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Shopping in Markets Is One of the Cultural Highlights of Travel. Here's How You Can Do It Online.

by Miranda Moure Apr 30, 2020

One of the highlights of travel for many is visiting the local market. Whether a locale is known for its unique produce, a rare spice, or a specific craft, traveling to the source to buy that oh-so-coveted item always feels like a truly singular experience. But whether you’re searching for Peru’s prized textiles or West Africa’s best beauty secrets, you may not have to travel at all to get those desirable goods.

Many of the items we assume we’d have to travel around the world for can now be found online. Though you might be worried about authenticity, today many producers of genuine cultural and regional products are also trying a web-based sales strategy, which actually makes the online market less hospitable to dupes and copycats. Now that we have the tools available to bring the world’s heritage right to your doorstep, there’s no reason not to be supporting these cultural legacies even when you can’t go in person. If you’ve never considered purchasing a regional product outside of its habitat, here are a handful to get you started on your search.

1. Mexican huaraches from Cano

Photo: The Cano Shoe/Facebook

The ubiquitous shoe-sandal hybrid, called huaraches, are originally from pre-Colombian Mexico. Although now they’re now popular all over the Americas, this Náhuatl staple is still frequently snagged by tourists from art markets and stalls in central Mexico all the way to the Yucatán. Originally made with a simple leather sole, you’ll find that they are now commonly soled with a variety of materials, a riff that huarache manufacturer Cano takes very seriously.

While maintaining the tradition of hand-woven leathercraft but incorporating a more durable sole, Cano brings you a product that carries the airiness of the traditional Mexican sandal with the durability of a standard oxford. All of their products are handmade in their factory in Mexico where they maintain strict adherence to the three main principles that guide their ethical manufacturing practices: fairness, sustainability, and transparency.

2. West African Batik from Studio 189

Photo: Studio One Eighty Nine/Facebook

As the cult of black girl magic sweeps the globe, people have become increasingly interested in African fashion and particularly that made from traditional African textiles. Batik, a process of creating patterned fabrics with wax, has been utilized in West Africa for hundreds of years. Long sought after by tourists and travelers to the region, these textiles are now making their way into high fashion.

The brainchild of Abrima Erwiah and Rosario Dawson, Studio 189 is one of those rare lines that has earned its cult-like following. Guided by the motto “look good, feel good, and do good,” it adheres to only the highest ethical standards within its entire supply chain. It sources its organic cotton in Burkina Faso, strives to use all-natural dyes like indigo and annatto, and assures that everyone in the entire supply chain is paid a fair wage. Although there’s a wide variety of clothing in the line, its batik might be the most-coveted pieces in the collection.

3. Peruvian Alpaca sweaters from Kuna

Photo: KUNA/Facebook

Long known to modern Peruvians and the Inca people before them, alpaca fleece is the softest, warmest natural fiber in the world. Similar to wool in appearance, this much sought-after material is known as the “fiber of the gods” because of its unique qualities. Alpaca fiber is hollow, resulting in garments that are notoriously warm and lightweight.

The iconic brand Kuna manufactures alpaca fleece clothing and accessories in Peru. It’s a go-to brand among travelers to the area as visitors to the brick and mortar stores are guaranteed to leave with items crafted from genuine alpaca; imitations intended to dupe tourists are prevalent throughout the country. Kuna is also a member of Grupo Inca, a business association that ensures members are operating with integrity regarding its commitments to sustainability and ethics in business.

4. Nigerian Black Soap from Dudu-Osun

Photo: Dudu-Osun Page/Facebook

There are many different types of black soap, including the pitch-black varieties that you can find on shelves in Western stores, but an aficionado will tell you that you must try the real thing. Genuine black soap is actually dark brown, ranges in texture from crumbly to brittle, and according to every Nigerian Auntie ever is the absolute best soap for all different types of skin.

One of the most popular brands in Nigeria, Dudu-Osun, is now available online, so there’s no need to travel to Ibadan to get it, and your purchase helps communities in Nigeria even if you don’t buy it locally. CEO Abiola Ogunrinde is committed to using some of the profits toward such community projects as building schools and libraries and providing health care for those who need it

5. Navajo jewelry from Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise

Long the object of admiration, Navajo arts, crafts, and design has been stolen and copied since the very first colonizers came across the culture. This ongoing dynamic makes it even more important to take the time to source authentic Navajo items should you choose to purchase them.

At the all-indigenous-owned Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise, you can be assured you’re receiving an authentic product even if you’re not buying them in person on the reservation. Though there is a storefront in Arizona that you can visit if you’re planning on being nearby, you can easily shop the selection online. It carries the brand’s signature jewelry, but there’s also myriad other unique items ranging from clothing to footwear to literature.

