As highlighted by the upcoming Lao Handicraft Festival in Vientiane, preserving and promoting local handicrafts and culture is more important than ever in the times of Covid-19. To contribute to those efforts, the Skills for Tourism Project (LAO/029), which is implemented by the Ministry of Education and Sports and LuxDev, the Luxembourg Development Cooperation Agency, supported handicraft-related enterprises in providing training to artisans in their existing supply chain, also with the goal to increase producers’ income.
Artisans weaving textiles together during a training organised by Khang Lao. © LuxDev
Thirteen handicraft enterprise applicants qualified for grants that averaged €9,000, their common training goals being production techniques, and for artisans to understand what the market wants.
Ma Te Sai, one of the grantees, is focusing on sewing, for instance. “I want our 20 trainees to finish products at home, not only to earn more income, but so that we save on sewing elsewhere,” said Managing Director Emi Weir. She added that Ms Khambang, an experienced seamstress, conducts the training to ensure quality, as they export and sell online.
Production methods, product demand, and quality also guide trainings by other grant recipients. TaiBaan Crafts Founder Shui-Meng Ng said she gathered artisan groups from several provinces to share their experiences. “Participants discuss and demonstrate their various dyeing techniques and materials.” Additional sessions on quality control rely on feedback from overseas buyers, so participants can understand quality standards, size specifications, expectations on colours and consistency.
The export market also drives Gaebi Studio’s training. “Our current focus is on designing products that target middle and higher classes, both in Laos and internationally,” said Founder/Designer Shin Yoonsun. Gaebi’s training additionally stresses basic business operations with a focus on all operations, from production planning and design to market access and business operations. Achieving standardisation can however prove to be difficult for products that are particularly characterised by their uniqueness. “Electric sewing machines are not very popular in the villages, so they create products made by weaving without them, and based on the villagers’ skills.”
Other grantees, such as Khang Lao Handicrafts, divided training into different categories. “Our sessions help artisans produce better quality items and adjust their work to new market trends and demands,” said Founder Viengkham Nanthavongdouangsy. Khang Lao quality-control training covers all aspects of production from raw materials, yarn, and dying through packaging.
Much like their training foci, the selected handicraft enterprises’ product lines differ. While TaiBaan’s range aims to suit urban and overseas buyers seeking household items, Ma Te Sai’s training pinpoints products such as masks, bags, Lao sinhs and simple western-style clothing, with a focus on design, colour, and marketing. “We want them to understand what customers like Ma Te Sai expect, and how we can co-create products based on traditional patterns and processes,” Ms Weir explained.
TaiBaan uses the fabric to make home decor items, cushion covers, blankets, and placemats. “We do not change artisans’ woven designs or techniques, but select designs and motifs more suited to urban buyers.” Khang Lao’s founder Ms Viengkham agrees, “Lao textiles are rich in production techniques, and present a variety of unique traditional motifs.”
The grant programme mitigates Covid-19’s impact by adjusting its timeline, while accounting for village’s farming schedule. Even though handicraft production continues at lower levels, retail shops see rewards in investing in their rural supply chain. Artisans are learning new dyeing and sewing techniques, and quality control. They better understand market demand and are adapting their products that remain based on traditional skills and designs.
The Handicraft Skills for Tourism Small Grants Facility is financed by the Skills for Tourism Project (LAO/029) which is funded by the Governments of Lao PDR, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Switzerland, and implemented by the Ministry of Education and Sports of Lao PDR and LuxDev, the Luxembourg Development Cooperation Agency.