This year Ma Te Sai has embarked on it's second sewing skills program with village artisans. Joining the program are 20 trainees from 6 different ethnic groups and villages in the Luang Namtha area, in remote Northern Laos.
Why do we train women to sew? It lets us follow our mission; a mission to work with women in remote areas and create finished products in their villages to earn a better living. But what we actually get in return is so much more, let me tell you how much more.
In 2014 when we plucked a few Taileu women from Nambak and sent them to learn to sew in Vientiane. We had no idea if they would gel as a working group, if they actually would be okay at sewing, or if they actually were that interested. Fortunately it was a success. Now we have a very lively group of three women who relish the income from sewing. They all improved their houses, and livelihoods for their entire families. They have exceeded our expectations with products that stand the test in an international market place. I say we plucked because I had to rely on my weavers and a friend to suggest candidates, there was no formal selection. I was only confident of one outcome if they could sew, Ma Te Sai would be able to create unique products in the market place, fabricating items from beautiful handwoven naturally dyed Taileu cotton of their two villages.
An unexpected outcome was how our business quickly grew whilst simultaneously developed long lasting relationships with an entire community, not just three sewers. This extended to weaving groups, as I spent more time in the village, I saw more traditional designs, and worked with different designs, some that tied in with our garments and homewares, some that were custom designs, we even worked with weavers to alter patterns for a more modern translation. And then there were the tourists we took to the villages, all the elderly women who would come to display anything they had woven, and a young entrepreneur and his family and homestay.
Another unexpected outcome was an unleashing of creativity. Each time I would visit or when I saw the weavers come to town I would see a new bag, a different style of shirt. Whilst before they had a bit of that, now they had more access to sewers. Then we saw the night market full of finished products, bags and purses instead of just cloth. I am not saying Ma Te Sai was solely responsible but I do think it pushed them to create the finished product in the village when they saw the demand and the economic benefit.
Now we are doing it again, with a broader group of women, in a more remote area. Fortunately there are many known factors this time. One group of Lanten women were part of a product development program with LuxDev two years ago.
And just after this, I worked with Tourism Luang Namtha to improve content on their website. Part of this marketing project was to promote the Luang Namtha Valley Route, a project by NZ Aid and the Laos Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, that supported small businesses around the tourism trail. Some of these small businesses are handicraft centres. So we have strategically decided to work with women who own a handicraft centre or work within the village group managing these centres along the Luang Namtha Valley Route. in partnership with Tourism Luang Namtha, we have been able to collect a wonderfully diverse and interested group of twenty trainees.
Pictured below is our Hmong group leader Joualee, outside her centre sign in Ban Had Yao, her working during training and her hmong inspired jewellery. Last image is of her family White Hmong clan in their Hmong New Year traditional clothing. We were lucky to visit during this time of year.
So watch this space as we update their journey over the next six to 12 months and we see what new items our Luang Namtha artisans will create.
This activity is financed by 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.