Its been a busy year

I can’t believe  it has been so long since my last post! This year has just flown along.

Never fear though – We are still here!

It’s been a very busy year for me personally so the social profile of Karakorum has been keeping a rather low profile! However that doesn’t mean that Karakorum hasn’t been hard at work.

We have been making contacts and looking into new suppliers and engrossed in future planning. Sustainability and ethics at the top of our agenda as usual, which always adds an extra dimension to sourcing products. I’m planning a trip or two to Central Asia next year to talk to producers about some crafts that I have had my eye on since we cycled through there 4 years ago.

I’ve been very happily following and taking inspiration some of the amazing shops across the pond in the United States that stock ethical goods such as KAZI Goods and Ten Thousand Villages

While we continue to work with with Swazi Candles and Gone Rural we are hoping to add a few more lines in the near future. See below for a sneak peak of what will be in stock soon.

We will also be at a few Christmas markets so don’t forget to check our events page to see if we will be in a town near you soon. The Victorian market in Gloucester (which is a grand event) is the biggest one so look out for me swishing around in some Victorian finery and selling for social good. Let’s hope the this Xmas brings some fine if wintry weather.

recycled metal mirror

ethical rag rug

Gone Rural – These baskets are all heart!

‘Preserving the past, understanding the present and pioneering the future’.
– Jenny Thorne

The addition of Gone Rural to my product line was a little bit of a no-brainer. I came across them when I was looking into Swazi candles because they are also founding members of SWIFT (Swaziland Fair Trade) and I was immediately blown away by how beautiful and well made they were.

Add to that they a) have an amazing ethos b) use sustainable materials and c) and have done many wonderful things for the nearby communities in Swaziland.

5 great reasons to choose to work with them without even having to look hard. As I said – a no-brainer.

Founded with a vision to empower women in some of the most remote areas of Swaziland, Gone Rural has evolved into a Handcraft company and design brand that uses creativity to ignite change on a community level. Gone Rural today is a role model in social enterprise in world-class handcraft, while also addressing wider community needs by running health and education programs for their artisans and communities.

Gone Rural’s roots began in a thatched mud hut in the 1970s. Here their founder Jenny Thorne, ran a small craft shop called Tishweshwe, selling handmade clothes, accessories and anti-apartheid literature. As the business grew, sprouting two other retail outlets across Swaziland, Jenny was inspired to focus on hand-woven products and ventured into the mountains, where the Lutindzi grass grows wild and abundant. Her vision? To give Swazi women independence: a voice. And so, in 1992, Gone Rural was born.

Fast forward twenty years and Gone Rural is now working with over 770 artisans in 53 communities across the country and selling those women’s products to retailers around the world.

Gone Rural is constantly reinventing the traditional weaving techniques and revolutionising the world-view of African handcraft. Their products range from functional homeware to gallery pieces, with natural and recycled materials and
innovative contemporary designs. Inspired by the lutindzi grass (a highly sustainable yet strong material) of the mountains of Swaziland and the female leaders of rural communities, Gone Rural transforms the indigenous art of weaving into high-quality products that are showcased and loved all over the world.

To go back to how they help the communities around them – they have a program called BoMake, (meaning ‘women’ or ‘mothers’ in Siswati). Gone Rural established it to bring health clinics, clean water and a school bursary fee program, among other social needs, to impact to more than 20,000 community members. In addition to all this, they have empowerment programs that educate the women on their basic human rights, micro-enterprise and business literacy. They also have social workshops on gender-based violence and victim support. All of this in a country where up until 2006  women had a legal status of minors, and a vast majority (as much as two-thirds of the female population) face abuse.

What an absolutely inspirational company with beautiful and innovative handicrafts!

Shop now.


Swazi candles – the first step

Swazi candles
Swazi candles – Light from Africa







I first came across Swazi candles as a kid going on summer holidays with my parents and I have been in love with them ever since. I have since been back to their factory in Swaziland whenever we were passing (normally on the way to or from Mozambique) and have had their candles sitting in my bathroom in the UK for years garnering many interested comments.

Therefore I am excited to have the chance to work with Swazi candles as my first product! As a founding member of SWIFT (Swaziland Fair Trade Association) they are the perfect company for me to start with.