6. Korean Volcanic Rock Skin Care from Innisfree

Photo: Innisfree/Facebook

Korean skincare is now famous all over the world, and while many have their own personal preferences, maybe the item most treasured and unique to South Korea are those made from black volcanic rock. Harvested from Jeju Island, the rocks are ground and added to a number of luxury skincare products from facial scrubs to facial cleansers.

Thankfully these products are popular enough that you can get them online. Though many different brands utilize this particular ground rock, maybe the most popular is Innisfree. If you don’t know which product to try first, you can’t go wrong with the Pore Clearing Clay Mask. While scrubs can irritate those with sensitive skin, this mask will gently pull out impurities and oil without leaving the skin irritated or inflamed.

7. Morrocan Rugs from Anou

Photo: The Anou/Facebook

If you’ve ever tried to purchase a hand-made rug — or anything — from the souks in Morocco, you’ll know how difficult it can be to shop in peace. From being constantly hounded by shopkeepers to being subject to the hyperinflated prices reserved for tourists, this may be the item on this list that is best left to purchase from the comfort of your own home.

Anou can help you get an authentic Moroccan rug at a reasonable price without being hassled by an overly loquacious salesman. It has many different varieties from different cities, all made by different craftspeople. You’ll also find other textiles here, too, like handwoven fabrics and blankets.

8. Belizean Hot Sauce from Marie Sharp’s

The oddball among Central American countries, Belize is the English-speaking, multi-ethnic home to its most iconic product: Marie Sharp’s hot sauce. Though there are many different kinds, a few of them stand out for their uniqueness — possibly the most coveted flavor is the Grapefruit Pulp Habanero Pepper Sauce. This is the one that travelers to the area are most known to bring home with them.

These pepper sauces were originally made by the actual Marie Sharp beginning back in 1980. She devised her recipes from fruits and peppers that grew on her own farm, and to this day the company maintains this responsibility of using all-natural, local ingredients. You can buy them individually or in a variety pack directly from their site, and for those of you who can’t bear to leave home without it, they have a 1.6 oz size you can tuck in your purse.

9. Japanese Kimono from Market Sakura

Though the word has now been used around the globe to refer to a number of different robe-like garments, an authentic Japanese kimono — or its lightweight cousin, the yukata — is constructed in strict adherence to a very specific code. The type of fabrics, patterns, designs, and accessories that accompany kimono are monitored very strictly.

While inside Japan it is far less common, those looking to buy an authentic kimono online risk being duped with a fake product. The less familiar you are with traditional kimono, the more susceptible you are to being sold a fake. Fortunately, all of the kimono, yukata, haori, and all of the accessories you find at Market Sakura are 100 percent authentic. You can be sure that anything you find on the site is genuine, so feel free to pick out any that strike your fancy.

10. French Green Montmorillonite Clay from Aromatics International

Photo: JPC-PROD/Shutterstock

Originally discovered in the town of Montmorillon, France, this light-green clay was an immediate favorite of French women who swear by it for its supposed benefits to skin. While there are many different preparations, the most prized are those made from extremely finely ground sun-dried clay mixed with spring water to create a toxin-removing facial or decollete mask.

By purchasing montmorillonite clay from Aromatics International, not only are you sure to get one of the most finely ground products on the market but also one that adheres to a high ethical standard. It’ll ensure that the product you receive was harvested in the appropriate region in France, that it is strictly pure, and has been produced only with the most sustainable practices.

11. American Vintage from Knee Deep Vintage

Photo: Knee Deep Vintage/Facebook

While secondhand and thrift stores are popular all over the world, one country is known for having the best vintage clothing: the United States. While the nature of the product makes it difficult to buy online being that items are generally one of a kind, Knee Deep Vintage has been carefully honing its online game since it opened its storefront in 2008.

Because its offerings are curated so beautifully, you don’t have to worry about an item you buy online being damaged. Its clothing and accessories are always in excellent condition, or else they’ll let you know. To see the current selection, check out the stories on its Instagram page: items are always listed with measurements, so you can tell if it will fit. If you see something you like, simply send them a DM to arrange for them to ship it to you. Payments can be made via PayPal.

12. Italian olive oil from Olio Roi

Photo: Olio Roi/Facebook

Maybe second to the hundreds of varieties of wine, Italian olive oil might be the next most popular item that visitors return home with after vacationing in Italy, and with good reason. Italy has been producing some of the world’s best olives for thousands of years, so it only stands to reason that it’s carefully developed the best ways to process them as well.

If you can’t make it to Europe to pick out your own favorite, Olio Roi is an excellent resource to find fine Italian olive oils that can be shipped to your door. Whether you prefer a simple, exquisitely crafted extra virgin olive oil or its herbal-infused cousin, Roi oils are made according to only the most strict traditions, resulting in a truly superior product.

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