Beautiful Fabrics from Around the World!


Local fabrics are a way to both engage in the past and the present of a place new to you. These 10 textiles are rich in color and history; seek them out when you're on the road.

The textile: Endek

Where to find it: Bali

Once only worn by high-caste families, Endek (a variation of ikat) is now more widely

available, but is still produced on hand looms from dyed cotton, rayon, or silk—and it’s still most often worn as formal or celebratory clothing to, say, weddings and state events. Look for woven (not printed) cloth, which indicates that it was hand-made on a loom. Prices can vary significantly depending on the intricacy of the design, with more complex patterns often being four times the cost of simple ones. You can find the fabric at markets and retail/wholesale stores, including Balitex, near Denpasar. Wear it as a sarong, style it into a turban, or simply wear as a shawl in the summer.

The textile: Kente Where to find it: Ghana

Kente cloth has been woven by the Asante and Ewe people of Ghana for about 400 years, most commonly from a mix of cotton and silk. The colors on each piece of cloth have specific meanings: For example, green indicates plants and growth, while blue represents peace and harmony. The colors and patterns (more than 300 have been documented) together become their own messages, such as “You must practice patience in everything that you do,” or “Something that has not happened before.” Kente is often found at markets in Accra and elsewhere, and has been used by designers (both in Africa and beyond) in jackets, shirts, dresses, pants, or bags. Solange Knowles and model Chanel Iman have been spotted wearing the fabric cut into modern styles.

The textile: Yuzen silk Where to find it: Japan

The Yuzen method of painting on silk is defined by its technique: To create the textile, rice paste must be used, and the fabric must be painted by hand. Traditionally, each step of the process is done by an expert in that craft, so it’s not inexpensive—in fact, if you want to find a piece of Yuzen, be sure to look for an artisan who specializes in this technique; knockoffs are legion. It's typically reserved for kimonos—the T-shaped silk robe that is always fastened left-to-right and secured with a belt or sash called an Obi. Today, kimonos are worn both formally and informally, with versions created by Western designers Ann Demeulemeester, Donna Karan, and The Row.

The textile: Kitenge Where to find it: Kenya and East Africa

This vibrant cotton fabric is often referred to as a "communicating textile": It’s a significant part of the visual culture in East Africa and there are thousands of designs, with new ones created for national holidays and other events. The fabric is inexpensive and can be used in a number of ways—as a sarong, dresses, a baby carrier, and anything else you can think of. You can find it in market stalls in major cities in Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania, and you’ll find an even greater diversity in larger cities' fabric-specific markets. Ask around to find a good seamstress and you can both pick out your fabric and have a bespoke dress made—a popular option for fashion-savvy visitors to the region.

The textile: Mapuche cloth

Where to find it: Chile and Argentina

Textiles were so revered by the Mapuche, the indigenous people of southern and central Chile and southwestern Argentina, that if a young woman was known to be a good weaver, the dowry from her husband was expected to be commensurately higher. Women are the only weavers, and the knowledge to create the cloth was passed down from mother to daughter. The textiles were originally woven from alpaca and llama hair, and today are commonly made from sheep’s wool or a mixture of the three; the fabric is therefore warm and durable, most often seen in ponchos, blankets, and belts. It is still worn by the rural Mapuche people and not easy to find outside the Andes, but can sometimes be found for sale at markets. The best place to buy is via one of the several nonprofit organizations like Fundacion Chul-Chul, which works directly with the Mapuche weavers and ensures the continuation of the craft.