Kuna & Embera people of Panama August 01 2014


Colourfully clothed Kuna people can be spotted everywhere in Panama city but most Kuna people live on the San Blas Islands, located on the Northern coast of Panama. Some also live in Colombia. The traditional outfit from the Kuna people contains beautiful and time consuming techniques.

Attached to the front and back of a blouse is the traditional mola, a colourful panel, made from different layers of fabric of which shapes and prints are cut out using the “reverse application” technique. The prints are inspired by the body paint Kuna people used to apply to their bodies before this tradition changed due to the influence of Spanish missionaries during colonisation.

Part of the traditional outfit is a dark blue cotton skirt with a colourful, almost African style print, which can also contain flower patterns. The Kuna smuk is made of this fabric. This smuk is shorter than the traditional size smuk because the Kuna ladies where the skirt until their knees. I have purchased the fabric in Panama city, a shop where I found many Kuna ladies buying fabric for the skirts and for their red and yellow headscarf. 

From enkel to just below the knee Kuna ladies wear a string with beads wrapped around their legs which form beautiful partners. The beads are worn pretty tight and also say to reduce the growth of the leg muscle. 



Embera people live in Eastern Panama and cross the border into the Western part of Colombia.

The Embera ladies explained that every month has a specific fabric print, the ladies have to buy this ‘fabric of the month’ for themselves and for their daughters and use it as a skirt.  They don’t have to wear the same fabric the whole month, but have to own at least one version of this print. They also mentioned that the heavier the print, the more important the lady is in the community.

Traditionally the fabrics are made in the village but now the fabrics are imported from overseas by the local markets. The 3 Embera skirts I brought back are purchased in the community and have been worn by Embera ladies.
Embera ladies bodies are covered in patterns made with a type of paint sourced from local trees which last for several months. The top they only wear for visitors.

Men, traditionally wear a string around their hips on which a long fabric is placed on the front reaching lower than the knee. Influenced by the outside world, some men and boys now combine it with shorts.

Middle East March 16 2014


The famous head scarfs that we used to call "Palestine scarfs" are used as head cover all over the Middle-East in different colours and prints. When travelling by bike from Amman to Aqaba in Jordan I saw them used mostly in the area of the beautiful ancient town of Petra. Also when strolling around in Ramallah and Hebron in Palestine the scarf is a common sight, especially for older men.

Unfortunately it continues to be one of the most tensed regions in the world, but it is definitely a beautiful and friendly place for travel. 

China January 13 2014

 55, is the official number of recognised minority groups in China, but there are many more. Living in Hong Kong has given me the opportunity to visit many provinces and regions in China where these group still maintain their local customs, in the way they dress, cook, the language they use and the rituals they perform. All though the dominant Han-Chinese often look down on these minority groups, it seems that the Chinese government does recognise the importance of these groups, if only for great tourist destinations. The members of these groups are also excluded from the one-child policy, which results in more lively mountain villages where traditionally only the children and elderly remain, whilst the young men and woman are working in other parts of China.  

The fabric from the China smûk is made from the traditional fabric used for the famous Chinese dresses with the high up collar. This Chinese smûk is half the size of the original smûk due to the high price of the silk fabric.

Japan January 13 2014

 After having lived in Japan for almost a year in 2006 I still smile when I hear Japanese; I have great memories of this wonderful country with their great mix of advanced technology, fashion and architecture and at the same time all traditions which still have a place in society. The fabric that I took from Japan during a short visit from hong Kong in 2013 is used for the dresses made for the geisha's and is extremely soft and comfortable. 

Staphorst, Netherlands October 26 2013

In only a few places in the Netherlands traditional clothing is still worn by a small group of mostly older woman. Staphorst is one of these towns where you can find woman and somethimes girls wearing heavy dark coloured skirts with a colourful top over the chest. The top usually has a flower print with a colourful lace almost as a necklace.