Their history:

Swazi Candles was started in an old cowshed of a former dairy in 1982 by 2 South African art graduates. In those days The Kingdom of Swaziland was a haven of peace amidst troubled countries and proved to be an excellent place for setting up a Cottage Craft industry. The mountainous countryside was beautiful, the Swazi people were warm and friendly and proved to be ideal partners for our industry.

The little workshop soon gained a reputation for producing unique candles and started attracting visitors. The vibrancy of the workshop, uniqueness of the product and the skill of the artisans resulted in Swazi Candles becoming one of Swaziland’s premier tourist attractions. By the mid nineties the humble cowshed workshop had burgeoned into an industry that employed over 200 local people and exported candles all over the world.

The past few years they have continued to develop new product ranges including 100% organic soya candles, wax glow lamps and handmade balms and soaps.
Their range of products have grown into an astonishing array of patterns, shapes and designs and a visit to their factory shop in the Malkerns is an absolute must is you are in the area!

Swazi candles
The art of Millifiore





Proud Members of Swaziland Fair Trade Organization:

Swazi Candles is also a founding member of SWIFT (Swaziland Fair Trade Association) and are passionate about providing quality of life in the workplace for their employees.

The Art of Millifiore:

The beautifully intricate designs of Swazi Candles use the ancient technique known as “millifiore”. Millefiore, or, “thousand flowers”, first surfaced in Alexandria, but was perfected in the great glass making cities of Murano and Venice. Glass beads and other objects created there were of such beauty and finesse that they became much sought-after, valuable artefacts.

On the Africa coast, these Venetian trade beads were used as a form of currency to barter for gold and ivory. So popular did they prove that the North and West Africans came to make their own variation. Thus was born the African trade bead, rare and sought after by collectors to this day.

The art of millefiore continues in Swazi Candles. But instead of glass, the gifted candle makers of Swaziland use a special hard wax to create their colourful designs. The hard wax veneer forms the outer shell of the candle, which hardly melts when the candle is lit. Hence the rich, romantic glow of the illuminated exterior as the candle burns deeper into the container lighting up the casing. The shells of the larger can still be used even after the original inside wax is gone when refitted with a votive or tea candle.

I hope that you enjoy Swazi candles as much as I do!

To see which Swazi candles we currently have available check out the shop now.

Have a look below to see the amazing craftsmanship that goes into each animal candle:


How it all began…

I grew up in South Africa – a beautiful country with so much to offer. Except to me (at that time) it didn’t offer what I really wanted – the ability to travel freely and easily around the world.

Cape Point – South Africa

So at the tender age of 20 I upped sticks and moved to the UK with the intention of working for a year or two to save money and then back pack around the world. The best laid plans of mice and (wo)men…

Eventually I did get to travel though. Somewhat differently and later then I expected but indeed did I travel! In 2013 I set out on bicycle with my partner with the vague plan of heading East and seeing how far we got.

Cycling in Albania

Almost 2 years and over 20,000 km’s later we arrived at our final destination – Thailand, (you can read about our trip here). It had been a life changing experience and one that I would never change for the world! Now that we were back however I began to wonder ‘What next?’.

It seemed obvious that I should combine my true loves.

  1. Beautiful crafts – Growing up in South Africa I have always been surrounded by amazing hand made goods from wire and bead work to woodcarving and painting. It helped that my mother was an artist too!
  2. Travel – I would always gravitate to the markets on our travels, and much to my partners disgust I would normally walk away with some small (mostly!) memento from our travels. Although he drew the line at getting a Shyrdak from Kyrgyzstan – I’m not sure how we would have traveled with a large felt rug on our bicycles!
Kyrgyz Shyrdak
The beautiful Shyrdaks from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

But it’s not all about me. Sure, I want to make a living, but more importantly I want to make a living that isn’t at the expense of others or the environment. We live in a world of fast and cheap fashion with people thinking very little about how or where things are made or what happens to it when they are done with it.  And trying to change peoples outlook on this is another one of my passions.

So that is how I decided what I wanted to do next. Use my experiences from the markets of carpet sellers in Iran, and the scarf weavers in Laos and the bustling hawkers on the street corners of South Africa and bring all the amazing crafts from around the world together in one space. A space defined by it’s ethics as much as its beauty. And so Karakorum was born.

Laos weaver
Scarf weaver in Laos

I hope you join me on my travels along the still existing and still mysterious trade routes of the world.

Unusual persian carpet
I did however get a carpet in Iran!