Before there was Ock Pop Tok, there were two friends learning and experimenting with different ideas of Lao weaving.
Before there were three shops, a Living Crafts Centre, the Village Weaver Project and a nonprofit foundation, there was a hunch “to see what happens” when offering a few pieces up for sale.
Before the team was more than 100 people strong, it was a group of women hanging out in Luang Prabang and simply dreaming.
Defined mission statements and ethical policies weren’t in place with the first sale. But growing from a team of two to where Ock Pop Tok is now, 15 years later, meant deciding values to build the company upon: a shared belief that people should be paid fairly and treated with respect. Turns out, they are fully aligned with what it means to be “fair trade”.
Ock Pop Tok has since clearly laid out the mission, based on commitments to women’s empowerment, good working conditions and top quality — from materials to finished product. But the ideals came before the “fair trade” label.
Fair trade defined
Ock Pop Tok is a founding member of Fair Trade Laos, a community of businesses that put producers ahead of profits in efforts to make a sustainable source of income for families across the country.
- Creating Opportunities for Impoverished Producers
- Transparency and Accountability
- Fair Trading Practices
- Payment of a Fair Price
- No Child Labour and Forced Labour
- Commitment to Non Discrimination and Gender Equality
- Ensuring Good Working Conditions
- Providing Capacity Building
- Promoting Fair Trade
- Respect for the Environment
Just as every company and industry is different, fair trade is represented in different ways as well. A coffee company obviously operates different than a chocolate company… or a shoe company…or a textile company. But as the movement grows, the questions around the idea seems to grow as well. “Fair trade” can be a term that’s used (and abused) without much context. But fundamentally, the principles are important to help make a difference in all industries — and the people who produce within them.
Fair trade at Ock Pop Tok
With many purchases, it’s hard to truly know where the product comes from. But, when you can, knowledge allows you to make a conscious purchase that has a deeper meaning, like supporting families or continuing traditions.
That’s exactly the idea behind the Living Crafts Centre here at Ock Pop Tok. You can see and meet the women who create the artisan, handmade products that you’re taking home. Weavers are provided tangible support, including raw materials and equipment, as well as intangible benefits, like a shared artistic community and job security. (Read more about the weavers at the Living Crafts Centre on our Artisans page)
We work to make the traditional artform of weaving a sustainable way to support families, now and in the future — showing younger generations that working with textiles can be a viable, enjoyable, creative occupation.
And our Village Weaver Project provides opportunities including a stable, reliable partner with consistent ordering and continued training.
Ock Pop Tok’s values aim to be a beacon of best practices — both within the country and outside of it — for visitors and the larger textile community.
What you can do
With the fair trade movement growing by the day, it includes the food you eat to the clothes you wear to how you decorate your home. We encourage you to think about the people behind those products and seek out similar companies that are making a difference.
Small business and social enterprises around the world are doing their part to shift working policies toward the better. We try hard to ensure you can not only get a beautiful piece that has human skill and art behind it, but you’re learning about the people, the culture and the country it represents, as well.
Your everyday choices can lead to big change toward a world where we shop, eat and live more consciously. Embrace and support fair trade today!
World Fair Trade Day is May 14th. Learn more at http://www.laosfairtrade.org/.
#MeetTheWeavers to learn more about the women behind our textiles — and read the Faces of OPT: