In recognition of International Women’s Day, we decided to explore the relationship between culture and creativity and as such, talk about the creative women at OPT (Ock Pop Tok). Working with colleagues and friends on a daily basis, sometimes we take certain nuances for granted. So, we decided to ask your visiting intern Maddie to explore these themes for us. Maddie is a recent graduate, majoring in international relations. Her professional and personal interests are rooted in understanding the relationships between traditional and modern, rural and urban, old and new. How do these disparate ideas find common ground? Coming to Luang Prabang and working with a dynamic team of women has been immensely instructive, Maddie told us. While she’s helped us on a number of marketing and visual story-telling projects, Maddie has also interviewed several colleagues on their personal lives. Below are excerpts from two of her interviews. We hope you enjoy reading them!
——— Ock Pop Tok Marketing Team
Moonoy Kodpathoum, 36
Retail Manager at Ock Pop Tok
Moonoy is a breath of fresh air. In the morning, she is always bringing snacks for her co-workers, sometimes sweet fried bread or grilled bananas. She has introduced me to all of Laos best local treats. Moonoy is Ock Pop Tok’ resident fashion icon. She loves to wear a bright palette and coordinates her colours from her earrings to her shoes. Moonoy is the perfect example of modern creativity in Laos. If you ask her what is her fashion inspiration, she will simply tell you, it is herself.
She believes that the art of weaving demonstrates the power of women in Laos.
Moonoy links tradition with modernity by creating her own pieces, sewing traditional ikat skirts into modern culotte pants or by pairing her outfit with trendy modern sneakers. In her free time, Moonoy makes jewellery from scrap pieces of cloth. I can’t tell you where she finds it, but I can tell you she is a very resourceful woman! I feel extremely lucky to have been gifted one of her original pieces. Moonoy is a thoughtful and hilarious friend. Her husband will tell you that she is simply lovely but she owns far too many scarves!
Her work with OPT has allowed her to travel and through travelling her imagination and creativity has grown tenfold. She enjoyed visiting the Sante Fe International Folk Art Market and seeing textile crafts from all over the world. In America she was surprised to see that everyone dresses in their own style and that everyone looks different. She loved the individuality! However she doesn’t think she could abandon the Lao traditional skirt (sinh) from her everyday wardrobe.
While Moonoy does not weave, she is very knowledgeable on the process and cultural significance of weaving in her country. She often gives presentations to tourists on how to style traditional Laos clothing and the cultural meanings behind motifs — I cant think of a better person to do the job. Moonoy is passionate and enthusiastic about fashion and specifically her Lao heritage. She is also a pro at displaying textiles in our shops!
Moonoy loves being surrounded by creative women and sharing her love for beautiful textiles. She upholds the core values of Ock Pop Tok by elevating textiles in her own unique way, as a walking-talking display of modern Lao fashion, and as an ambassador of Lao culture. She believes that the art of weaving demonstrates the power of women in Laos. That women’s talent is their power. “If we lose this technique, women in Laos will lose their power and their beauty.”
Pin Aloun, 54
Weaver from Phonxay Village
Pin has a heart for weaving and family. Pin works for Ock Pop Tok, but she chooses to weave from her home in the nearby village of Phonxay so that she can cook, manage the rice fields and take care of her children. I had the opportunity to discuss the developmental changes in Laos on two separate occasions with Pin. She remembers a time when there were more trees than buildings in Luang Prabang, and before the roads were scattered with motorcycles. Although she sometimes misses a simpler time in Laos, she is happy to ride her motorcycle into town to buy skirts and make-up.
Pin puts great value on the tradition and artistry of weaving. Her life orbits around her weaving loom in the centre of her yard. To the left, you can see river fish drying in the sun, chickens and dogs wandering about, and her families laundry hanging in the background. We sit and chat at the families dining table next to the loom, over a bowl of banana chips and betel tea.
Pin wants to see the tradition of weaving carried on by young women in Laos so that the art form is not lost.
Originally, Pin’s family is from a village in southern Laos, but they moved to Phonxay after their home was destroyed in the war. She fondly remembers being a young girl and learning to weave traditional skirts with her mother. Pin also remembers her mother coaching her when she began to weave her wedding blanket. In Laos you must prove to your husband you can weave before you get married. Most women demonstrate their skills by creating colourful and intricate blankets to show off to their suitors! Some of my favourite vintage textiles are old tattered wedding blankets, they are simply stunning.
Although Pin enjoys a more traditional life, she appreciates some modern comforts too. She tells me that her increased income from Ock Pop Tok allows her to indulge in her favourite red lipstick, and she even appreciates a good karaoke session from time to time! Beyond lipstick and karaoke, her income allows her to give back by cooking extra sticky rice for monks in the temple and giving money when she can.
Pin wants to see the tradition of weaving carried on by young women in Laos so that the art form is not lost. She has done her part in the revitalization of Lao textiles by training her daughter to weave. Her daughter is now a creative and talented master weaver who will preserve the tradition for another generation.
Pin believes that tourists who bring home textiles after visiting Laos will share with their own families the beauty and importance of cultural textiles. She acknowledges the benefits of tourism while reminiscing about the past. Pin’s creativity, adaptability and love for tradition make her a dynamic and inspiring woman, we love having her work with us at Ock Pop Tok.
I am always impressed and inspired by the resilience of women in the developing world, especially those who value cultural tradition and artistry. Ock Pop Tok’s valuable work in elevating the profile of textiles is vital to the cultural strength and empowerment of women in Laos. I hope that women in Laos will continue to create and share the cultural knowledge woven into the textiles for generations to come.