Upcycling or the second life of Lao textiles

Upcycling or giving a second life to Lao textiles

If you've been following us for some time, you know that we oversee all production steps -- in our studio but also in the different villages we work with -- to guarantee the highest quality products using environment-friendly techniques. But did you know that we also value waste minimisation? How, you ask? Upcycling!

As a social enterprise, we strive to make our community a better place. Part of that, is caring about our impact on the environment. We decided a long time ago — Ock Pop Tok is now in its twenties — to source all of our raw materials locally and seasonally in order to minimise our carbon footprint. This initiative also reinforced our commitment to the local community by supporting local businesses and artisans.

In celebration of Earth Day and Fashion Revolution Week only a week ago, we thought the timing was just perfect to talk more about how we do our part and give a second life to Lao textiles. Yes, you read that right, upcycling is also part of Ock Pop Tok’s design and product development process!

Vintage galore

Using pieces of vintage fabric gives us the opportunity to create unique products…

Lao textiles are used everyday, so finding vintage textiles in excellent condition is quite rare. Sometimes we’re lucky and we find colourful textiles originally intended to be used as a curtain or a blanket. When it’s the case, we add a border and transform them into beautiful wall hangings. Part of our vintage collection — regrouping special textiles from all over Laos — the sale of these textiles woven in silk and cotton by skilled artisans — supports the maintenance of our museum collection. Learn more about our work to preserve Lao heritage here.

And when we find only bits and pieces, we don’t let them go to waste. Have you seen our collection of vintage purses on our webshop? We have so many unique ones. Like our Muji vintage purses. We received a small number of vintage Muji pieces from one of our artisan collaborators, and the pieces were enough to craft into attractive little purses. 

Or our Hmong vintage purses. A testament to our production team’s upcycling expertise, these purses incorporate small vintage Hmong embroideries. The vintage panels are sewn onto handwoven cotton, naturally dyed in indigo. We find it very exciting to be part of so much artisan skill and resourcefulness coming together! These embroideries thus upcycled get a new life. 

Slow & responsible

Slow, responsible production means using everything! Our Hmong vintage folding clutch is made by our team at the Living Crafts Centre using remnants of vintage Hmong embroidery panels and naturally-dyed indigo cotton woven by Tai Lue artisans. Same goes for our Tai Taeng, Tai Kadai and Tai Muang vintage coin purses. 

Do you know what we used to make our beautiful vintage tote? The embroidered section of the tote bag was originally part of a textile used by Hmong women to carry their babies, strapped to their chest or back. With use, the textiles get worn down, so we collaborate with Hmong women to upcycle their old textiles into new functional totes for our customers. The vintage panel features the classic Hmong colors and techniques, including indigo wax dye and appliqué stitching. 

With use, the textiles get worn down, so we collaborate with artisans to give them a second life

Can you guess how many sinhs a Lao Woman owns in a lifetime? Too many for us to count… Sinhs, or Lao skirts, are fabulous textiles, and we don’t like to see any of these handwoven wonders go to waste. We encourage vintage pieces to be used as they were intended and when it’s not possible, our production team upcycle pieces of vintage sinh to create lovely bags, featuring rich, deep colours and patterns woven by Tai Je weavers.

Upcycling aluminium & bombs

Traditional Akha clothes and accessories are adorned with silver coins. As we started working with Akha artisans and developing products to sell in our shops, we decided to include some upcycling. The products co-developed with these communities, reflect their traditional way of dress whilst also utilising their traditional skills. But instead of silver disks, upcycled pieces of aluminum cans are used in the products. We use these for our Akha inspired placemats and clutches

We’ve also added beads made from upcycled bomb fragments that are present in the Lao countryside.

As for our Shibori necklace, remnants of shibori cotton and silk are knotted into beads and strung on a vibrant piece of silk to create this unique necklace with two strands. We’ve also added beads made from upcycled bomb fragments that are present in the Lao countryside. The upcycled bomb beads come to us from Article 22, a Lao-based jewelry social enterprise that works with mine clearing organisations to rid the countryside of mines and with local communities to create income opportunities.

Like-minded artisans

A few months ago, Radio Ock Pop Tok’s host Rachna Sachasinh talked with plastic upcycling genius Peter Pau Son, founder of Shin Thant Plastics, and Ulla Kroeber, co-founder and lead designer at Hla Day, an organisation dedicated to helping Myanmar artisans find ways to innovate and market their products. “We love upcycling,” Ulla said, adding that Hla Day works with several plastic, metal, glass and textile recycling and upcycling projects. Listen to the episode here

Mending also helps give a new life to products which otherwise would end up in landfills. This technique was discussed in one of Radio Ock Pop Tok’s episodes. Rachna Sachasinh talked to Bookhou Studio co-founder Arounna Khounnaraj who’s latest book is called Visible Mending: A Modern Guide to Darning, Stitching and Patching the Clothes You Love. Her creative work draws equally on vintage, heritage techniques, although her aesthetic is minimalist and modern. Listen to the episode here

How about you?

Have you tried upcycling yourself? Wanna give it a try? Follow our fantastic and creative Retail Manager Moonoy as she shows us how to make earrings from fabric scraps! Some of you may recognise the fabric from our Leaf Motif Cushion Cover… You could also add some Lanten embroidery to an old bag or use scraps of fabrics to make ornaments or keyrings using Akha embroidery techniques. Tag us on social media — @ockpoptok — if you do try any of these! 

Learn more about our pledge to our environment.

You can also have a look at this article to get more ideas on how to recycle and reuse your trash for a cleaner environment.

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