Silk Weaving is to Laos Like Pasta Is to Italy
Veomanee Douangdala loves looms from her family tradition of silk weaving. She co founded a social business to further the education and development of the Lao people to sustain the art and commercial value of weaving products.
Where did you learn to weave? Is it a family tradition?
The origin of the tradition of weaving in Laos goes back many, many generations. As far as I know, weaving has always been a part of my family. I saw my grandmother making the most beautiful scarves I have ever seen. That’s how my mum learned the skill and then taught me when I turned eight years old. I grew up weaving. I was the only girl out of four children so I had to inherit this craft from my mum. Sometimes it was hard to sit at the loom with all the threads instead of playing with my brothers. But now that I am grown, I’m happy to have learned this skill to sustain a bright future for the weaving Industry in Laos.
When did you start this initiative?
My co-founder, Joanna, and I started thinking of starting this social business in early 2000 and finally opened as Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Center and shops in Luang Prabang in 2005. From then on we tried to support the weaving villages and employed a couple of the best handicraft producers to come work for us. We also started organizing workshops for visitors to learn the beauty of this iconic handicraft.
Are you teaching the weaving skills yourself and how often do you get weaving students?
I am not weaving anymore. Ock Pop Tok shops (two in Luang Prabang old town and one at the Living Crafts Center) we now employ over 40 weavers making all the handicraft products we sell. Joanna and I do the workshops and explain everything about the weaving process. Our educational program is different in that we take interns, volunteers who like to learn weaving. Mostly they are foreign travelers who love textiles and want to learn about weaving. Some stay one month and if they like it even as long as six months. Each year it differs how many long-term interns we have. The average is two persons per year. Feel free to become our intern!
Can you describe a typical day in your Living Crafts Center?
There is no typical day for us as the staff of Ock Pop Tok is a social business. It all depends on visitors, bookings, new products, and events. We also have a bed and breakfast accommodation at our Living Crafts Center, so a day for us mostly starts with preparing breakfast for our guests in our small restaurant overlooking the Mekong River. In the meantime, we prepare things for the shop, place and label new products and the booking manager will check if everything is ready for visitor tours and workshops. Sometimes there are events in the Living Crafts Centre such as Mekong Terrace in lieu (amazing Mekong sunset view deck, opening for high season).
When it comes to weaving, what’s your favorite theme/style?
At this moment we don’t have a special theme of our handicrafts. We do have traditional style items and modern style items. Most of them, however, are a mix between old and new Lao style.
Do you think Khiri Travel travelers should try weaving?
Yes, of course! Not only do we have the workshops to learn the weaving, but we also we do guided tours through our center where the guide can tell your travelers everything they want to know about the weaving starting with silk worm sericulture to how we make organic dyes for the threads and weaving on the loom. Other visitors just come by to browse our shop, or enjoy a fruit shake or meal at our relaxing restaurant.
For more information about how your travelers can visit Ock Pop Tok or support Lao people in similar development programs, please contact [email protected]