textiles and crafts from Laos
Laos is a small, charming country in South-East Asia, once described by a well travelled Lao person after staying away for 20 years as "one of the last quiet countries left on earth". It is a sparsely populated, landlocked country, slightly larger than Great Britain, with a population of around 6 million. Laos is very ethnically diverse, and the vast majority of people live rurally. Mountains and thick forest cover most of the country. The Mekong River defines the border with Thailand, and the fertile river plains form a large part of the basis of Lao civilisation. There are diverse traditions of folk crafts in Laos, including textile dyeing and weaving, woodworking and jewellery making. From The Source aim to create opportunities for economic development in Laos by promoting products that utilise and help develop these traditions.
Laos remains the poorest and least developed country is East Asia and one of the ten poorest countries in the world. Furthermore it is still ravaged by bombs dropped during the US-Vietnam war, during which it gained the odious title of the most heavily bombed country in the world. Around 80% of the population are engaged in subsistence farming, and many people live in remote areas with no access to electricity, sanitation or healthcare facilities. As Laos inevitably becomes open to the global economy and foreign investment, we believe that this is an important time to develop fair trade initiatives in Laos.
Increasing demands are being made on Laos' abundant natural resources, and there is a big demand for Lao timber and a growing number of large hydropower projects. We believe in adding value to raw materials by encouraging the production of high quality textiles and craft products in Lao communities, often in rural areas. We encourage the organic production of textiles and the use of dyes derived from local, natural sources. From The Source aim to provide opportunities for sustainable development in Laos that help to protect the environment and preserve traditional skills and lifestyles.
The production of woven textiles is by far the most prolific of all traditional crafts in Laos, and there is huge diversity of weaving styles amongst the different regions and ethnicities of Laos. Textiles are a key part of Lao culture, and are important in people's lives in a variety of ways, from spiritual ceremonies to the household. Lao women wear a traditional skirt called "sinh" on daily basis, and these demonstrates the wide variety of patterns and styles of weaving. From The Source import textile products from a number of suppliers, and we also fund our own initiative to promote natural dyes and weaving.
Our main cotton supplier was established by joint Lao Government and UNDP funding to help women in Laos by capitalizing on their traditional weaving skills. All stages of the cotton handicraft process are supported, from the purchase of raw cotton from Lao farmers through to spinning, dying and weaving. Organic cotton production is now being promoted amongst Lao farmers, and it organizes ten women's weaving groups and provides 200 looms throughout Laos. Our silk scarves are produced by a small family-run business in Vientiane Province, which is inspired by the strong weaving culture from the Sam Neua region in North Eastern Laos.