In all Dutch traditional clothing the colours of the outfits are different when in mourning, as is also the case in Staphorst. There are different degrees of mourning when a parent has past a way or a distant relative. The rules about how long to wear the mourning colours are strict, with black and white patterns in the case of heave mourning and blue, green and purple when in light mourning. Red is only used when not in mourning and as more close relatives pass away when older, it’s rare to see older woman not in mourning colours.

About the lace smûk

Colourful lace is used on the top of the work skirt as well as on the flower patterned top of the Staphorst traditional clothing. The lace of this smûk is original lace from one of the two still remaining traditional clothing shops in Staphorst. The colour blue of this smûk is inspired by the so-called work-skirt, worn when working in and around the house. 

About “milk and blood” smûk

Milk and blood (melk en bloed) is a traditional fabric with red flowers on a cream coloured base. The fabric was used for pillows and bedding in Staphorst, not to sleep on, but just for show when visitors would come to the house. According to the shop owner in Staphorst, the fabric is not being made anymore and is therefore a true classic (and therefore also a bit pricy).

About “stipwerk”

As headwear, depending on the occasion, the Staphorst ladies wear a little flat coif with “stipwerk”; a painting technique whereby a nail is used to place little circles of paint, forming flowers on black silk-like fabric. The technique is part of the Dutch cultural heritage. Smûk has some of this handmade stipwerk for a custom made smûk, please contact smûk for more information.

Hong Kong October 26 2013

With smûk being based in Hong Kong, a Hong Kong style smûk had to be designed! We know the bright coloured fabric, usually green and red with big pink and green flowers as Hong Kong style, but it is actually a pattern from farmer villages in South China. This smûk will be the first with two fabrics sewed together to balance the flower extravaganza. This gives a special effect when wearing the smûk with both sides asking for attention.

Thai silk from Singapore September 14 2013

Four or five times a year I hop over to Singapore from Hong Kong. When moving out to Asia for the second time I briefly thought I would actually be living in Sinagpore for a couple of years but I am happy to say that Hong kong became my (second) home. I do like taking a little break from meetings when I am there and walk around in Kampong Glam. Trendy Scandinavian shops compete here with the traditional Middle Eastern restaurants, carpet shops and fabric outlets. Having a couple of hours to spare on my last trip I brought back some Thai silk from one of the fabric shops in the narrow streets around Arab street and Haji lane. Maybe not so suitable as a festival smûk but great to bright up that winter jacket or autumn blazer.

ilovenoord special edition September 14 2013

The smûk's originate from proud, remote regions with distinct culture, language and dress sense. Regions where locals feel so connected with their valley, village or mountain-range that they never leave or always return. Amsterdam North, all the way at the other side of the waterway and at the, previously wrong side of the central station, is for some still as remote as taking the train to Utrecht. It is one of those few city districts that has managed to transform itself from a no-go-area a few years ago, to the place-to-be that even The New York Times is talking about. The early adapters of Amsterdam North now proudly compete over the year they moved to North, or even better it is if you grew up there, as if its one of the remote travel destinations the smûk originate from. 

How well does the smûk fit with this city district! We therefore made a 'smûk special editon' for the people behind Amsterdam North's own online magazine, with a big online and offline presence and community. With a ridiculous amount of festivals, lots of open, chilly space and pick-nick events in the park, smûk hopes that the 'ilovenoord special edition' will keep all those proud Northerners warm and comfortable this autumn and winter.

For more information about Amsterdam North and ilovenoord visit or for the English version.

Pamir mountains (Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan) August 29 2013

How these Pamiri people love their colours! Its everywhere, in their colourful headscarfs, teapots, mattrasses and all over the traditional yurt tent. Pamiris are a proud and traditional ethnic group in the mountains of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan with their own languages, culture and religious tradition. The pamiri men can be recognised by their high black and white hat made from felt. The woman wear colourful outfits with a square scarf around their head mostly with a bright coloured flower pattern.

The Pamiri smûks are made from the same fabric the woman use to make their headscarfs. Luckily the fabric is very light and therefore less trouble bringing it on my bike along the Pamir highway.

