For the product development at USIC Khamsavang, Bouaphone and me went to visit Mrs. Bounmi who is living in a small village close to Muang Kham. Mrs. Bounmi runs her own business for natural dying of silk and weaving – a very smart, elderly women who definitely has the spirit of a business woman.
Part of the product development is about strengthening traditional handicrafts – not only for the sake of it but also because of the high quality it provides. Cultivation of silk and cotton as well as natural dying and weaving have a long tradition in Laos. Every woman in the villages knows how to weave and in the past, a woman made all the clothes and fabrics for her household by herself. The whole process from cultivation to the final textile plays an important role for the villages social life.
However, nowadays people rather buy cheap, factory-made materials from Vietnam or China since it is much easier (and really cheap) to get. It is quite frustrating to see that many Lao people can’t afford the products made 100% in Laos (not to be misunderstood: they couldn’t afford these products in the past either) and that without the help of foreign NGO’s traditional handicrafts would probably not exist anymore – but that at the same time the production is mainly affordable to a foreign market. This just doesn’t feel right!
At the same time, I think it’s great and important to have foreigners who show locals the value of their traditions so that they don’t get lost in a global culture. Talking to these women, appreciating their skills and crafts (and teaching new ones) as well as paying a fair price, I can see their proudness and how they start to look differently at their work.
And Mrs. Bounmi is a great example for how traditional crafts can help people to rise out of poverty!