Travel & Cultures

Shopping centres are a hive of activity at this time of year, store shelves adorned with seasonal gifts and fare. While for some Christmas is commercial, for others it inspires a creative spirit to make or uncover a truly unique present for their loved ones.

Strolling modern markets one discovers a surprising amount of pop-up stores, with make-your-own options transforming standard stocking stuffers into personalised ornaments, perfumes, confectionaries and much more. Creative spaces filled with happy crafters beavering away like elves in Santa’s workshop. And a beautiful hand-crafted gift certainly makes an impression but it takes time to produce—a luxury rarely afforded the deadline driven. For busy people seeking a gift of authentic and original craftsmanship, Kantala’s collection of handmade ethical fashion accessories might just be what you’re looking for.

Inspired by a 300-year-old traditional hand-weaving technique, Kantala combines Sri Lankan influences with functionality for a modern lifestyle.

Ethical Elegance aptly describes the brands aspirations, from plant-based materials to supporting local artisans. BE Journal takes you behind the brand with co-founder Nadishan Shanthikumar to learn more…

How did you begin designing consciously-crafted bags?

Both of us believe in creating value through our work that creates a positive impact in our communities and the environment. This belief was influenced by our upbringing and local culture which emphasizes compassion, care and respect towards others. So, our shared vision was to set up an enterprise based on these values with a mission to create a positive social and environmental impact.

While on his travels, Vikum found the moment of inspiration in Egypt when he saw a set of hieroglyphics cleverly incorporated into contemporary goods. He became convinced a product based on a traditional Sri Lankan craft was the business he wanted to create. Upon his return to Sri Lanka, Vikum searched for a traditional Sri Lankan craft that could be applied to a contemporary product which had a global demand. It was while on this search he came across the traditional artisans of Henavala, who were continuing a handwoven craft with a history of over 300 years, dating back to Sri Lanka’s last royal kingdom of Kandy. After Vikum shared his findings with me the two of us set out to learn more about this traditional craft. Soon we came to realise both the craft and the natural fibre material used to weave the mats gave the foundation to the positive social and environmental impact we wanted to create.

After seeking feedback from various people about the different applications of the handwoven material, we realized the material was well suited to make handbags. Hereafter, we set in motion the process of creating the perfect handbag that would champion the handwoven mat. As we brought in the different elements we needed to complete the Kantala handbag, we always stuck to the vision and mission we shared. This helped us to create the consciously-crafted bag each and every Kantala handbag is today.

What are the cultural influences and benefits to local communities?

There are multiple cultural influences at play when it comes to our work. As the core material of every Kantala product is the handwoven natural fibre mat, each product is influenced by the traditional craft which has a history of over 300 years. The weaving techniques used to create various designs have been perfected generation after generation. It is these skills and techniques which make it possible for us to create a variety of woven patterns.
Unfortunately, when we first met the artisans back in December 2012, the craft was in decline due to a lack of economically viable opportunities. We were amazed by the craft and its potential that we made it our mission to secure and revive the craft.

A fair living wage and timely payments have helped create economic benefits for the artisans. This helped to increase the number of artisans engaged with Kantala from 8 in 2013 to 22 by end of 2017. However, one concerning indicator was the average age of the artisans. In 2013 the average age of an artisan was 60, which highlighted the impending demise of the craft due to a new generation not taking up the craft. However, as we continued to promote our artisans to a global audience and reposition the craft as a highly skilled and prestigious sector, younger folks have started to take up the craft. By the end of 2017, the average age of an artisan dropped to 50. Thereby, Kantala has helped to secure a defining element of our traditional crafts and culture while creating a fair and respectable livelihood for rural communities in Sri Lanka.

What elements of nature proved the most versatile in construction and style?

One of the key elements which drew us to the handwoven mats was the natural fibre mat which was used to weave the mats. The fibre, which is extracted from the hana plan (Agave cantala), is a long fine white colour fibre with a mild sheen. The fibre is extremely strong, it’s cousin in Mexico is used to make rope, making it an ideal material for making objects that have to withstand weight. At the same time, its visual qualities give it an aesthetically pleasing texture once dyed and woven.

While this might not be of relevance to its use as a material in our handbags, the hana plant also serves quite a bit of community service as well. Hana plants can be grown as a bio-fence to stop wildlife entering cultivated land. It is a safe and environmentally conscious alternative to electric fences used to ward off wildlife. The plant can grow without watering and fertilizer while the leaves will keep on growing until the plant flowers and dies. All of this make the hana plant a genuinely versatile element of nature in many aspects.

