amongst the solitude of the hills of Sapa, bag designer Jake Orak found himself in a different world, in more ways than one, far from his suburban upbringing in Minnesota (USA). By that 2007 trip, Jake was already onto his second career, after a stint at industrial design for 3M. “There were extremely smart people there; I was having lunch with thermodynamic experts, mechanical engineers and chemists. But it was too big a company for a budding designer. I wanted something more ‘lifestyle’, a bit more me,” he recalls. He then took on a job as a design intern in Saigon for an international bag company, working his way up to junior designer. “I didn’t know anything about bags,” he confesses. “I thought it was going to be easy. After all, it's just fabric!” But having access to the sample room, where he could just hand over a sketch to be mocked up was exhilarating. “I learned so much, doing 50 things a day, managing whole collections, from sketches on a napkin all the way to freight on board and into retail.”

It was through the eyes of a bag designer that he appreciated the craftsmanship of the Hmong villages he encountered. “Seeing tribes in their natural environment, just existing, was incredible,” says Jake. “Some didn't even use money, just trade. I witnessed thriving communities, people with their hands dyed blue from indigo, wearing their traditional dress… I felt incredibly privileged to experience this and I wanted everyone I knew to know about it, that something like this still exists on earth. I felt a sense of responsibility wash over me.”

Suppressing his first impulse to quit his job and join an NGO somewhere, he thought: “I’m a bag designer. Let’s be proactive and design something!” Jake remembers sitting down after a long trek in Bac Ha and writing in his journal about how inspired he felt, thinking how many other places there were like this in the world with basic human diversity and tradition still intact. “It's gotta be rare and I want to help protect it,” he wrote.

But then, as it often happens, life went on. Jake moved to Los Angeles to become the senior designer for another high-end bag company. However, the idea for creating bags using local fabrics was rekindled when he spotted a shop selling African textiles while cycling in downtown LA. He recognized, though, that the idea of working directly with individuals in remote villages was simply not compatible with the large quantity sourcing required by a big company. “At the end of the day, it was just creating junk that's produced in a factory with no real meaning. It’s a product without a soul,” he says of the mainstream bag industry. “I wanted to create something more meaningful while sustaining myself, a product that does some good in the world, but at the same time be practical. Something that improves people’s lives not just because of social good, but because it’s functional. It had to have a tech side and not just be a hippy dippy slouchy bag.”

Jake started sourcing textiles in 2010 and launched Ethnotek ( in 2011. Trips involve a lot of research, attested to by ethnic textile books and a stack of Lonely Planets in his office. “There’s usually only one tiny blurb on where to get textiles”, he laments. “You can only do so much research. In the end, you just have to parachute in and ask someone who’ll usually first take you to a souvenir shop. It’s only when I explain that I want to meet the family who made this and order from them every three months forever, that they’ll say: ‘Oh! So you want to go to my cousin's house!’”

Jake then spends 2-3 weeks with these families to gain their trust. “It's a business-to-business relationship. It's not a charity,” he says. “These people don’t want handouts. They want you to buy the things they create. They don't want to leave their home to get a job in a factory. They want to stay at home and work from home. That keeps the kids in the village and it passes on the knowledge.” The time spent in the villages also allows Jake to work through a detailed protocol of finding out more about the artisan’s process, everything from whether the dyes used are natural or synthetic, where the cotton comes from, where the dye is disposed and what motifs mean. He also needs to be sure villagers have an export license and are tech savvy, being able to use email, receive wire transfers and understand shipping methods. Respecting fair trade standards also means asking about working hours, where the artisans live and how far they have to commute (in the case of collective weaving centers).

Jake now sources textiles from Vietnam, Indonesia, Ghana, Guatemala and India. A small factory in Vietnam turns these fabrics into “threads”, interchangeable covers for backpacks and messenger bags, and a range of chic travel accessories (think travel wallets and iPad covers). His Vietnamese textiles are embroidered by Red Hmong, Black Hmong and Flower Hmong villages in northern Vietnam and on looms in the Cham communities near Phan Rang. This month, he’s visiting the K’Ho minority tribes outside of Dalat. “That’s the story for all ethnic minorities here in Vietnam. They’re either being pushed out or put on display. Ethnocide faces the biggest threat here because there's no support. It’s really important for us to restore demand, to bring business to these places where the people are trying to get by on agriculture or by conforming. I feel a sense of urgency when I visit the villages,” he says.

