In December, our Head of Production Soulinda “Lear” Philiminda, Head Dyer Phet Manijanh, and Lead Designer Kingkeo Sisakhone hit the road to work with artisans in some of Laos’ most remote villages.
In spite of being a tiny, land-locked country, Laos is culturally and geographically diverse. Steep, forested mountains, narrow valleys and serpentine roads isolate many village-based artisans, leaving them unable to participate in Laos’ burgeoning craft economy. However, we are always up for a challenge and, supported by Trade For Development, the Lao government’s initiative to improve productivity and export competitiveness in the handicraft sector, our production and design team hit the road to lend expertise and advice to six new village weaver projects.
In Oudomxay Province
Flanking Luang Prabang’s northwestern border, Oudomsay Province is teaming with Khmu and Tai Lue ethnic villages tucked in between emerald rice paddies, picturesque cotton fields and looming karst mountains. Villagers here have a long history of weaving with cotton yarns and indigo dyes. In Ban Na-San, a small Tai Lue outpost of 180 families, Lear and her team worked with 15 families to improve efficiency in spinning, dyeing and design. “
In Ban Mang, a Khum ethnic village located 60km from the provincial capital, Ock Pop Tok’s team collaborated with a group of women artisans to improve piat production, including new techniques to twist and crochet the fibres. Piat is a jungle vine used to make bags for collecting wood and herbs.
In Luang Namtha Province
Further north, the OPT crew spent a few days in Ban Khonkham, teaming up with 15 of the village’s 50 families to improve the quality of their embroidery and prepare them for marketing and exporting their crafts in Laos and Thailand. “We worked on updating design, colour schemes and explained fair-trade costing and production protocols,” explained Lear. “Understanding these elements is very important for the artisans to be competitive in the marketplace.”
Luang Namtha is home to many Akha communities. In Ban Lakkam, OPT developed a project with 20 Akha families to co-design and produce recycled products such as coasters, placemats and purses. “The silver or aluminum discs used to decorate the Akha’s colorful headpieces are perfect embellishments and decorative pieces for the table collection,” said Lear. “We worked with the artisans to establish standard measurements for the table linens and brainstormed ways to decrease production times.”
In Phongsaly Province
The Akha Oma are the smallest ethnic group in Laos, the Akha Oma live far north in Phongsaly Proving. In Ban LongThang, OPT team’s met with ten families to being a project making jackets, head scarves, belts and purses using traditional cotton and seed from Job’s Tears plants, a grass that is a food source and used in making functional handicrafts.
Meanwhile, in Ban Phaphoun, the team managed to combine good work and good fun while collaborating with Akha Nukui families to craft a new range of toys.
“The Akha Nukuis have exceptional applique, embroidery and sewing skills,” remarked OPT designer KingKeo. “They are among our most creative collaborators and are always open to new ideas. Laughing, creating and working together makes these trips worthwhile and fun!”