Going global

On the spring/summer runways, it’s common to see designers weaving in touches of globe-trotting glamour. Nicole Miller, Etro and Anna Sui all soaked up a world’s worth of influences for their 2009 lines, with pieces full of Indian embroidery, South American woven leather and brightly colored batik prints.

You can see those looks coming into the stores now, in casual street wear and chic accessories. But for an unfiltered take on the multicultural trend, you might want to look beyond the interpretations, beautiful as they are, and go straight to the source for accessories that add a down-to-earth appeal that looks organic and effortless.

Making the hunt simple are a growing number of companies that are cultivating relationships with artisans all over the world to bring local products to well-curated websites and catalogs. Not only are prices lower than those of pieces re-created to look like the real thing, but sales also help support crafters and their communities.

Tribal Societe, launched in March by Nicole Basabe and Alma Sloan, sells handmade accessories from South America, Southeast Asia and Africa, and the founders, who met in business school at New York University, seek out pieces that have a fashion-forward quality. Avid travelers, they would often return to Manhattan from their adventures wearing desirable pieces, and “we realized that there was a lot of substantial product out there, but no proper channels,” Basabe says. The Tribal Societe website ( stylishly merchandises products and lists each piece with its country of origin.

Numerous websites, including and, offer a line of shoes called soleRebels, woven sandals that can add an ethnic detail to a simple sundress or basic shorts and a T-shirt. Earthy and extremely lightweight for summer packing, the shoes are also eco-friendly (soles are made from recycled rubber tires) and help provide employment for the villagers of Zenabwork, Ethiopia, who make each pair by hand.


Cost Plus World Market ( is also a great source for pieces imported from around the world. There you’ll find colorful scarves from India and woven rattan tote bags from the Philippines that seem to make sense every summer.

These colorful and earthy accessories mix right in with high-end or contemporary items, and though they work right now, they can be styled for any season. All come with a deeper back story, and each piece, despite the low price, has a label with real cachet: “original.”