Shopping for hand-made products in the Turks and Caicos

I already shared the story of finding the cutest Coconut Body Shop I’ve ever seen but today I’ll let you in on another secret. Remember this name, Orion Creations. If you like creative products, it is another locally-based shop that you absolutely must visit when you are in the Turks and Caicos.

Entrance to the new retail location
Curbside view of the new Orion Creations retail location, Providenciales

A young lady who doesn’t look a day over 18 is the heart and soul of the operation. Her retail outlet launched in June 2015 and it sells hand-made greetings cards, paintings and jewelry that you won’t find anywhere else. The cards, her first business venture, paved the way for this gem of a shop that also sells clothing and work of other local designers, including dolls. But think outside the box here. Don’t expect to find any Barbies or Kens there.

I put on a necklace and posed with the owner
I put on a necklace and posed with the owner

The owner, Melissa Willcocks, is a multi-talented Canadian who moved to Providenciales in 2006. When she first arrived, she rented a room with her friend and began job hunting. Somewhere along the way, the roomies started planning for a grand tour of Europe but their landlord died and the house they were living in went on the market  – at a great price. Instead of following their powerful wanderlust urges, they decided to use their vacation savings to buy the.

A part of the shop display in Orion Creations
A part of the shop display in Orion Creations

Melissa didn’t know it at the time but that was her first major business decision. After that, destiny called, and she answered. That very house became the base of her growing cottage industry. An avid scrap booker, she used the same concept to make her first greeting cards. Her friends and family liked them so much they encouraged her to try to sell them commercially.

The hand-made greeting cards that are the backbone of the business
The hand-made greeting cards that are the backbone of the business

She made contact with the purchasing team at Beaches, a large all-inclusive hotel on the island and was elated when they took 100 on commission. Soon, she expanded into painting and designing unique artwork that highlight the beautiful aspects of the islands. Sand is a signature element in many of her designs.

Some of the paintings, earrings and other trinkets available at Orion Creations
Some of the paintings, earrings and other trinkets available at Orion Creations

The rest, as they say, is history. Go visit her shop! It is near the Jamaican Patty Place in Le Petit Place; walking distance from Ocean Club West, which is where I stayed.


You can visit her website or reach her at [email protected]

The Coconut Body Shop; a rare shopping find

Some of my best shopping finds are uncovered in the places I least expect them to be. So imagine my delight when I stumbled across The Coconut Body Shop in Caicos Café Plaza in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. It is across the street from Ocean Club West and this little store is undeniably a special place.

The Coconut Body Shop in Turks and Caicos
The Coconut Body Shop in Turks and Caicos

Run by a tall and lanky Belgian expat named Kristof, the store sells products made from virgin coconut oil and other aloe-based skin care lines that are chemical-free. Baby safe and reef safe*, these therapeutic essential blends and hair and body oils are good for multiple skin conditions, massages, diaper rashes and more.

The extensive product line available at The Coconut Body Shop
The extensive product line available at The Coconut Body Shop

And he makes them himself! I was so impressed, I asked him how.

Kristof said he picks the mature coconuts before they are ready to germinate (put out shoots), then he allows them to dry. The remaining water is collected and set aside before the meat is grated into shreds. The next step involves re-adding some of the water to the shredded meat and the combined mixture is placed in a cheesecloth that is then run through a manual wine press.

Mature Coconuts
Mature Coconuts

Depending on the humidity outdoors and other existing weather conditions, he allows the mixture to ferment anywhere between 24 to 48 hours before he begins his gravity-led filtration process that is repeated seven times.

I stood there slack-jawed as he patiently explained the process to me. My poor brain struggled to connect all the dots.

Small bottling and labelling work station
Small bottling and labelling work station

“Wait a minute. You told me you were an ocean transportation and shipping country manager in your former life, right?” I asked, slightly perplexed.

He smiled and nodded, indicating a modest yes.

“Okay, so please explain again how you learned to do this.” I persisted, not quite believing he had no prior experience. Because by all appearances, he had successfully managed to radically change careers in the seven years since he’d moved to the island.

“Through rigorous research and by a process of trial and error,” he good-naturedly responded.

Kristof, the store owner showing the coconut husk and the raw oil.
Kristof, the store owner

Kristof produces the raw oil every two to three weeks and combines products daily. As a result, he splits his time between production and sales. So, do not be surprised if you don’t find him at the store after one o’clock in the afternoon.

The courteous expat also told me his wife was an aesthetician and she was able to help him gauge the caliber of the final product. They got it right! I’ve been using his Cold Press Virgin Coconut Oil for Hair and Body since I returned home and it is working wonders on my skin. I also love the fact that it has no overpowering fragrance and it absorbs quickly. If you’re ever there, try it. Your pores will love you!


*Reef safe means that if you’ve used the products and go diving or snorkeling, they won’t cause bleaching of the reef as products with a chemical base would do.

December 2015 UPDATE: On a return trip to Provo in December, I found out that Kristof had to close his retail outlet but he still manufactures his product and sells it wholesale. You can visit their Facebook page to learn more: Click here.

