Peace, women and Lao silk

Laos, a small, impoverished and thinly populated country land-locked between China, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma, is renowned for its silk. In recent years, however, a flood of low-quality silk threads and finished weavings from China and Vietnam have overwhelmed the Lao marketplace, resulting in a mishmash of qualities of 'silk' textiles available in Laos and Thailand.

So we were excited to find the not-for-profit Lao Sericulture Co. -- a source of high quality, organic, naturally dyed silk textiles, sold under the name Mulberries.

In 2006, Mulberries was certified by IFAT, the global network of fair trade organizations, a designation earned for its fair trade and poverty alleviation practices.

We're equally excited that Lao Sericulture uses no chemicals anywhere in their cycle of textile production; they (and we) can rightly assert that their silk is 100% organic!

When we were in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, we had the great honour to meet with the founder of Lao Sericulture Co., Kommaly Chantavong, who was a nominee for "1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005." A quiet, dignified woman, Kommaly is well described on the Peacewomen Across the Globe website:

Kommaly was 11 years old when her village was destroyed by US bombers attacking the Ho Chi Minh Trail. She walked for a month to Vientiane, the capital, bringing with her silk weaving skills that her family has been engaged in for generations. “I learned to weave from my mother when I was six years old, and I loved it”, she recollects.

Kommaly studied nursing, but then she found the goal of her life: “I met many desperately poor families displaced from rural areas without any marketable skills,” she explains, “so I started to teach the women how to weave silk...Our goal is to strengthen the position of women by giving them a dependable income and thus improve the chances of their children,” says Kommaly with a gentle but radiant smile.

Lao Sericulture has a production and residential training facility on a farm in Xieng Khouang province, which employs 60 people who:
- raise mulberry trees and the animals that produce the manure to fertilize them;
- raise silkworms and produce silk threads;
- grow the materials they use to naturally dye the silk threads;
- and weave high quality textiles.

Understandably, more than 17 people might be involved in the production of 1 scarf!

Not all of Mulberries' producers are at the farm; more than 2,000 people benefit from their involvement. Lao Sericulture provides silkworm eggs to weavers in numerous villages in several provinces. Women in each village bring a different set of skills to the production cycle: some raise silkworms and produce threads, some are expert with dyes and others specialize in one of the many types of weaving evident in Mulberries' products.

Lao Sericulture also plays an important role in training: there are 40 looms at the farm where village women train free of charge for 3-12 months before returning to their villages to train other women. Because they work with villagers in different provinces, they are able to offer designs that are specialties of each region: ikat (mutmii) from the South, supplementary weft from the central region and discontinuous supplementary weft from the North. (This information is probably of most interest to the weavers among you!)

We bought dozens of 100% organic, naturally dyed scarves and shawls in deep magenta, soft amethyst, vibrant copper, subtle latte, buttery beeswax and more! We are delighted to bring these beautiful textiles to Canada, along with the story and the spirit of Lao Sericulture.

If you'd like to learn more about Kommaly and the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 Campaign, visit the PeaceWomen Across the Globe site.

Ellen (Luk Nok)
Alleson (Pii Tem)