“East Meets West”
Founded in 2000 by Englishwoman Joanna (Jo) Smith and Laotian Veomanee (Veo) Douangdala, Ock Pop Tok or OPT to those ‘in the know’ has grown from a small shop selling only a few designs, to becoming one of the most important textile and artisanal institutions in all of Laos and South East Asia. Ock Pop Tok is now a team of over 78 employees. Meet the rest of the team here!
Ock Pop Tok (meaning “East Meets West” in Lao) was founded on the principles of fair trade and sustainable business practices. The company was pioneering social business and ethical fashion before these terms were even a part of our cultural lexicon.
The partnership between these two women dates back to 1999 when Jo was on an EU funded assignment to photograph development projects in northern Laos. At that time Veo was carving out her own unique niche and making a name for herself among the Lao artisan community. Coming from a family rich with textile and artisan roots, Veo was constantly challenging old ways and methods. She was designing unique sinhs (traditional skirts) and patterns that differentiated her from her peers.
While Veo was busy trailblazing a new path for Lao textiles, Jo was becoming increasingly enamoured with the intricate weavings and the women who produced them. Veo’s creativity attracted Jo like a magnet as she was looking for like-minded artists with whom to collaborate. They had a shared commitment to preserving and promoting these textiles and a similar creative energy. Seizing the opportunity when Veo asked Jo if she wanted to work together on a permanent basis, the answer was “Of course I bloody do!”
Mission & Values
Veo and Jo realized early on that in order for hand loomed textiles to survive and thrive as a craft, they had to create economic value for the textiles. Weaving, which is still done primarily by village women, is often considered domestic work that is not representative of progress or economic advancement. By deciding to operate on fair trade principles, specifically by providing competitive wages, opportunities for continued learning and professional development, Ock Pop Tok gave village weavers the ability to earn a sustainable livelihood for their families and communities. They opened a venue where visitors could see and practice the craft. In this way the two were able to educate visitors about the cultural and the artistic value of the textiles.
Our First Store
Beginning as a small storefront in Luang Prabang, Ock Pop Tok has since evolved to include two shops in the historic district of Luang Prabang and the iconic Living Crafts Centre (LCC) situated along the banks of the beautiful Mekong River – come visit us! In addition to curating an inspiring selection of hand loomed textiles from over fifteen ethnic groups in Laos, Ock Pop Tok also offers visitors hands on workshops in silk and cotton weaving, dyeing, Hmong batik, and bamboo weaving.
Village Weavers Projects
In 2006, Ock Pop Tok initiated the Village Weavers Project to provide design and marketing assistance in over eleven provinces in Lao. Through the Village Weavers Project, OPT is able to create a product line representative of Laos’ diverse ethnic groups and generate sustainable income for rural communities. Also in 2006, Ock Pop Tok created Fibre2Fabric, a registered charity whose mission is to collect, preserve and document heritage textiles in Laos.
Ock Pop Tok is dedicated to creating opportunities for learning and professional development for their staff. Each year, Jo and Veo take members of their weaving team to the International Folk Art Festival, held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. For the weavers, it is often the first time they have ever left South East Asia. In Santa Fe, the Lao artisans are able to interact with fellow-artisans and buyers from around the world.
This opportunity for cultural and artistic collaboration is invaluable for their personal and professional experience. Ock Pop Tok provides the entire staff with ongoing professional training, whether it is English classes, sales and hospitality training or attending regional trade shows. This is critical to the success of each individual staff, the business and the greater Lao tourism sector.
Experience For Yourself
Whether you have 30 minutes, 36 hours, want to try a class or simply have lunch at the Silk Road Café, we have something unique for you to experience while in Luang Prabang! Take our free guided tour, stroll through our gardens (where you’ll find the natural materials for our dyes) or come to the Living Crafts Centre to watch the 28 master weavers on their looms.