OckPopTok Lao Textile Design - keeping it alive for the next generation

 
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Village Weaver Projects

Village Weaver Projects are a series of initiatives that create economic opportunities for artisans in rural locations. We help develop ranges of handicrafts that combine craftmanship and tradition with artistic creativity and market knowledge. Our team of weavers, dyers, designers and tailors transfer their skills to aid artisans make a better living from handicrafts. Currently this work takes place in 11 provinces. Combining a passion for these deep-rooted cultures and the handmade traditions with our business saavy we are able to create thriving village enterprises. In most cases we work with a government or NGO partner.

 

Our partners

UNoDC or E.U. micro-projects or departments within government such as DTI (Department of Trade & Industry), or LWU (Lao Women’s Union), who help co-ordinate training programmes and study tours. Recently our team was hired to work with the LNTA (Lao National Tourism Adminstration) to complete a series of training programmes that will help them achieve their target goals of poverty reduction through sustainable tourism.

The benefits: 

  1. The majority of textile artisans are women for whom textile production is only one aspect of their daily life and income. Supporting the businesses of women has been found to have significant benefits to their families thus reducing poverty more effectively.
  2. There are limited income generation opportunities in rural areas, therefore the strengthening of textile production businesses provides rural people with the opportunity to choose to stay in their community to improve their income rather than being forced to leave and reducing the amount of money that stays in the village.
  3. Textile production is a ‘value added’ product that provides a much better financial return than selling the raw fibre commodities. Keeping this value adding within the villages strengthens their industry and income.
  4. Textile production in Laos has strong cultural significance. Much of the technical and esoteric knowledge is passed from generation to generation within the village and often has a distinct character from group to group. This means that there is a strong geographical link to preserving the cultural integrity of Lao textiles.

Ethnicity: Oma. Language Group: Sino-Tibetan

Province: Phongsaly Project start date: May 2002

The Oma are one of Laos' smallest ethnic groups, with only a few villages in Phongsaly province. Cotton growers, indigo dyers and exquisite embroiderers result in their traditional clothing being both colourful and unique. The remote locations of their villages make trade difficult, but since early 2002 when the Lao Women’s Union invited Ock Pop Tok to support the purchasing of their handicrafts we have maintained a creative and financial input into the production of their handicrafts.

Headscarves and jackets that are still made and worn on a daily basis by the Oma can be found in the gallery. One woman, Amee, travelled to Luang Prabang on a few occasions to work on product designs that she in turn has taught to her fellow compatriots. Have a look for bags and purses that show off their incredible needlework. 

 Ethnicity: Tai Dam. Language Group: Tai Kadai

Province: Phongsaly Project start date: June 2009

UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes) invited Ock Pop Tok to co-develop handicrafts in Ban Chabue a village in eastern Phongsaly Province. Part of their mission is to eradicate opium production in Laos. After a survey it was found that handicraft production could provide a greater source of income for many villages.

Increasing cotton production in the village is one area we support the village but our team has been there numerous times and members of the village have made the 3 day journey to Luang Prabang to work alongside the Ock Pop Tok weavers and dyers re-learning forgotten techniques and learning new skills.

Hats, cushion covers, scarves and skirts are just a few of the items made in Ban Chabue….

Ethnicity: Khmu, Lanten, Akha. Language Group: Mon-Khmer, Mien-Yao, Sino-Tibetan

Province: Luang Namtha Project start date: 2004

Veo’s brother, Dr. Phouvieng, is a doctor based in Luang Namtha. Working in the field, he realised that there were mutual opportunities for the remote communities and his sister’s enterprise, Ock Pop Tok. Dr. Phouvieng starting buying a variety of handicrafts; tapestry cotton skirts, jungle vine bags and bamboo paper, and sending them to us. In turn we sent back comments and requests, could the bags be bigger, the paper wider and so on.

Jungle Vine: a non-timber forest product (NTFP) is an eco friendly product, its grows wild in the fields' fallow year and although the process to make yarn is laborious the finished product is an example of great resourcefulness.

Look for the jungle vine bags in our shops.

Ethnicity: Katu. Language Group: Mon-Khmer

Province: Salavan Project start date: Jan 2010

The Katu, skilled weavers and cotton growers needed some help re-introducing natural yarns and dyes back into the production of their textiles. As with many communities that have little access to secure markets, the incentive to work with costly materials is low, and weavers turn to cheaper and easier options and start using synthetic materials. Many of our projects start by re-introducing natural fibres and dyes, we buy the product and thus demonstrate that there is value in working with high quality materials.

By invitation of the LNTA our team journeyed to the south to embark on a series of trainings that would build skills and confidence in working with natural yarns and dyes.

Check out the beaded scarves, skirts and home-wares……..uniquely these communities also weave with banana tree fibres…….

Ethnicity: Akha. Language Group: Sino-Tibetan

Province: Phongsaly Project start date: 2003

Cecile Pouget who had moved to a small village with her husband, an EU worker, and their two young sons set project Akha Biladjo up 7 years ago. Cecily needed to do something that was both fulfilling for herself and entertaining for her sons. Working with the Akha women in a nearby village they collectively started stitching kids toys and books out of local fabric. The designs took off and local markets were found, thus was born the Akha Biladjo project a self sustainable way of using traditional skills to generate good steady income. Cecily now lives in Cambodia but the project is self-managed and is one of the success stories of handicraft development in Laos.