His work has seen results, though. He still gets goose bumps when talking about a village in India where Ethnotek started out collaborating with a single family of four, weaving three months out of the year. Ethnotek’s success has now allowed them to engage six looms in two villages weaving 8-10 months out of the year. The goal for every village they work with is to provide year-round sustainable employment. “We pay 50% up front to artisans so they don’t have to fund raw materials and production themselves,” he says of Ethnotek’s humane business model. “We take on a lot of risk to help the artisans and not exploit them in any way. They produce what they want at the pace they’re able to. For example, if you go beyond the Sapa Sunday Market, you’ll see that embroidering fabric is what a lot of Hmong people are doing in their free time ― when it's raining or in between harvests… It’s a passive sourcing model because we're taking what they want to do, not pushing them to do anything. Once they understand my intentions are pure and I'm there to help them spread the story about their culture to a wider audience which translates into more business for them, they get really excited.”

With only two salaried employees (including Jake), Ethnotek has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Just two weeks after launching, REI, a US-based outdoor retail company with more than 130 stores, called to say they wanted to carry Ethnotek products. The Ethnotek “fulfillment center” is no longer Jake’s mom’s basement. And the ETK “tribe” as Jake calls his customers, is growing stronger by the day. “Tribe implies a sense of community around the mission and the product. People feel ownership on a deeper level than just buying a bag and going away. When people send in their photos with them and their bag on social media, I get stoked, super happy. That's instant gratification, seeing someone I don't even know, just loving their bag. In a sense, they become cultural consultants, helping to spread the message. That's extremely rewarding and makes all the struggle worthwhile. This is a personal, emotional business.”

While owning your own business and getting to design and travel for a living is a dream job for almost anyone, in the end, it’s about the survival of these unique, beautiful people spread across three continents. “It’s like the Latin language going extinct, but here, you see things disappearing in front of your eyes. In Cham villages, every house has two looms ― one for the older generation and one for the younger generation to learn. Sadly, I’ve seen a lot of these looms collecting dust and moved out of the house and into the yard. Helping to preserve these cultures by applying it to a product is more sustainable, like buying coffee beans directly from the person that grows it, rather than donating something where someone will take a cut and pass it on to someone else who’ll also take a cut before eventually getting to the person it’s supposed to.”

Much more than a hippy dippy, Kumbaya startup, the story behind Ethnotek is just as compelling as the one of the villages it’s helping to save, the ultimate in “survival” gear.

Raja Pack Review

Tribe member, Matt King, just took his Guatemala 4 Raja Pack on one heck of an adventure to Lombok. Not only did Matt put his Raja through it's paces, he talked about it as well. See his product review below...


Photo: Matt King in Lombok w/ Guatemala 4 Raja Pack


 Based on 1 reviewWrite a review


This is the mother of all packs! I have had it for a while now and it sees me through everything and not once have I had a problem with it. From trips to uni, or the shops, to big weekends away or even big backpacking trips my ETK Raja has served me well.

The laptop compartment near the back protects it beautifully and allows easy access to it without going into the main compartment. The main part of the bag is big enough for just about anything with the roll top meaning it can be expanded further. There is also a divider which is good for keeping documents flat, as well as a small zip pocket for a few items (kindle touch fits perfectly). The side pockets are great for those small items and the one that allows quick access to the main part can be extremely useful!

As well as a great bag for organisation you of course look the part with your thread, which contains yet another handy pocket. Awesome bag made by some awesome people, definitely the best bag I have ever owned!


You rock Matt! Thank you so much for the great product review, it really helps your fellow Tribe members get a feel for just how tough and functional our bags are.

Our Seoul Tribe has soul

Our Tribe in Seoul Korea now has a place to call home for all things Ethnotek.

Drop in and support Vita at: 229-64 YeonNam-dong MaPo-gu, Seoul, S Korea.

Be sure to visit their website here:

Join their Facebook here:


Here's a pic from when Ethnotek Founder & Head Designer, Jake went to visit team Vita.


Photo from left to right: Joon, Joowon, Jae, Jake.

From Jake: " Joowon totally gets it! She has such great taste, sense of style, has really high quality standards and values our socially responsible mission to the core. Jae is smart and detail oriented and Joon is a tech guru. They're the perfect team and our brand is in good hands with them. We're excited for both of our small family businesses to grow together." 

Come help support our Tribe in Korea, these guys are going to do great things!

- Ethnotek

Singapore Tribe Member Pamela Ho On Keeping Culture Alive

Big love to Singapore Tribe member Pamela Ho for the shout-out on her travel blog this week! Check out an excerpt below...

