In Laos there is an organisation called Ock Pop Tok (East meets West), which is working with many of the Ethnic Minority villages throughout the country, in helping provide a more sustainable source of income through the textile trade. They aim to preserve the heritage of Laos textiles and master artisans, by buying directly from these villages that ordinarily create, only for family occasions and traditions, as a way to give them additional income (so they are not turning to opium production which is still a huge problem, especially in more remote, northern areas). This model also preserves the traditional practice, currently being lost due to mass production of cheap textiles, predominantly from China, pushing out the need for hand crafted, labor intensive fabrics.
Weaving studio at Ock Pop Tok Living Art Centre in Luang Prabang
Ock Pop Tok have two shops in Luang Prabang, a working weaving studio and gallery, as well as taught classes and seminars for tourists, promoting Laos textiles and the heritage program they are undertaking here, called the Living Arts Centre. It really is a great project, as not only does it promote these artisans and the textile heritage of Laos but it supports them financially as well.
Its a woman’s world! Weaving is undertaken solely by woman
Ock Pop Tok are an advocate for woman’s empowerment, as the majority of artisans here are woman (with the exception of a few bamboo weavers). They operate on a platform for fair trade, ensuring fair wages, working conditions and sustainability for the villages they buy from. They source materials from all over Laos; with cotton and silk production, dying and preparation of yarns for weaving, to the creation of woven scarves, bed spreads and other fabrics. There is a wealth of creativity, and indeed industry, utilised right here in Laos – why need to source from outside?! And that’s pretty much their ethos here, a full circle of responsible sustainability, all the while preserving this key part of Lao textile heritage and creating brighter futures for the more remote villages of Laos, allowing them to move away from opium production.
Selection of hand dyed silk using natural dyes
Their gallery displays a selection of their huge (over 1000 piece) collection. Named Fibre2Fabric, the collection is the direct result of the rapid loss of heritage textiles in Laos. As tourism opened up in the early naughties, so too did the market for traditional and family heirloom textiles. Ock Pop Tok saw it as their duty to buy and preserve these textiles, ensuring they didn’t leave Laos.
Selection of hand crafted traditional Lao textiles
The growing collection currently represents almost half of the ethnic groups in Laos, of course, the aim is to represent all of them. However, as a nonprofit branch of the Ock Pop Tok family, it is a slow process. They are currently in the process of conserving the pieces and creating an online digital archive library for public access.
Its a great project and if you’re ever in Laos, make time to visit Luang Prabang and Ock Pop Tok, you wont be disappointed!
Further information on Fibre2Fabric can be found here: www.fibre2fabric.org
Further information on Ock Pop Tok can be found here: www.ockpoptok.com