Pictured above, natural dyes on display at OckPopTok in Luang Prabang, Laos.

OckPopTok’s Veomanee Duangdala explains to Global Exchange Board of Directors member Nhu Miller how each plant grown on their property creates a different color used to dye textiles. Strands of colorful string are neatly hung, with the root plant presented below, so visitors can easily identify where each color of dye comes from.

Jenie at the loom, in deep concentration.

What better way to learn about the weaving process then to try it out for yourself?! That’s just what we did during our visit to Ockpoptok’s weaving center. After watching the weavers for a while, Jenie and I tried our luck at the loom. As suspected, it took us a while to catch on, but we finally got the hang of it. Our teachers were patient in giving us the basic knowledge we needed to weave a few lines. We learned enough to realize that it takes great skill, accuracy and concentration to create the beautiful textiles Laos is famous for. The Ockpoptok weavers were certainly masters in their own right, making what they do look easy. Having tried it out for myself, I can assure you, easy it is not! Keep an eye out for Ockpoktok textiles, which will be introduced on our website this Fall!

Written by: Tex Dworkin, Manager of the Global Exchange Fair Trade Online Store

Situated alongside the picturesque Makong River, the Ockpoptok workshop is a wonderful place for weaving enthusiasts to visit.

OckPopTok is Lao for ‘east meets west’. Co-founded in April 2000 by Joanne Smith and Veomanee Duangdala, OckPopTok aims to promote Lao textiles abroad, to train its team in a way that encourages commitment and pride in each other and in the group, and to provide a working environment that recognizes an individual’s skills and initiative and produces a better quality of living. OckPopTok has a gallery space near the center of Luang Prabang, but the bulk of their work is done off premises in their workshop space along the river. Here visitors can witness the weaving process firsthand.

The Makong River pictured above, was our view from the riverside restaurant we planted ourselves at one evening to enjoy the tastes of Laos.

Our Global Exchange direct buying trip to Southeast Asia included a weeklong stopover in Luang Prabang, a World Heritage Site situated at the junction of the Mekong and its tributary, the Khan river, and surrounded by lush mountains. In the centre of the city is Mount Phousi, with stunning views of the surrounding temples and hills. Jenie (our Senior Buyer) and I met up with Global Exchange Board of Directors member Nhu Miller, who seemed to know all the right people in all the right places! We visited with Kopnoi, a local Fair Trade business doing a world of good. We wandered and browsed through local craft markets, discussing the sad fact that many crafter sellers were asking far less for their products than they were worth, especially when the amount of time it takes to produce each item was taken into account. With limited access to foreign markets, craftspeople are dependent upon the meager amount of visitors who spend their tourist dollars on local wares. What I find frustrating is that wherever I am in the world, I find tourists who seem to inhibit a sense of obligation to haggle with local sellers, regardless of whether the asking price seems fair or how long the item took to make. At the market in Luang Prabang, a local sewer was asking $20 for a hand-stitched double sized quilt. When she sensed my lack of enthusiasm, the $20 quilt suddenly came with two matching pillowcases. And when that failed to engage me, the price sank. So did my heart.

Written by: Tex Dworkin, Manager of the Global Exchange Fair Trade Online Store