QLA Product Development: Sewing Training

The Quality of Life Association wants to become a Point-of-Sale for products produced in UXO affected communities or/and produced by UXO-Survivors or their families – thus supporting these villages by creating additional sources of income, broaden the knowledge of villagers with training and strengthening the value for local handicraft.

Last week, I helped the local staff from World Education (Quality of Life Association) to organize a 4-days sewing workshop. This workshop was intended to be a training of trainers: a tailor from Saoban (Wattida, a lovely woman and great teacher) showed teachers from the Vocational School in Phonsavan, but also representatives from different UXO-affected communities and the Tourism Department, how to sew a variety of products. The most talented tailors will then be send out into the villages for further training on a village-level.

It was great to see the power, patience and commitment of these women (around fifteen of them) during the training. Everyone was eager to try, fail, learn and produce! Once we  showed them how to make some products, I could see how they already thought about how to change them (with different materials, patterns etc.) – very impressive was also to see how they recycled left-over materials: small pieces of cloth left over from cutting became nice key rings etc. Nothing is wasted, or only as little as possible. Also Shui-Meng (a brilliant woman and advisor from Saoban) told me how they recycle at Saoban: e.g. if scarves don’t sell well, they cut them and sew them into smaller products (as bags for pens etc.) which are sold more easily.

The training showed me the vast possibilities but also limits of the NPA’s future souvenir production. The training was intended to be a “training of trainers” but I think that we first have to talk about how we want to organize the production (especially having Shui-Mengs suggestions in mind as well as the fresh experience from the training). As we experienced during the training (and during our discussion the last day), the sewing part is for many villagers difficult – many products (as laptop bags, some wallets etc.) require special sewing machines to which villagers have no access. What the villagers enjoyed most, was doing things by hand: keychains and japanese-style wallets! If we want to produce everything in the village, the choice of products must adapt to the skill-level (and of course we can provide training to broaden this level).

Shui-Meng, Bouaphone and me discussed 2 possibilities how to organize the production of products (in the end it might be a combination of both)

1. Focus on high quality
> if NPA wants a high-quality-product-shop: most of the final products (the sewing part) can’t be made on a village level (lack of awareness for high quality, lack of skills necessary, no access to tools necessary, no exposure to the market);
> the NPA has to identify the people they can work with: who are the most skilled people – who can provide raw material (cotton, silk, dying, zippers, filling, buttons etc.)? who is weaving? who is sewing?
> on a village-level, mostly fabrics and weavings are produced (according to NPA/sewing group needs, design ideas and measurements, probably NPA provides material)
> to guarantee high quality of final product: have a “core sewing group” in Phonsavan who will do the finishing of products (is it possible to have a long-lasting collaboration with the Vocational School who already have skilled teachers and advanced sewing-machines?); Shui Meng suggested that we send this group for another training with Saoban tailors in Vientiane which I think is a great idea
> the core sewing group should become a motor for creativity and constant improvement / new designs: evtl. collaborations with design-volunteers / universities etc.

2. Focus on Livelihood Assistance and the Story behind the products
> selling-point is not the “perfect product” and high quality but rather that visitors learn and understand about the background story and want to support UXO-Survivors / UXO affected communities by buying a souvenir made by these communities
> developing the exhibition (present people who make the products etc.) and work on key messages are essential
> this approach works mostly on a village level and empowers villagers by improving their skills and broaden their knowledge; however it needs constant monitoring and training and the choose of products has to match the skill-level and tools villagers have (which differs from village to village and therefor has to be adapted)

before we make a time-frame for next training, the Quality of Life Association has to make sure what is most effective and sustainable in the long term and what kind of training makes sense for which stakeholders (e.g. maybe no sewing-training in the villages but instead developing more ideas for hand-made products, training fair-pricing for villagers; shop-management for NPA; support the village of Ban Nasi with re-starting their organic cotton production etc.).

The workshop was  definetely a great way to get started for the Quality of Life Association! Thanks again to Bouaphone from World Education for organization, Khamsavang, Bounmi and Dachang for their support, Shui-Meng for sharing her knowledge, Wattida for being a great teacher and all the participants for your excitement and openess to learn (and the beautiful scarf you gave me!).

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