When I’m at home, I usually spend quite some time on choosing what to buy and where to buy it, taking into account the material, production process and place and impact on the environment. But I realized when I’m on vacation I just love buying souvenirs and I’m way less mindful about the sustainability of the gifts I buy. This time I made the effort to buy more responsibly because I wanted to make sure that the things I bought would actually benefit local people. Here you find the result: a short guide to ethical and mostly sustainable souvenirs in Sri Lanka plus some general tips for buying more responsible on vacation!
The slogan of Selyn is ‘Craft to empower’ because this brand is empowering women from rural communities by providing them with work that they can do either from home or close to home so they can simultaneously keep on caring for their children. They produce mostly beautiful textile products that are dyed in an environmentally friendly way. Additionally, the organisation wants to make sure that the craft of handloom, a traditional weaving technique, is preserved.
Fairtrade with this brand is guaranteed since they are part of the world fair trade organization. If you want to see it for yourself, you can even join in on the Selyn Fair Trade Experience starting in Kurunegala where you can see the whole process starting from the dyeing to visiting a village where local women are working on the products.
The shop we visited in Kandy is eye candy itself, the whole store is filled with the most vibrant colours, each product is unique and they have a really large assortment. Perfect to find the right gift for everyone! They also have stores in Colombo, Kurunegala, Negombo and Dambulla.
Barefoot products are equally beautiful and colourful and the shops are likewise a pleasure for the eye. Barefoot products are designed in Sri Lanka and also made mostly by women at home or by local artists and craftsmen. They say little about the environmental impact but they do claim to be staying close to nature, although it’s not completely clear what they mean with that. We ran into this shop by accident in Fort Colombo, but they also have stores in the city of Colombo and Galle Fort.
Rice & Curry
In coffee café called Kat’s coffee in Unawatuna, I found some nice and sustainable souvenirs by the brand Rice and Curry. On the label, it says the products are handmade by women in Sri Lanka for fair wages and the environment is kept in mind. Most of the products they sell are made from recycled food bags in which for example rice was stored. All of the bags and purses have different colours and prints so it was really hard for me to choose only one. Luckily the café serves some great Western-style coffees to drink while you ponder over your decision.
Sri Lanka is famous for its Ceylon tea (the old name of Sri Lanka is Ceylon). However, conditions at many tea plantations are not great and mostly the poorest people from India are working there under bad circumstances. T-sips is fair trade tea company that supports those communities by donating 5% of all their money made to projects that involve children living on tea plantations, so with every tea you buy, you will contribute to this initiative. On top of that they sell very good quality of tea in different price ranges and in the store in Ella you are free to try some flavors before you buy.
Some general tips
It’s always hard to trace the origin of a product but I did give it the benefit of the doubt when the shop explicitly claimed to be a fair and/or sustainable brand. So it’s good to check the story of a brand or shop as well as looking for any kind of certifying label such as the world fair trade organization label. Something else to pay attention to is if you can see the product being made right in front of you in a locally owned shop. This way, for example, I decided to buy with a man who is running a restaurant in Sigiriya but was also making wooden craftwork in a little shop next to it. This way I knew at least that all the money would be going to him. This is only a brief start to buying more responsible and I certainly have to learn a lot. But I hope it inspires you to be more aware of the type of souvenirs you buy, and, if you have any tips or experiences, please let me know in the comments below!