Another element in our bags which play a versatile role is the upcycled coconut shell accessories. The coconut shell, which is discarded or incinerated, is used to make the logo tags and some of the other accessories such as D-rings and shoulder strap sliders used in our bags. Coconut shells are deceivingly tough and once polished using sandpaper and a brush, adds a unique aesthetic element to our products. Engraving the Kantala logo on coconut shell pieces has given a signature touch to our products.

Why is it vital to improve the current methods and materials used?

As an organisation which creates a positive social and environmental impact, our cost base is comparatively greater than most of our competition. In order to scale supply and maintain costs at a manageable level that doesn’t erode our competitiveness and mission, it is important for us to continuously review the processes and materials which are used to create Kantala products.

When you are working with traditional crafts, scalability becomes a key concern because all processed are done using hand tools. If the business fails to scale while maintaining cost competitiveness, the brand will ultimately fail. Therefore, certain low value add processes have to be mechanised using modern technology while labour is redirected to the core high value add activities. This will create higher efficiency, meaning the brand can scale while maintaining cost competitiveness. Also, by redirecting labour to higher value add activities, the artisans can earn more while increasing their output.

Three materials used in Kantala products are sourced from overseas, due to the lack of a viable alternative in Sri Lanka. This incurs added costs and increased lead times, which reduce the efficiency of our operations. Therefore, it is vital for us to engage local sources to improve substitutes to these imported materials, which will reduce the material cost and lead times. This also means we can redirect fund which would have been sent overseas back into our local communities as well.

What are the practical challenges of designing innovative storage solutions for modern lifestyles?

A world of fast changing consumer preferences translates into shorter product lifecycles which becomes hugely challenging when you are producing handcrafted goods. Unlike synthetic materials which can be easily moulded into any form or shape, natural materials are restrictive in their adaptability. However, by designing the interior of the products in such a manner that it gives the user functional flexibility, we manage to overcome most of these issues. We create certain products that are targeted to a very specific lifestyle while other products have the functionality to apply across multiple lifestyles.

Our plan is to carve out a niche position in the market that addresses a selected number of lifestyles which complement the personality of Kantala as a slow fashion brand. Therefore, we concentrate on achieving technical and design proficiency in addressing the storage requirements of these selected lifestyles.

How do you envision the definition and application of bags evolving in the future?

The core functionality of the handbag has remained the same over the decades. However, the purpose it fulfils changes according to the consumer who carries it. For one consumer their handbag is merely a practical necessity while to another it is an aesthetic element. To another customer, it could have emotional connotations. We believe the definition and application of the handbag will remain within this paradigm changing only from the point of view of the customer.

Bag makers who clearly identify their customer group and delivers a product that meets the customer’s practical, aesthetic and emotional expectations will see their products do well.

What is the ideal all-rounder for a travelling professional?

This is actually a question we are addressing at the moment. One of our first and favourite customers recently got in touch asking to develop a bag for her which she can use on her work trips of about one to two nights. We worked closely with her first to identify her needs while traveling on work and how we can provide her a solution.

The modern professional has many electronic devices which need to travel safely. They also like to carry a book to read, a magazine, notepad and pen etc. And then you have all the garments they need. The last thing a traveling professional needs after a long day of meetings is to have to carry multiple bags and spend time checking in and retrieving luggage.

Therefore, we created a simple solution with a comfortable handle for easy carrying, extra padding for safety, and a wide base which allows us to add multiple compartments which can accommodate up to 4 electronic devices and cables while having room for writing material and garments. From the outside it looks like the everyday elegant bag you take to work. But on the inside, it can accommodate quite a lot of things that will keep you organised and on the go for at least 2 nights. This is what we believe will make an ideal all-rounder for a traveling professional.

Explore the full range of vibrant and vegan accessories at Kantalabrands.com

Coffee is a comfort which sustains explorers the world over. Seeds from the unassuming coffee shrub have inspired voyages of harvest and trade since the 10th century. This heritage is embraced by the coffee connoisseurs at Nespresso who have released a limited collection of the world’s rarest single origin arabica’s—sourced from India, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and the Galapagos Islands.

Imbued with tradition, the four coffees in Nespresso’s 2018 Explorations Tasting Box reveal distinctive cultural and landscape qualities.

A story within a box, unfolding like origami to reveal treasures within. Four sleeves of coffee adorned with patterns unique to their origin. A photo album nestled inside, shares the stories of the coffee growers and hints at the complex aromas and flavours of the beans you are about to experience. Two special edition glasses are hidden beneath in a submerged cavity—unveiled only as you explore a little deeper.