The product range continues to grow with initiatives likes Ock Pop Tok requesting new designs and working with the women on new product ranges.

Check out the dolls, necklaces, key chains and other fun fabric animals ……..

Ethnicity: Tai Daeng, Tai Puan. Language Group: Tai Kadai

 Province: Huaphan, Xieng Khouang Project start date: October 2001

Every now and then a textile so exquisite, so unique shows up on our door step, the first of these was back in 2001, when a trader from Huaphan Province brought to the gallery a long cloth of ikat and supplementary designs. Veo a textile connoisseur was rendered speechless. Ethnologists write that Lao textiles can be traced back to specific villages because the design is so representative of that unique culture or family. We decided to put that theory to test. 5 of us set off for Huaphan, textile in hand looking for the woman that had made this cloth. To cut a long story short we did indeed find that artisan, the connection had been made with a remote community and together we started working on reproducing textiles that took in some cases 6 months to produce. This was how the Village Weaver Projects started.

Now working with dozens of villages in Huaphan, Xieng Khouang Provinces you can see the fruits of these looms….on the walls of our galleries ……see if you can find the reproduction of the textile that set the whole project off………..

Ethnicity: Hmong. Language Group: Mien-Yao

Province: Huaphan, Xieng Khouang Project start date: June 2005

Hemp an almost magical fibre, (the Latin cannabis sativa means useful), is cultivated by the Hmong peoples of Laos. The bark of the plant is used to create cloth and the seeds to make oil. In 2006 we decided to tell the story of hemp in an exhibition at our Fibre2Fabric Gallery. Research trips took us to some of the most isolated mountains in Huaphan Province where we found Hmong communities farming hemp. Using melted bees wax darkened with indigo paste the women draw intricate designs that are then dip dyed in indigo vats to create striking blue and white cloths.

These cloths form the basis for stitch work resulting in cloths that are used for skirts, baby carriers and all manner of items. Here at the gallery you will find the love balls used in the New Year game of pov pob, skirts and repurposed items like pillowcases.

To learn more about hemp visit our Living Crafts Centre, meet Mae Tow Zu Zong a Hmong batik artist.

Ethnicity: Tai Lue-North West. Language Group: Tai Kadai

Province: Bokeo, Oudomxai, Sayabouly Project start date: 2009

The Lao National Tourism Administration (LNTA) hired the Ock Pop Tok team to develop handicrafts in their target tourism development villages. The first part of the training is to demonstrate a demand for homespun cotton. The Tai-Lue are experts in cotton growing but skills are waning due to lack of viable options for selling their products. We lead natural dye training programmes followed by product diversity development. The local tourism offices sell their products and often a local market place is created for visiting tourists to stop and support their work through purchases. As you travel around Laos, make a point of stopping in at the local tourism offices to see what activities are being promoted and how you can support the production of local handicrafts.

The fruits of these labours can be seen in items such as cotton elephants from sayabouly, tapestry love gifts and rugs from oudomxai or bags and skirts with colourful motifs from Bokeo.

Ethnicity: Tai Lue – Nam Ou. Language Group: Tai Kadai

Province: Luang Namtha, Phongsaly Project start date: February 2001

The Tai Lue of the Nam Ou and Tha waterways are masters of the indigo and stick lack dye (blue & red respectively). Back in the early days, Ock Pop Tok was looking to expand its repertoire of natural dyes and had heard of a village in Nam Bak district, Ban Na Nyang that may potentially be able to help us in that area. On arrival it was instantly apparent that the journey was going to be worth it. The village is a model of traditional cultural life, set in a lush river valley the elegant stilted houses stood over looms, cotton ready for spinning spilled out of baskets and colourful yarns dried in the sun.

Lue villages like Ban Na Nyang posses incredible weaving and dyeing skills but lacked market opportunities, now Na Nyang is a thriving cotton weaving village with many hotels and businesses placing orders. Ock Pop Tok has taken the weavers of Na Nyang to many provinces, their story is inspiring for other weavers to hear.

Look for lengths of naturally dyed fabric or scarves or bags…

Ethnicity: Phou Tai. Language Group: Tai Kadai

Province: Savanakhet Project start date: Jan 2010

The Phou Tai cotton farmers are masters of the ikat technique. Using natural dyes weavers obtain contrasting motifs. Traditional skirt fabric is re-purposed to create home-wares adding diversity to the products range securing better market placement.

Ethnicity: Tai Moei and Tai Chai. Language Group: Tai Kadai

Province: Khammouan Project start date:

Tai Moei and Tai Chai weavers in Khammouan keep their traditions alive weaving colourful ikats and ceremonial cloths.

Far far away on the southern borders of Laos and Vietnam Tai Moei and Tai Chai women weave highly colourful and intricate designs. Traditional silk skirts showcase complex ikat motifs with detailed supplementary borders. The ceremonial cloths are unlike any other in Laos, as they are made on 8 pedal and 2 warped looms. These are some of the most remote communities in Laos, weavers produce for barter markets in both Laos and Vietnam. Cloths are influenced by both national cultures with some textiles featuring the Vietnamese language.

Working with Mrs Hua we are developing commercial uses for the unusual ceremonial cloths. Traditional monochrome silk motifs are being made on wider looms creating more potential for new markets and steady cash income. Look for these in the gallery as either hangings or home-ware items. The skirts are impossible to miss……hues of pink, purple and red…

 

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