5 Travel Trinkets That Give Back

Ruby Tan

Forget the mass-produced souvenirs you see in the street markets. Bring home these ethical mementos from your travels instead.

Friends n Stuff Khmer Newspaper Zipper Purse

1. Friends ‘n’ Stuff  Khmer Newspaper Zipper Purse Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Bangkok, Thailand; Vientiane an Luang Prabang, Laos

These pouches are made of Cambodian newspapers – no two are alike! The social enterprise wing of NGO Friends International carries a smorgasbord of ethically hand-made products, from jewellery and bags, to aprons, to notebooks, cookbooks and more – it’s a cinch buying souvenirs from here. Designs are hip, funky, colourful and inexpensive. Friends ‘n’ Stuff was started to reduce dependence on donors, and all profits are reinvested into social programmes that support marginalised children, youths and families. Most of these products use recycled materials, and are made by vulnerable parents or caregivers of working, begging or scavenging children.

Price: (USD$3.50). 

Xsproject_Billboard - Shopper Tote Bag

2. XSproject Shopper Tote Bag Jakarta, Indonesia

Made from old advertising billboards – this bag is idea for travel as its roomy and waterproof. XSproject buys plastic waste from trashpickers before they reach the landfills, saving tons of non-biodegradable rubbish from being buried in the ground. XSProject pays a higher price for the waste and encourages trashpickers to collect materials from households rather than at their regular toxic landfill haunt. Profits are channelled into trashpicker childrens’ education as well. Saving the Earth from plastic, empowering the underprivileged, and going away with a wicked cool bag that’s made out of an everyday Indonesian item – it’s a no-brainer. You’ll find products that are made of recycled laundry detergent sachets, billboard banners and car seats.

Price:  IDR175,000 [approx. USD13] 


Personalised Love_Vanda Miss Joaquim Brooch.png

3. Personalised Love Vanda Miss Joaquim brooch Singapore

Find beautiful leather accessories like luggage tags, card holders and keychains, lovingly hand-made by Singapore’s special needs youths. Personalised Love uses craftwork to engage the mind and hands of these young people. Besides having a core team of special needs craftsmen, they offer craft workshops for other special needs youths to engage their minds and help train their coordination skills. Creating products with their hands can also be very therapeutic for those with special needs. This orchid brooch makes a great gift as its the national flower of Singapore to your shirt or your bag to bring a little bit of your Singapore memories everywhere.

Price: SGD$25.90 [approx. USD$18.40] 



4. Samdol Doll Dharamsala India

Dharamsala is home to a large community of Tibetans, most of whom lack formal education and are unable to speak Hindi or English. Dolls4Tibet puts them through training for the crafting of traditional handmade Tibetan dolls – a slowly dying trade. Working hours are flexible and the environment is supportive – a woman is not pressured to perfect the skill of creation in a short time. Eventually, the women are empowered with a skill and an income. The social enterprise also uses pure Himalayan sheep wool for many of its products, supporting the local pastoral industry as well.

Price: USD$60.50 

 Gifts and Graces Bell Charm

5. T’boli Bell Charm Manila, Philippines

Working like a dreamcatcher to keep bad vibes away, this traditional bell charm is made by the T’boli, an indigenous tribe living in the highlands of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato. The beadwork was handmade separately by people with special needs. If you’re pressed for time and are looking for a one-stop social enterprise shop, hit up Gift and Graces. The founders started the company to bridge the gap between smaller NGOs – who do not have the resources to run retail operations – and a wider shopping audience. Prices are marked up to help cover operational costs and pay their staff fair wages, but Gifts and Graces itself is a non-profit organisation – profits are channelled back into community development programmes. You’ll find beautiful, handcrafted items ranging from homeware to ornaments, to jewellery and bags – from a good number of different Filipino NGOs, who would otherwise not have access to your tourism dollar!

Price: PHP1,250 [approx. USD$26.30]


Interested in socially conscious living in Asia? Check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.

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