We love our Taileu cotton, and all of our indigo, but we could see our customers were looking for some new colours and lighter weights. So in 2020 we embarked on some product development with our artisans in two provinces to come up with a small inter-changeable cotton collection that is fresh and comfortable.
It all started with designing a new skirt, something lighter and fresher. For our Taileu weavers that meant changing the warp. Traditionally they use a black warp with gives them rich dark colours for their skirts (sinhs). Having seen the Phutai ikats in Savannakhet and how light they could be with a white warp, I wanted our Taileu weavers to do the same. And whilst I love the traditional supplementary weave patterns in the skirt, I was looking for something more contemporary. So we pulled out sinhs from their cupboard, we pulled out cottons for colours and together we discussed how they could weave the fabric for the skirt. How many centimetres were needed for the body and waistband, pockets, and then how big we would make the pattern. This along with another colour project for our Korean customer took time so we stayed overnight and as it was a festival went to temple the next morrning, maybe that helped!
With all that information back in the shop in Luang Prabang I could put the pattern to paper and then they would have enough information to weave consistently enough pieces for our skirts.
Following this we went to Luang Namtha to finish up our sewing training. Our Lanten group had been studying hard and with a little support I could see they could handle some simple patterns, ones that suited their soft handwoven cotton.
The fortunate thing was they had recently been trained with one of our Taileu weavers and master dyer, Navon, and the master dyer from Houey Hong Centre in Vientiane. So Noy, our group leader, pulled out all her new colours to show me. From that I could choose a fresh selection that would go with our skirts. And also create some super comfy pants for those working at home. For me they are perfect for travels around Laos, so when things open up I am sure visitors will snap them up.
Keeping it simple we asked the Lanten women to place their own embroidery ideas around the v-neck of the back and the front of the shirt. As there are 5 in our group, 5 different shirts came down with 5 different patterns. I chose 3 to go with and limited the colours of the threads for consistency and pairing with our bottoms.
In future I hope to involve more complex embroidery in our pieces but time is needed. Even with the pants we had a translation error where a change in measurement for waist (ao) became a change in length (nao) and we had 5 pairs of pants for very short people. We are still working on quality control and love that the few customers in our LP store do understand. We did take out the elastic and have sold one pair as three quarter pants, but that is not going to work for export.
Serendipity came to play when we had a problem with some white shawls and asked them to be over-dyed yellow. The resulting colour was so beautiful, we ordered more perfect ones. And another weaver had the lighter indigo shawls left from an order pre-covid.
These perfectly pair with our hand-stamped indigo cotton from northern Thailand, during covid we managed to get this sent across the border through Loei, whereas normally before I would go to Thailand to purchase.
So please ask #whomademyclothes, as we remember the devastation of the Rama Plaza collapse on so many people's lives, and take up the #fashionrevolution by shopping with sustainable brands.
Our Lanten artisans were trained in 2020 thanks to financing from the Handicraft Skills for Tourism Small Grants Facility (an initiative of the Skills for Tourism Project (LAO/029) which is financed 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). You can read more about that project here. And our Taileu artisans were trained with funding from a Malaysian foundation in 2013-14.
This true village production is available @thegreencollective.sg.