Distilled in a drink…the mysteries of nature—a thought to savour as you unwrap this exquisite gift!

The carefully-curated Explorations 2018 box is the result of a challenge set by Nespresso coffee experts who travelled the world to source and select their ‘picks of the year’: a collection of four Limited Edition coffees considered as ‘gems’ due to their rarity, scarcity and extraordinary aromatic profiles. In addition to the four coffees, the box also comes complete with a set of two Nespresso Reveal coffee glasses, designed with Riedel, along with a coffee table book filled with coffee stories and tasting recommendations.

Mitch Monaghan, Nespresso Coffee Ambassador, said of the launch: “All of the coffees in the new Explorations box each hold a rare story that I am excited to share with Australia. Remote lands or unusual conditions can transform a normal coffee plant into a true coffee treasure; I love that each unique taste of the Explorations range comes from somewhere unexpected.”

India Mylemoney

Mylemoney Single Estate sits at a high elevation near the Bababudan Mountain in Chikmagalur, Southern India. According to legend, India’s first coffee was planted there over 300 years ago with seeds smuggled in from Arabia by a pilgrim named Bababuda, after whom the mountain was named.

All ideal factors culminate on this farm: 1200 metres high elevation rich farm biodiversity, two distinct levels of shaded trees, a meticulous processing system with selective picking of ripe cherries and eco-friendly pulping, fermenting, washing and drying under the natural sunlight.

The result is a complex coffee with dry cereal and toasted notes that are reminiscent of bread crust.

Nicaragua Las Marias

1300 metres above sea level, Finca Las Marias was the first Nicaraguan farm to be Rainforest Alliance-certified back in 2003.

Where Nicaraguan coffee is usually processed by the washing method, this single-estate gem is ‘black honey’ processed. This means the mucilage or ‘miel’ (honey) in Spanish – the sticky fruit of the coffee cherry – is left on the seed during drying.

The process enhances the coffee’s ultimate sweetness by highlighting the fruity notes which are coupled with a fine acidity for an overall comforting, balanced and round cup of coffee.

República Dominicana Valle Del Cibao

What’s striking in this medium roasted Espresso is its refreshing green notes of fruits and nuts. Complimented with a touch of acidity and a light body, this is undoubtedly a great coffee to discover.

Prone to hurricanes in the Caribbean, the Valle Del Cibao lies between two mountain chains with one being home to the Caribbean’s highest mountain, Pico Duarte. This giant mass protects the entire region from excessive climate variations, adding a stability that is evidently translated into the coffee beans, making its flavours round and balanced.

These conditions, coupled with the constant rainy season of the Caribbean Islands which yields an almost year-round coffee cropping and harvesting period, result in a refreshing medium-roast coffee with green notes of fruit and nuts.

Galapagos Santa Cruz

The Galapagos Islands are not the tropical hothouse that usually characterise a fine coffee-sourcing region. Instead – with the cold ocean current that runs from Peru, The Cromwell currents that travel from the West Pacific and carry rich nutrients, and the North and South trade that battles the heat of the sun – the Galapagos become a unique hot bed for plant growth.

These specialised conditions create a full-bodied coffee with a cacao-like bitterness, that reveals roasted and sweet biscuit notes.

The 2018 Explorations Tasting Box will be available for a limited time from 15th October 2018 to purchase from Nespresso Boutiques, or order through the Nespresso Club, and online at nespresso.com. RRP $90 for four sleeves of coffee, a set of Nespresso Reveal Glasses and a Limited Edition coffee table book.

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Scotland’s southernmost distillery, Bladnoch, has launched a special Bicentennial Release as a celebration of its rich history and a toast to its new chapter of renaissance.

Offering the perfect balance between provenance and progression, Bladnoch is enjoying an exciting revival in its 200th year, having been bought by Australia’s own David Prior – a successful yoghurt magnate – who bought the distillery in 2015. Becoming the first Australian to invest in Scotland’s whisky industry. Changing fates and fortunes over the years resulted in the distillery switching hands several times, before it fell silent and ceased production. Inspired by its story and charm, Prior and his team have set about turning this important piece of Scotch whisky history into a modern day distilling operation with production recommencing last year.

Made from just two exceptional casks of whisky distilled in 1988, the release is limited to just 200 bottles. Initially matured in Oloroso Sherry, the special malt was finished for the last 18 months in Moscatel casks. Described by Master Distiller, Ian Macmillan, as “Chestnut gold in colour, our bicentennial release has lovely rich sherry and acacia aromas with notes of dark chocolate, sweet oak and citrus with a long and satisfying finish. This is a fantastic whisky to mark this incredible milestone and I’d say it is best enjoyed shared, and savoured, with friends and family.”

