“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 artisan institutions in all of Laos and South East Asia.
Meaning “East Meets West” in Lao, Ock Pop Tok was founded on principles of fair trade and sustainable business practices, and 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. Unbeknownst to Jo, 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 traditional ways and methods – such as creating unique sinhs 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 produce them. Veo’s creativity attracted Jo like a magnet, who was looking for likeminded artists to collaborate with. Both women shared a love for the traditional hand loomed textiles and we’re committed to preserving and promoting these textiles to the rest of the world. Seeing the opportunity – and the beautiful, unique textiles – that sprouted from early collaborations was inspiring to both women, so 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 realised 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 done primarily by village women, is often considered domestic work that is not representative of progress or economic advancement. By operating on fair trade principles – specifically by providing competitive wages, opportunities for continued learning and professional development – OPT gave village weavers, most of whom are women, the ability to earn a sustainable livelihood for their families and communities. And, by opening a venue where visitors could see and practice the craft, 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, OPT has evolved to include two shops in the historic district of Luang Prabang, and also the iconic Living Crafts Centre (LCC) situated along the banks of the Mekong River. In addition to curating a beautiful selection of hand loomed textiles from over twelve ethnic groups in Laos, OPT also offers visitors a instructional experiences in silk and cotton weaving, dyeing, Hmong batik and bamboo weaving.
Village Weavers Projects
In 2006, OPT 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 (busy year!), OPT created Fibre2Fabric, a registered charity whose mission is to collect, preserve and document heritage textiles in Laos.
OPT 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 in their personal and professional experience. OPT 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, or 3 days, want to try a class or simply have lunch or a cocktail at the Silk Road Café — we have something for you to do in Luang Prabang. Take our free guided tour, stroll through our garden (where you’ll find the natural roots and materials for our dyes) or gaze at vivid hand-dyed silk drying in the sun — you’ll never look at a scarf in the same way again!