Those of us who have been bitten by the wanderlust bug are all too familiar with the yearning to travel to far off places. With that itch to explore foreign landscapes, learn new traditions, and soak up all that a new locale has to offer.
While the memory of our travels can sustain us until our next trip, bringing a piece of our journey home with us in the form of a treasure or trinket will serve as a tangible reminder. There is such diverse artistic and cultural heritage in the world, and there are skilled artisans from many communities who have been passing down their trades for generations.
From the stunning textiles of the Jat people of India to the Shibori dyed fabrics in Japan, or the woven baskets by women in Ghana, any traveler can amass quite the enviable and eclectic collection of wares. Unfortunately, we don’t all have the opportunity to travel as much as we’d like and we may not have the time or ability to scour markets off the beaten path. And yet, those of us with nomadic yearnings still want to connect with other cultures and bring the sense of worldly travel into our homes.
Lou and Rachel, the duo behind online retailer The Silk Road, enable consumers to buy ethically sourced, fair trade, unique and truly artisanal products for their homes. Rachel mentions, “We love to share our travels with our followers via Instagram with the idea that when we return home they too can feel like they own a part of the story, and they can purchase a piece from us that they feel connected to.”
They have been passionate about traveling and collecting items for their homes for many years, and it was only until relatively recently that they decided to begin collecting items on their journey to share with everyone else. Growing up together in the tropics of Northern Queensland Australia, the travel seed was planted first with Rachel, who, at the age of 11, spent a year backpacking through Asia, Europe and North Africa with her family, and then with Lou, who as a young adult, left her comfort zone and embarked upon her own backpacking trip abroad. Over the years the seed has been nurtured, blooming widely and shaping the path both their lives have taken, ultimately helping them reconnect as friends and share this passion together. In addition to caring for their young children, Rachel is a nurse and Lou is months away from graduating university also as a nurse, so they live quite busy lives, “But traveling has always and will always be a very big element in our family lives; a priority if you will… Our style of traveling is to learn and absorb as much as we can about the country we are in,” said Rachel and Lou.
Since forming The Silk Road, the collections found on their website are based on their travels. They don’t set out on trips with specific collections in mind, what you see curated on their site is a result of what they are inspired to collect along their journeys. We caught up with Rachel and Lou to learn more about their passion and The Silk Road.
S: How do you generally plan your trips?
TSL: Generally, we travel to where we feel a personal and collective family calling to explore. Be it a culture we are curious about, the availability in which we are able to get lost off the beaten path and connect with the real culture of the country. Also the presence of traditional artisan crafts is a major factor. For example, Lou traveled to Nepal over the Christmas/New Year period earlier this year, before the devastating earthquake. In Nepal the use of traditional handmade artisan craft is still a very pivotal element of everyday trade and life. Particularly within the Kathmandu Valley region, pottery, metalwork, woodwork are habitually crafted everyday publicly. You can get lost in the labyrinth of little laneways, filled with incense smoke, floral and rice offerings to the gods, and use the rhythmic sound of brass tappings with hand held hammers as your guide. Environmental beauty and contrast is also another draw card when dreaming of the next destination.
We tend to source the things we are passionate about and love, which is not necessarily always what others may be currently coveting. The Silk Road has never been about one particular genre or style. We travel where we are personally attracted to and we find beauty along the way. We were (and still are) kilim crazy for a while. My travels to Turkey and Iran allowed us to fulfill that love. At the moment I can’t get enough of the art of shibori, so Lou’s upcoming travels to Japan couldn’t be better timed!
S: Are the markets you visit on the beaten path, or do you find yourself in truly local markets or connecting with indigenous artisans who the average traveler might not otherwise find?
TSL: We prefer to purchase directly from the artists themselves, or as close to as possible (their family, their community). For example, we have an incredible textile supplier in Gujarat near the Pakistani border who owns a small shop. Although he is not making the textiles himself, we know firsthand that the Jat, Rabari and Meghwal women bring their crafts specifically to him over the many others in town because he pays them fair prices and allows their skills to continue.
S: Do either of you feel more connected to a specific place geographically?
TSL: Rachel: It has my heart, it always will. My first visit to India came through my husband’s family who has a strong family history there. My father in law was born and raised near Darjeeling. But over the years my husband and I have been returning to India together and now with our two-year-old daughter in tow it has become very much a part of our lives in our own way. We have forged our own connection to India and it’s a place we will continue returning to time and time again.
Lou: Asia as a whole has always called me. Having made a number of solo trips, and with my husband and daughter, I find it difficult to go on any overseas travels without stopping into a new country in my favorite vast continent. The melting pot of culture, smells, sights, sounds, and geographical wonders are what keep my coming back. From the Himalayan peaks of Nepal, the scuba diving in Borneo, the street food of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, to the old world charm of Hoi An, Vietnam. I cannot wait to return back to Japan at the end of the year, this time to see the mountains powdered with snow.
S: Similarly, are either of you drawn more so to a specific type of trinket, textile, or craft than others? For example, I can’t get enough of Indonesian Ikats – I’d hang ikat textile all over my house if I could.
TSL: Rachel: I’m drawn to color. Textiles do feature heavily in my home, but it’s absolutely not matched and a stylist would probably have a nightmare if they walked in. I have Iranian kilims paired with pink Indian Sari’s hanging from the ceiling, camel blankets from Gujurat on the wall paired with wooden statues from Burkina Faso, Ethiopian bowls and crosses paired with Afghani Choli’s that are draped in Ghanian beads. It probably doesn’t make any sense to a lot of our friends, but I dress our home to make us happy and the memories of finding each and every single piece in a dusty market is what I love about it!
Lou: I’m definitely a lover of textiles. Cushions, rugs, scarves, blankets, any textile handmade, and I will be pretty much done for. Various patterns and textures is a draw card for me also. Like Rach, I love color, mostly I am draw to earthy and ocean palettes… and shells, I hoard them! My daughter has inherited this trait.
S: What is your favorite piece?
Rachel: A set of eight old brass bangles from the Mursi tribe of Ethiopia. I absolutely treasure them and they would be the only thing I would grab if my house was on fire.
Lou: I feel like I love everything! Each piece reminds me of the time we spent with the people and the land of each country and are all equally important to us. One of my favorites would be the collection of hand woven baskets we picked up on a recent trip to Vanuatu in the South Pacific. This country was the first I ever travelled to and last year I returned to marry my husband on a tiny island. We collected many mementos from this trip, but the woven hanging basket we sourced from a beautiful local woman selling at a tiny bamboo stall on her property was particularly special. It took her 3 days to weave this exquisite piece from pandanus leaf. Our children played awhile, while we sat together and chatted. Buying direct from the hands of the artisan, empowering those to continue traditional craft whilst supporting their families, these are the kind of grassroots exchanges that we value most at The Silk Road.
S: Do you ever sell at markets or are you exclusively online?
TSR: We are exclusively online, as both of us are located in different states of Australia, which is the beauty of the e-commerce, we can together run our business along with our family and travel commitments. We have featured a selection of our products in pop-up markets in Sydney, with our dear and fellow travel obsessed friend, Kaspia, of Kaspia’s Caravan.
To check out the collection currently available visit, thesilkroadshop.bigcartel.com
By Stephanie McLean Villano // blogging at: Mykindcloset.com