Bottled at cask strength 41.2% ABV, the new malt will be available in select international markets for an RRP of $8,800AUD per bottle. The release is presented in a luxurious gold and glass bottle with a heavy gold stopper, designed by David Prior.

Commenting on the Bladnoch journey so far, David Prior said: “In the last three years, we have significantly invested in Bladnoch to revive whisky production, as we strive to give Scotland’s most southerly distillery back its true title as the ‘Queen of the Lowlands’.

“We may be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the distillery, but Bladnoch’s renaissance chapter is only just beginning.”

Crafted using only the purest ingredients – pristine water from the River Bladnoch and Scottish barley – Bladnoch malts are non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. The range includes Samsara, Adela 15 Year Old and Talia 25 Year Old. Bladnoch’s sister expression, Pure Scot, offers a zesty and versatile blended Scotch whisky.

Experience The Taste of Scotland @ bladnoch.com

Travel expert and Lonely Planet APAC Spokesperson, Chris Zeiher reveals the new trend in ‘Reverse Tourism’ between Japan and Australia.

For over 12 months, Lonely Planet’s guidebook to Japan (now in its 15th edition) has dominated the bookselling charts riding high as the #1 selling title in the travel category on ACNielsen Bookscan. But it’s not this title alone selling in unprecedented numbers. Lonely Planet’s Best of Japan 1 currently sits at the #2 selling title on the same chart and Lonely Planet’s Japanese Phrasebook 8 occupies the #4 position. That’s 3 of the bestselling guidebooks in Australia to one destination; Japan.

Having just returned from Japan myself it was evident with the volume of Aussie and Kiwi accents I encountered during the trip that this nation is the current “it child” for both Australian and New Zealand travellers.   

And it’s easy to see why. Incredibly efficient and affordable public transport, a favourable timezone (hooray, no jetlag), a competitive exchange rate and increased competition on direct flight options all adds to this destinations desirability. And the number of visitors has skyrocketed. Australian arrivals into Japan have increased by nearly 1000% in the last two decades where now close to half a million Australians are travelling annually.

Sadly however, the reverse is true of the Japanese traveller venturing to Australia. In the late 1990’s, arrival numbers were strong with in excess of 800,000 Japanese visiting Australia. Fast-forward by two decades and these numbers have halved. It’s not the Australian travel offering that’s contributing to this decline but simple economics. It’s more expensive for Japanese travellers to visit Australia than 2 decades ago and less expensive for Aussies heading to Japan – delivering better value for one and a decrease for the other.

As a destination Japan offers a vast and varied amount of experiences for the traveller. Japan’s cities are huge; the metropolis’ of Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama appear to be competing to out-bling one another. But it’s venturing further afield where Japan’s heart is quietly revealed. The forever scarred cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a must-visit for any traveller to Japan. Hiroshima’s Peace Park will bring any hardened traveller to tears; it’s a profound experience horribly unique to this now bustling and vibrant city.

But it’s not just the cities that are attracting the attention of the traveller. Japan’s ski fields have been a favourite haunt for travellers for years with Hokkaido’s ski resorts boasting some of the best powder in the world. Additionally, Japan’s cultural activities are driving travellers to the likes of Kyoto where the eagled-eyed try to spot a Geisha on her way to work in the city’s old town of Gion. The Japanese Alps town of Takayama is also drawing crowds with its abundance of Sake breweries, local produce markets and beautifully preserved old district.

Then there’s the food. Japan is a fantastic food adventure where travellers can choose from local favourites such as okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) and teppanyaki, to mouth-watering yakitori, soba noodle dishes, wasabi-salt encrusted tempura and a mind-boggling array of sushi and sashimi—you won’t leave Japan hungry.

Whatever the reason for visiting, Japan is proving to be one of the world’s best travel experiences and worthy of making it onto anyone’s ultimate travelist.

Explore Japan and the World @ LonelyPlanet.com

Loretta Napoleoni is an expert on terrorist financing and money laundering, and advises several governments and international organizations on counter-terrorism. Her new book: North Korea The Country We Love to Hate exposes a nuclear chess game of leverage and politics in which, the threat of war between power players is fuelled by economic needs and ego.

People love to take sides, good vs evil—this predilection creates an addiction to war. Loretta suggests a third option…PEACE between North and South Korea.

