This week, we were thrilled to host Ms. Saw and Ms. Na Nga, two visiting artists at the Living Crafts Centre. Both women reside in Luang Namtha Province, in Northern Laos. Ms. Saw and Ms. Na Nga travelled from Luang Namtha by foot and by to bus to attend the 2014 Lao Handicraft Festival in Vientiane. There, they met with Jo and Veo, the co-founders of Ock Pop Tok, and were invited to come to the Living Crafts Center to talk about new product ideas.
Ms. Saw, a lively Akha artisan graced our presence with an unforgettable smile and outgoing personality — as well as an intricate headpiece weighing more than two kilos! Decorated with Chinese coins given as a gift by her daughter, the traditional headpiece is one of her most prized possessions. The silver coins that adorn her headpiece are the inspiration for the metal coins bordering the placemats and coasters used in our Silk Road Café. OPT currently works with Ms. Saw and her community through our Village Weavers Project, a program that assists women living in rural locations with creating and marketing their handicrafts.
Ms. Na Nga, her traveling companion is a bit more reserved and quickly received an inquisitive audience after unpacking her bag of colourful hand-sewn sinhs. Ms. Na Nga is from the Mussur ethnic group, a subset of the Lahu people, which reside mainly in Northern Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and southwestern China. The sinhs are made from sewing strips of colourful cloth together, and replicates the striped patchwork that is often seen on jackets and skirts worn by the Mussur.
The visit led to conversations about how the two artisans and their communities could work with Ock Pop Tok. Ms. Saw already makes piet bags sold at Ock Pop Tok’s shops (soon to be online!). Veo discussed ordering more colours and quantities from Ms. Saw. Using Ms. Na Nga’s striped patchworks sinhs as inspiration, Veo came up with potential home decor ideas that the Mussur artisans could create.
What is immediately apparent is the hard work Ms. Saw and Ms. Na Nga put into the textiles they wear and ones the create for others. From the meticulously detailed hand-stitching to the perfect placement of silver accents, the textiles are works of art!
The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC) in Luang Prabang also highlights the range of diversity among the Akha people through a permanent exhibit in their museum. It’s a stop definitely worth checking out if you are in the area.
After observing the beautiful outfits and accessories of these women, it is easy to understand the importance of preserving traditional art and culture. We are excited to be collaborating with Ms. Saw and Ms. Na Nga and their communities!