Sumatra, Indonesia May 16 2013

I bought my first smûk from Medan, the capital of the North Sumatra province. Whilst looking out for orangutan's in the jungle our guide showed me the many ways of wearing the local sarong. After cycling from Banda Aceh down to Medan I had met so many people wearing and using the beautifully coloured scarf that I was hooked. I never travel without since.....

The fabric for the Indonesian smûk comes from a fabric market in Medan where the locals buy ready made sarongs or fabric to make there own.

India May 16 2013

Colourful India, an easy place to find beatiful fabric for the smûk. For pleasure and for work, with a suitcase full of fabric I have come back from places such as Bangalore and Chennai in the south, Mumbai in the west, Hyderabad in the middle, Calcutta in the east and up north to Delhi. Most remarkable was the state Sikkim all the way in the north, locked between Nepal and Bhutan. 

The Indian smûk is made from the fabric used to make the traditional Indian sari. It is silky and very soft. 

Burma / Myanmar May 16 2013

Burmese ladies and men wear a long cloth sewed in a circle reaching from waste till ankle, called a Longyi. Even-though Burma shares the tradition of wearing the Longyi with India and Sri Lanka amongst other Asian nations, the Burmese ladies in particular look very elegant, tall and sophisticated in the narrow fitting long skirts. 

Both men and woman are creative with the way they wear or use their Longyi. Men, often fold the fabric double between their legs when working in the field. Woman lift the fabric until under their arms when washing their hair at the local water pump or in the sea. Burmese also use similar fabric to protect their head when carrying water in the Bangladeshi silver pots or on with one end of their Longyi on their shoulder to carry heavy material on.The Longyi in Myanmar comes in a wide variety of colours and patterns with the men usually wearing checkered or horizontally striped fabrics and the ladies anything from one colour to flowers or leaves as pattern.

Burmese ladies and kids, and sometimes men, wear Thanaka on their faces, a paste made from ground bark. It is believed to be cooling and protect agains sunburn. Usually a round circle is made on both cheeks but fishermen, working in the heavy sun, are sometimes seen to protect their whole face and arms with the paste.

The country is a great mixture of minority groups (of whom some live in very harsh conditions) with local traditions of face tattoo (Chin people) and neck rings (Kayan people). After visiting so many places in Asia, Burma is still my favourite destination. I travelled their in April 2011 when the Burmese government just started its reforms but with all sanctions still in place. I went back in July 2013 to buy more fabrics and enjoy the great hospitality of the Burmese people.

North Korea May 12 2013

I visited North Korea on the first of May, when everyone was dressed up for labour day. Ladies wore wide bright coloured dresses, with mostly flower patterns. Other then the national dress man and woman wear a lot of uniforms or the so-called mao-suit. Kids are mostly seen in 'camaraderie' outfits; dark blue shirt and trousers with a red hacker chief around their neck. 

Unfortunately the guides informed me that they where not allowed to take me to a fabric shop. I am still trying to find fabric that resembles these colours and patterns, so that I can create a Smûk inspired by the national dress of North Korea.......

Bhutan April 15 2013

The small Himalaya nation of Bhutan is probably the only country with a national dress code for its citizens.  Man wear a Gho, a knee-lengt robe secured with a belt at hip level accompanied by knee-high black socks and black shoes. Woman wear a Kira, a robe touching the ankles and hold up by a silver brooch on each shoulder. Depending on the occasion or weather they wear a silk jacket, the Toego over the Kira. The wide end of the sleeves of both the undershirt of the men and the Toego for the woman are usually white, light blue or a contrasting colour to the Gho or Kira. Men seem to go for almost more colorful patterns than woman, which woman compensated by carrying their little ones in bright yellow, pink and orange scarfs.

I visited Bhutan in April of 2013 and brought back some amazing fabrics. Even-though most of the fabric I found is actually made in India, the patterns and colours are hard to find outside of Bhutan. Many of the fabrics I bought I saw back transformed in a Gho or Kira whilst I discovered Thimphu, the capital. Since Bhutan requests a hefty tourist tax for all its visitors I will probably not be able to go back anytime soon. The Bhutan smûk's are therefore definitely a limited edition!