Deft strategies and an appetite for power have kept us at a stalemate but could this creative solution nullify the nuclear threat?

Loretta Napoleoni asks: ‘Are we Addicted to War?’

In 2017, North Korea attempted to prove to it is a nuclear power and has the capability to threaten the United Stated. The US response has been mixed: while at times Donald Trump has used a strong belligerent language against Kim Jong-un, including threatening military intervention, the White House adopted a peaceful approach, it mobilised the international community to impose economic sanctions. So far this policy has not being effective for several reasons, among which the peculiarity of the North Korean regime and the impossibility to force Pyongyang to end its nuclear programme.

To many, North Korea is an aberration, the antithesis of democracy: a totalitarian regime, ruled by a dictatorial dynasty that successfully reinvented feudalism. Nicknamed the hermit state, it is so secretive that separating fact from fiction is often problematic. Indeed, the mystery that surrounds it has proven advantageous to depict it as the ultimate dystopian society, an evil benchmark against which the spreading of democracy always appears positive. Even Iraq or Libya are perceived as better regimes than North Korea!

North Korea is the enemy we all love to hate.

Yet, for all the comfort this statement may bring, it fails to comprehensively describe the Pyongyang regime or to address the fundamental question: how do we deal with a nuclear North Korea?

From a more accurate analysis it emerges that the DPRK is a unique and resilient nation. It has survived the implosion of the Soviet Union and the modernization of Chinese communism – its northern neighbours and historical sponsors – without even the slightest attempt to open up to the West. Because of that, it does not fit neatly into any political classifications even if at the same time, it displays features of several of them.

The failure to fully understand North Korea has played in the hands of its regime and in particular of its nuclear programme. Donald Trump is the fourth president of the United States who has unsuccessfully promised to end it. Bill Clinton signed a deal in which North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear development in exchange for oil and a civilian reactor, but neither side fulfilled its commitments and Pyongyang outsmarted Washington. Why? Clinton convinced Congress to ratify the agreement because he was sure the regime would fall before the delivery of the reactor.

George W. Bush initially refused bilateral negotiations but then changed his mind and joined the Six-Party Talks. Barack Obama first appeared conciliatory then retreated into a stonewalling policy called ‘strategic patience’. Finally, during his first year at the White House, Donald Trump led the UN Security Council to pass several rounds of additional sanctions against North Korea, which made Kim Jong-un more determined to show off North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

The young dictator is using the same strategy employed by his father. In the second half of the 1990s, Kim Jong-il used the nuclear program as a bargaining chip to get food, oil and other forms of assistance from the West. He succeeded in stringing along the US administration by playing the deterrence game. In the ultimate analysis, deterrence is a confidence game; to be effective, you need to convince people that, if they step over the line, you really will do the things you say you would do. Washington has to believe that Pyongyang will do to Tokyo or Seoul what it has said it would and Pyongyang has to believe that Washington will use the bomb.

How do we get out of this stalemate? Thinking outside the box. It is clear that becoming a nuclear power has been a game changer for Pyongyang, the regime has finally relaxed and is showing a conciliatory attitude towards South Korea, a nation with whom the DPRK is technically still at war. This confirms that nations seek nuclear capability not to use it but as the best form of détente against old and new foes, as proven by Pakistan, India, Israel and very soon Iran, countries that like North Korea have ignored the non-proliferation ban.

Against this scenario a revision of the international agreements is badly needed. By encouraging a peace treaty between North and South Korea, the United States and China could use such a diplomatic victory as a launching pad for a new nuclear protocol, one that allows proliferation, but only within very well defined parameters, and whose primary aim would be to empower the international community to contain and control nuclear weapons worldwide, including, of course, the US and China.

About the Book: In North Korea, The Country We Love to Hate, political analyst and bestselling author Loretta Napoleni challenges our Western preconceptions of North Korea. Napoleoni situates North Korea in context – historical and ideological – and answers questions central to our global future. This informative book is an account of a country central to world politics and yet little understood. Further, it presents insider narratives of its people, whose self-image is radically different to the image we have in the West. Released in Australia by UWA Publishing.

About the Author: Loretta Napoleoni is the best-selling author of Maonomics, Rogue Economics, Terror Incorporated and Insurgent Iraq. She is an expert on terrorist financing and money laundering, and advises several governments and international organisations on counter terrorism and money laundering. She is a regular media commentator for CNN, Sky News and the BBC, and writes for El Paris, The Guardian and Le Monde. Visit her @ lorettanapoleoni.net