"As a travel writer, I prefer to invest in travel products that go a long way. Also, I’m not a shopper. So when I do buy something, it’s usually because I need it. Or it’s a book. But if I’m prepared to spend a little more, it’s almost always because the product stands for something I believe in.

Like Ethnotek bags.

I found out about these travel bags through my best friend Ning (aka ‘Magic Babe’ Ning). We were planning a trip to Thailand at the time, and she thought it might be cool to check out this socially-responsible line of bags, recently brought in to Singapore by The Bag Creature.

Ning checking out the Raja Packs and Threads

I accompanied her down, of course, and what I found out about Ethnotek really impressed me. The business itself originates from the U.S. but the founders – two young men who are also travellers – have committed to supporting the work of local artisans in remote villages around the world, so that their traditional weaving practices can be kept alive.

These intricate weaving techniques are amazingly tedious and time-consuming. And at the speed fabrics are being mass-manufactured in urban factories these days, traditional artisans are not only losing their jobs, but also their cultural heritage. There is no longer an impetus to pass on the craft to the next generation.

What the Ethnotek founders did was to travel to these remote villages in Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Guatemala etc. and seek out these artisans, and negotiate a fair price for their handiwork. Not only are these weavers paid fairly through direct transactions, their unique culture and traditional practices – as well as their livelihoods – are kept alive by a global stream of demand.
These gorgeous bags aren’t cheap – I admit – but they are good quality, they promote fair trade, and help sustain the livelihood of villagers in indigenous communities.

I don’t normally promote travel products, but I’ve been so pleased with this travel bag and what it stands for that I’ve started following Ethnotek on Facebook and Instagram (@ethnotekbags). I guess it’s the satisfaction of being part of a community of world travellers that believes in fair trade and keeping cultures alive. Or as the founders call us - #etktribe :)

But above all, just as my 42-litre backpack reminded me of how much (or little) I really needed while on the road for 9 months, may your travel bag remind you too – in an unconventional sort of way – of what’s more important in life."

Full Blog Post

Minneapolis Tidbits Spotlights Ethnotek Bags

Tidbits is the essential tool for the style-conscious modern woman. They cover what's chic and locally-owned in their cities, and they only cover what they love. Cheers to Minneapolis Tidbits for the shout-out last week prior to our event at featured retailer Cliche! Read more below...

Excellent Adventurer

International Style Statement...

Your choice of bag each day depends on your outfit, which depends on your mood, which depends on how much you drank the night before. So you need roughly 17 bags to choose from on any given day. 

Save some bucks and grab one great travel bag with interchangable looks, courtesy of the all-new styles from local Ethnotek. Handcrafted by artisans all over the world, the carry-alls are travel gems that come with interchangeable THREADs, AKA a removable front panel, to go with any mood you're in. From stripes to ikat to solids, you'll have your pick.

If only swapping out the bags under your tired eyes was this easy.

Ethnotek Featured in Mpls.St.Paul Magazine

Cheers to Mpls.St.Paul Magazine for the local love/shout-out last week! Check out the article below...

Bags from Far, and Near

By Allison Kaplan

Ethnotek bags stand out from the pack with their colorful, globally inspired woven designs. It's the college in Boulder, Dead Head loving, frizzy hair, festival going you, and the grown up, running a company from a laptop at an indie coffee house and adventure traveling in Costa Rica you, all rolled into one durable backpack. The bags themselves are made out of a sturdy, water-resistant nylon, and then dressed up with interchangeable front panels, called Threads, that are created from textiles handwoven by artisans in villages around the world—Guatemala to Ghana; Indonesia to Vietnam.

The bags caught the eye of REI and launched in REI stores nationwide three years ago (with a thread design exclusive to the recreational retailer). Ethnotek has since been picked up by outdoors stores, bike shops and boutiques around the world. But on Friday, Ethnotek is coming home, for its first Minneapolis trunk show.

That's right: this company on a mission to fuse ethnology and technology and give new purpose to a dying craft in far off places was founded by a couple of guys who went to Eastview High School in Apple Valley. Jake Orak oversees manufacturing and artisans from Vietnam. Josh Linde manages operations from Minneapolis, along with a third partner, Megan Suszynski, a St. Olaf College grad who fell in love with her Ethnotek bag, and parlayed that into a position as sales director. Until last week, the bags were stored and shipped from Orak's mom's basement in Eagan.