Canvas goods infused with family traditions and values on Man-O-War Cay

What began as a small bag and purse-making operation in a modest seafarer’s home more than sixty years ago, is now ‘Albury’s Sail Shop’; a notable landmark and viable business on Man-O-War Cay. Travelers who enjoy visiting places with character or appreciate owning original products that are not mass produced need to add this shopping find to your things-to-do list, if they are ever in the Out Islands of the Bahamas.

Albury's Sail Shop, Man-O-War Cay
Albury’s Sail Shop, Man-O-War Cay

Miss Annie, the warm and affable matriarch who runs the family-owned business, has an endearing “Come Home to Mama” personality that envelopes you as soon as you enter the store. A third-generation seamstress, she invokes feelings of happy gatherings around the dinner table and triggers an unexplainable desire to run around giving random bear hugs to every third or fourth person you meet.

Miss Annie at her sewing machine
A smiling Miss Annie at her sewing machine

Albury’s Sail shop uses sturdy canvas – material that is integral to the production of boat sails – to make colorful hats, bags and other products that are one-of-a kind. The shop’s extensive line is impressive in its own right but even more so given its history. Miss Annie’s ancestors started the cottage industry by making small draw-string bags from leftover scraps of canvas.

A sampling of the various styles and patterns available at Albury's Sail Shop
A sampling of the various styles and patterns available at Albury’s Sail Shop

The best part is, the shop’s open floor plan allows you to stand inside, lean against a wall outside, or perch beneath a jalousie-style window and watch the production process unfold. I was pleasantly surprised that the items are all reasonably priced in spite of the labor-intensive process.

The machine Miss Annie uses was owned by her grandmother before her. Like a trusted horse that knows every foothold of a cliff because it has gone that way before, three antique but well-oiled and functional sewing machines lead the seamstresses through the ropes. The only difference was rather than the clicking sound generated by trotting hoofs, the room was filled with staccato bursts akin to whirring hums.

Ladies sewing canvas bags in Alburys Sail Shop
Two other ladies sewing canvas bags in Alburys Sail Shop

I encourage you to stand still for a few minutes and watch the ladies work. Then I implore you to  let the gentle island breezes lift you up and transport you back to a simpler time.

Editor’s Notes:

There is no way for me to verify this but I’ve read that celebrities like Robert Redford, Perry Como, Kenny Rogers, Andy Garcia, Kenny Chesney, Derek Jeeter, Beyonce, Jay Z and Leonardo DiCaprio have all crossed Miss Annie’s threshold. You should visit with her too.

I stayed at the Abaco Beach Resort when I was in The Abacos.

Don’t buy those designer knockoffs in China!

Have you been weighing the pros and cons of buying designer knockoffs during your next trip to China? It’s a popular tourist thing to do and you can get many label lookalikes there but here’s my humble suggestion – don’t do it.

First, haggling with vendors who don’t speak your language fluently is a highly advanced skill, not an effortless art. Also, when everything is said and done, the effort and time invested to own that fake “7 For All Mankind” jeans, “Louis Vitton” handbag or “Rolex” watch just really isn’t worth it.

The items may look good from afar but are far from good in reality. Besides, nine times out of 10, you aren’t really fooling anybody!

'Bvlgari' and 'Emporio Armani' watches
‘Bvlgari’ and ‘Emporio Armani’ watches

When I visited China, I decided to see what their thriving knockoff industry was all about. But I didn’t do my research at Han City, Qipu Lu, Hongqiao New World Pearl market or any of the numerous other venues you often read or hear about. I made an unscheduled stop in Beijing that you will never see on an official map or tour itinerary.

Some group members and I visited one of those shops that was clandestinely located down several steps, around a few corners and set behind a green tarpaulin entrance tucked far, far away. If you asked me to identify the place 30 minutes after I left it, I wouldn’t have been able to find it on my own.  It was a highly mobile operation run by a well-oiled relay system.

Busy street in China
Busy street in China

This is how it worked.  Our bus driver made a call before approaching the drop-off location. The tour guide then walked us to a point where we were met by a liaison who led us to the designated establishment. Immediately afterwards, said liaison disappeared. I can’t verify this but I got the hair-on-the-back-of-my neck feeling there were ‘lookouts” in the operation network as well.

Someone I kept in touch with had problems with some impromptu watch purchases almost right away. The first sign of trouble was the constant need to replace batteries because the knockoffs stopped working regularly. Eventually, rust and corrosion set in.

I also know someone else who bought handbags for herself and a work colleague and the linings began stripping in no time. So why bother?

Chinese jade earrings bought at a jade factory
Authentic Chinese jade earrings bought at a jade factory

There are several great shopping options in China and truthfully, the indigenous finds are far more unique and memorable. You can look out for:

– silk products like scarfs, pyjamas or ties

– jade jewelry

– great teas and tea pots

– calligraphy and scroll paintings

Traditional Chinese lettering
Traditional Chinese lettering

I recommend getting creative with your shopping list when you travel. Why spend money on items you can get at home?

Genuine designer watches in your local Macy's (retail store chain)
Genuine designer watches in your local Macy’s (retail store chain)

What do you think? Have you come across any truly unique shopping items on any of your trips? Please share!