Ock Pop Tok recently visited a group in its Village Weaver Project at Ban Phienghong Village in Xieng Khouang Province. The trip aimed to follow up on the original 2017 training program, bring raw materials, and introduce new product designs for future pieces.
Ban Phienghong is one of the villages participating in the Village Weaver Projects that works with over 500 women in 13 provinces throughout the country.
Ban Phienghong is located just 14km from the Vietnamese border and is extremely isolated. The team flew in a 12-seat plane from Luang Prabang to Xieng Khouang, took a five-hour rugged truck ride, and finally ferried across a river to reach the village.
The village does not have electricity. When the team arrived at 21:30, they were greeted by silence, darkness, and a sky full of bright stars. The community, wearing headlamps to light their way, greeted the group at the riverbank, and guided them to the stilted house where they would sleep.
As they climbed the stairs to the house, they noticed a headlamp light the warp of a loom below the house. They later learned that it was Mae Thao, the grandmother of the group, who always weaves past dark.
The next morning the Ock Pop Tok team set to work. This village group is made up of 11 women from the Lao Lum ethnic group, who are known as expert silk weavers. While these women are all master weavers, having learned from their mothers at a young age, they did not have a market for their products, so their skills did not have an economic value to the community. The women still wove, but only their daily clothes. It also became easier to access synthetic materials, which requires less work and time. They ended up transitioning to use these materials to reduce costs.
In 2015, a woman named Elizabeth discovered the group as a part of a poverty reduction project. She immediately saw that they women were talented weavers and that they could capitalize on this skill. She formed a group of 30 weavers and they started producing Lao silk skirts (sins) and sold them to a market in Vientiane. While it was successful at first, the business floundered, and many women left the group.
In 2016, the group leader, Mrs Bong and Mrs Thongsay came to Luang Prabang to look for new customers. The women came to Ock Pop Tok and presented the product catalogue of sins that they had created with Elizabeth. While Ock Pop Tok was not interested in the products that the group offered, they saw the potential for working with this group.
In March 2017 Ock Pop Tok visited the village for the first time. They worked with the group to relearn the process of natural dyes and build more modern interesting designs that accentuate their skills. Ock Pop Tok also focused on quality control in the production process so that each piece produced meets high standards.
Their current product line features scarves and shawls hand-woven with organic silk and coloured with all natural dyes. It combines these age-old traditions with modern designs to create a truly unique look.
One member of the group, Mrs. Mouy explains, “I love every step of the weaving process and I want to keep the tradition alive in my community and my country. I’m proud that I can make an income through the weaving. This helps me to support my family and send my children to school. Weaving is very complicated work and you have pay a lot of attention to your job to make the finest products for Ock Pop Tok.”
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