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OPT-EIF a fruitful collaboration

OPT and EIF, a fruitful collaboration

The Village Weavers Project is a series of initiatives that create economic opportunities for artisans in rural locations around Laos. We decide which villages to work with in a few different ways. Sometimes, it comes through Public Private Partnerships. This is how our collaboration with the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) started three years ago. Read this interview with Ock Pop Tok’s (OPT) Co-Founder and Executive Director, Veomanee Douangdala, to learn more.

In 2019, Ock Pop Tok (OPT) started working with 6 villages in 3 different provinces in collaboration with the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF). This three-year project ends this month. What is its outcome?

opt laos blog eif collaboration Veo - OPT

A success most definitely, in spite of the unexpected hurdles due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The project was very beneficial to the artisans both financially and in terms of personal development. Our goal was to increase their sales by 15% to 20% and we’ve reached a 90% increase!

We achieved this mostly by opening doors to new markets for them in Luang Prabang and Vientiane. There, they sold to individual customers but also managed to secure some wholesale orders. We also bought products from them to sell in our shops and Webshop.

With the artisans’ expertise and the textile traditions of their different ethnic groups in mind, we accompanied them in their design journey towards more marketable products. For the past three years, our team of weavers, dyers, designers and tailors have transferred their skills to help the artisans improve their product design skills.

This undoubtedly contributed to the success of their new creations. We also put a lot of emphasis on product quality. We oversaw all the production steps to guarantee the highest product quality. And we instilled these standards into them.

We had to adapt as in some villages, they could not deal with the electric machines. So we shifted to manual machines.

We gave them machines for some tasks they were still doing by hand. This helped them improve their performance too. Now they take 50% less time to make their products. We had to adapt as in some villages, they could not deal with the electric machines. So we shifted to manual machines. Some villages were not scheduled to receive sewing machines but they expressed an interest and we were happy to oblige. We’re proud to see how their skills and confidence have improved over time.

We can safely say that the artisans from all the different provinces have been doing very well but the ones from Oudomxay stand out. They have developed many interesting products and seen the most important increase in sales. We also introduced the idea of relaunching the production of cotton as the demand is high and they took on this challenge. We work with artisans in Ban Houeyhok on this project and they are not the only ones benefiting from it. Many villages around also take advantage of this revival.

Did the pandemic force Ock Pop Tok to review the initial action plan? How did you adapt?

Of course, the pandemic had a very big impact on the project. Not necessarily a negative impact as such but we had to modify the original action plan. It was supposed to be a two and a half year project which was extended by six months because of the pandemic. We were supposed to bring the artisans to trade shows in Vientiane and Thailand but travel restrictions came in the way. This forced us to think out of the box. No trade shows in 2020 and beginning of 2021? That’s okay, we organized our own market fairs and invited all the artisans to come to both Luang Prabang and Vientiane.

This allowed us to capture so many images very few get to experience.

We also decided to focus a lot of our resources online. We had a photographer and a videographer accompany our team on one of their village trips; more than two weeks around northern Laos. This allowed us to capture so many images very few get to experience. We thus added a lot of content – videos and photos – to our website and social media platforms. Visitors can now take a stroll through Ban Phapoun, see how piet is made in Ban Mang or learn how the artisans in Ban Sinoudoum use the interlocking tapestry technique.

And for those who would like to push the experience a bit further, we’ve also created two DIY kits! You will soon be able to learn – from the comfort of your home – Akha or Oma embroidery. We will launch the kits in a couple of weeks. The kits come with everything you need to complete a pair of Akha inspired earrings or a set of four Oma inspired coasters. Plus you get to learn more about both the Akha and the Oma communities.

For more than two years now, potential buyers have not been able to visit the country. This is our way to help them travel to remote artisan villages in Laos.

We also worked on a wholesale catalog featuring products from the six villages and we will be using this to reach out to potential buyers. It’s a beautiful catalog that not only showcases the products that buyers can order but also gives an insight into the daily life of the artisans in those six villages and the techniques they favor through gorgeous pictures and videos. For more than two years now, potential buyers have not been able to visit the country. This is our way to help them travel to remote artisan villages in Laos.

Now that the collaboration with EIF comes to an end, what’s next for these artisans?

Over the years, we’ve accompanied hundreds of artisans through our Village Weavers Project and we’re proud to say that today, they can stand on their own two feet. As suppliers for Ock Pop Tok, they develop and produce their own products.

The artisans from the OPT-EIF collaboration have now reached that stage. They are ready to “graduate” but this doesn’t mean that we will stop working with them. This collaboration will carry on. We will continue to buy products from them for our shops and Webshop and we’ll strive to find some new markets for them. This is where the catalog we made will come in handy. We’ll be able to act as intermediary between them – as they are often located in remote villages – and potential buyers from abroad or even locally.

We’ll keep trying to find ways to secure funds to support their participation in trade shows.

We will also keep looking for partners to support their travel to trade shows. Participation in trade shows can be costly – booth rental, travel, accommodation and per diem add up quickly – but they are beneficial to the artisans in so many ways – both in terms of income generation but also exchange with other artisans – that we’ll keep trying to find ways to secure funds to support them in this endeavor.

As you mentioned, Ock Pop Tok has been involved in similar projects around Laos since 2000. Is this something you’re planning to continue doing? Not just keep working with these artisans and the others you’ve worked/are working with but find new artisans in new provinces to work with?

Yes, definitely. We can always do more. We work with 17 main ethnic groups through our Village Weavers Project but we can always explore new villages in different provinces and meet new artisans. It’s such an enriching exchange for all parties involved!

There are so many things that can still be explored, so many ways to elevate the profile of Lao textiles…

Let’s talk about hemp for example. There’s a demand for this fabric considered by many as the fabric of the future. We’ve been trying to revive hemp production for a few years now. Unfortunately, we haven’t been successful yet but we’re not giving up. There’s also potential for other fabric development. Really, there are so many things that can still be explored, so many ways to elevate the profile of Lao textiles on the international stage. So, keep following us, keep sharing our stories, keep supporting us in this important and necessary work!

Contact us on [email protected] to receive the wholesale catalog.

Visit our YouTube channel to take take stroll in Ban Hoeyhok, Ban Mang, Ban Lakkham, Ban Sinoudoum, Ban Phapoun and Ban Longthang, learn more about the different techniques these artisans use and check out their production process.

opt laos eif logo new - OPT

This activity was supported by ECL Project which is funded by the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF).

EIF is an Aid for Trade partnership in action for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Operational since 2009, the EIF is a multi-donor program that supports the LDCs to become more active players in the global trading system by helping them tackle supply-side constraints to trade.

ECL Project intends to promote private sector-led economic growth in the least developed Northern Region of the country in response to the Government’s eight National Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP). The project consists of three components: Improvement of the local business environment, enhancement of productivity and exports of critical sectors, and project management.

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