Ethnotek just moved into a fulfillment center in the Twin Cities, and decided it was time to connect with the hometown crowd with an event at Cliche, one of the small, independent boutiques that has supported the company from its early days. Ethnotek will debut two new styles at the Cliche trunk show: a smaller, cross-body bag and a wallet—lower priced items aimed at a customer that might not be shopping the REIs of the world. Both styles will be available at the event for purchase and pre-order, a month before they hit other stores. Check out the brand, meet some of the players, and keep your eyes on Ethnotek—there's much more to come.  Friday, May 16, 7 to 10 p.m. 2403 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.

Full Article

May 19, 2014 by Tribe Scribe

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)

Getu See More

Our Tribe sends it!!!

This week's proof of that is a story from our friend and fellow Tribe member Andrew Seymore. We like to think of his last name as being spelled 'SeeMore' because this dude does exactly that. He works hard as a High School teacher in Saigon, Vietnam and with what little free time he has, he dedicates it all to seeing is short people, and I think we all can take a page from his book in how to maximize free time as free people should. 


Andy surveying the ominous with Raja & VaRuna.

Andy is friends with Ethnotek Founder and Design Shaman Jake. When Andy told Jake about the climbing spot in Getu China that opened up a couple years ago, Jake was pumped to get a bag on his back to see how it would hold up on a real deal climbing adventure. Jake prefaces, "these are laptop bags man. They're designed for the urban commuter, but the feature set and materials we use are tough as hell. So who am I to say what the bags can or can not do. Go use it as a crag bag. Let's see what happens. We might learn something along the way." Here we go ya'll!

Mr. SeeMore's kit for the adventure was a Vietnam 5 Raja Pack, Vietnam 4 Cham Thread and a VaRuna Raja Raincover. Are you excited to see what he gets into yet? We are!!


Andy & friends on the approach to the Getu climbing area by foot. Rockin the Vietnam 4 Thread on Mr. Raja. Safe first day of climbing bro!

The approach continues by long-tail boat and we get our first glimpse of the arches.


Ok, let's talk to the dude himself...

Jake [Q]

Hey brother, can you pass on a few words about the area, your experience and how the bag held up?

Andy [A] 

"The verdict: this will remain a tucked-away treat for avid climbers and intrepid travelers for a good while to come."

Pitched as “rugged” and “mysterious” in the guides, Guizhou province has all the adventure you grow to love and dread while traveling in China. Three plane rides and three busses got us from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Getu China. Our reward was $3 a night rooms, $.50 beers and a climbing sanctuary that’s one of a kind.  

Andy getting fresh on the first day after a long journey.

In the fall of 2011, Petzl climbing company “opened up” Getu with a well publicized trip, full of all-stars and world class routes. The magazines followed suit and now it’s on the map. The climbing reflected the area itself: unique, imposing and huge potential for development. 

Vietnam 5 Raja, on quick draw.

Homestay, cheap brews, new friends and family made. High fives to that! Andy's homie Kyle Bene making meaningful connections.

Inside the arch, we discovered what everyone had been talking about. In the only extensive write-up on the Getu area, Dennis Diaz gives a lyrical account of climbing in the arch: “Deep, shadowy scoops in the limestone give the area an uncommon feel and unfamiliarity. Climbing up these lines looks like trying to scale up giant bees’ nests in search of golden nectar.” 

Vietnam 4 Raja Pack, Getu China.

My Ethnotek Raja pack was a perfect companion on the trip. Easy to pack light and stow as a carry-on bag.  It was also large enough to fill up for full days at the crag, easy to secure the load. Very comfortable even on long approaches.

Crag bag after-all.

China has another newly-developed area, Liming, in the Yunnan province. It’s the only rock climbing in eastern Asia that boasts “splitter” red sandstone crack climbing just like you’ll find in the deserts around Moab.  If you get there first, let us know how it goes!"

-Andy Seymour


And that right there is exactly what we're talking about Tribe! A story shared, meaningful connections made and a call to action. Not from us, from your fellow Tribe member. If you get out there yourself - and we know you do - let us know. Share your stories and photos on Instagram (ethnotekbags), Facebook (ethnotek), and/or Twitter (ethnotekbags), or shoot Tribe Leader Megan an email at megan(at)ethnotekbags(dot)com. We'd love to feature you next and show the Tribe the kind of adventures you take your Ethnotek bag on.

From all of us at Ethnotek, thank you. Together we can keep culture alive!

Here is the full Getu experience from the Petzel lens. WARNING: it's a time consuming experience watching, but if you make the time, we promise your life will be better for it. Thank you Petzl, for doing your part in keeping culture alive.

May 08, 2014 by the Rambling Shaman