Ethnotek® is a company based out of Minnesota that deals with villages all over the world through direct trade. Direct trade is similar to fair trade in that the company seeks to give a fair price to producers in developing countries. However, the key difference is that with direct trade, there is an incentive to produce quality products. Direct trade is able to also offer larger premiums since there are fewer barriers between the community and the consumer.

In Ethnotek’s case, they have created partnerships with artisans to bring their craft to a global marketplace and preserve their culture and craft through awareness campaigns and storytelling. The increasing demand serves to help provide a sustainable income, which allows them to stay in their craft, train the next generation, and often expand their operations to multiple households.

Ethnotek’s bags all incorporate textiles in several ways. Each bag is lined with woven fabric from Cham village (Vietnam) and a panel (the Thread) is attached to the outside of the bag with velcro. Additionally the Acaat shoulder strap also is lined with woven fabric. Some Threads are simply panels of fabric; others have a zippered pouch. Threads are also sold separately, which is useful if any improvements are made (for instance, this fall the Wayu Thread is being designed to have an additional outside pouch – great for school supplies), or if new designs are created, or simply if you tire of your old look.

For this review, we paired up to see how a small backpack (the Wayu) and a messenger bag (the Acaat) would fit into our lives.

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Wayu Backpack

She says: Since Ethnotek bags all contain laptop pouches, I selected the Wayu to be my go-to-work bag. I live with this bag five days a week, walking a half-mile to and from the busstop. Most days it holds my laptop, a notepad and some papers, a couple of pens and my lunch or a snack. On the days that I have to hit the gym, I’ve been able to fit gym shoes, a water bottle and clothing into the bag – but then my lunch won’t fit. I occasionally throw my DSLR camera in the bag if I want to stop and take photos on the way home – but I’m painfully aware that there’s really not enough padding to keep anything unbroken in a fall. I appreciate that the bag’s stiff material enables it to keep its shape when sitting up, so that it supports its own weight rather than falling inward onto my belongings. The bag’s exterior creates a wonderful smooth and streamlined look, but I occasionally wish there were an outside webbed pocket to store a small water bottle.

He says: The bag doesn’t have a waist belt – it’s short enough that it doesn’t extend down to the waist. However, since I’m tall and have a long torso, I find that the bag is too short to really be comfortable for me. In particular, even though the shoulder straps are adjustable and very comfortable, the short height of the bag makes “getting into the straps” a bit of a struggle, especially when I am wearing my motorcycle jacket.

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  • Perfect size for school or work – a laptop, a few books and lunch
  • Convenient inside pockets
  • Grab handle


  • Padding not adequate for hard falls
  • Laptop sleeve not removable, and does not cover/secure the entire laptop
  • No outside webbing pocket for water bottle or small miscellanea, and the Thread pocket isn’t very useful for that purpose


Acaat Messenger Bag

He says: I have plenty of backpacks, but my messenger bag was showing its age. As a regular motorcycle commuter, the messenger bag form is perfect for my needs, so I opted to try out the Acaat messenger bag. Ethnotek put a lot of thought and good design work into the bag. I liked the buckle webbing strap on the bottom (for jacket, towel or yoga mat), and the top-left corner web loop for hanging the bag on a rack. I also like all the organizational pockets. But they did not put on a grab handle. I found many times that I wanted a handle to grab to maneuver the bag in and out of tight places (like exiting a car). The main compartment was just enough to carry my gear comfortably around town all day. If I added in my laptop, space got tighter because the laptop created more rigidity which made it more difficult for everything to fit. I walk and ride my motorcycle around in all conditions, and found my gear remained dry in the constant PNW drizzle. I don’t think I really pushed the water-resistant aspect of the bag but for the time I was out it kept my stuff dry. Once the Thread gets wet, it does take more time to dry than the synthetic fiber.

She says: I do prefer backpacks but this messenger bag is surprisingly comfortable. Even though the Acaat is roughly the same size as the Wayu, the mouth of the bag opens wider, which lets more light in and makes it easier to see (and find) everything. Having that wider opening (as well as the added 2 inches of depth) makes the bag seem more spacious.

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  • Strong well placed shoulder strap
  • Lots of options for organization
  • Nice step up from the smaller Wayu in terms of size
  • The additional cross strap for stability is a great feature


  • No carry handle
  • No outside “flap” pocket on the Thread
  • Thread has a tendency to experience additional wear and tear due to coming in contact with the arm of the wearer


Both bags are extremely well made. All of the stitching looks clean and strong. The zippers are strong and double stitched where appropriate. The materials and construction are top notch and assure that this bag will last a long time. The Threads also looks well made and should last – however on the Acaat part of the weaving has begun to fray (probably due to its frequent use on motorcycle) and additional wear will eventually be a part of the bag’s story.

All bags contain have an option to store a laptop which is padded and lined with fuzzy poly-tricot lining to protect from scratches. In the case of the Wayu and Acaat, these storage compartments are both not removable, which may limit the usefulness of the bag for someone who doesn’t own a laptop. Our two bags also came with an external pen holder – kind of cute, and possibly useful while traveling on vacation, but not really something we use from day to day.

The Seattle weather usually doesn’t produce anything stronger than a drizzle. We opted not to get the water-proof coverings for our bags, and haven’t noticed that we needed them.

The Threads shown on the website are all beautiful, and it’s interesting to hear stories of the culture and the history behind making them. We would both love to see more bag options in the future, or perhaps Thread options for bags purchased elsewhere.

Manufacturer: Ethnotek

Date available: Available now

Manufacturer’s Website: Ethnotek Bags

Price: $119 to $229

Actual Weight: 2 lbs (Messenger bag); 1 lb 15 oz (Backpack)

Dimensions (messenger bag): Main bag: 17″ x 12.5″ x 7″ / Laptop compartment: 15.7″ x 10.7″ x 1.5″ to fit 13-15″ laptops

Dimensions (backpack): 17″ x 12.75″ x 5″ (fits 15″ laptops)

Materials: Main material: Water-resistant 840-denier ballistic nylon

Colors available: Black, with assorted Threads (Additional Threads are $29 to $39)

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