Supporting Palaung backstrap weavers

Palaung women in traditional dress
Our December wouldn’t be complete without a day at the Doi Kham Fair in Chiang Mai. At this annual exhibition of the King’s Royal Projects in northern Thailand, we were fortunate this year to meet a group of Palaung weavers. The Palaung (also spelled “Palong’ or, as they call themselves, “Ta’ang”) are the most recent displaced peoples to settle in Thailand from Burma.

In Burma, where they are one of the oldest indigenous peoples, they live primarily in northern Shan State in an area long recognized for tea production. A new report released by Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization estimates that 63% of farming families have lost their land to confiscation by the Burmese military and their cronies, primarily for massive hydroelectric and pipeline development projects. Read more on the Palaung Women's Organization website.

Cotton scarf, naturally dyed
The Palaung women we met live close to the Thai-Burmese border, about 3 hours by bus from Chiang Mai. Their traditional dress, which they were wearing, centres around red fabric but the handwoven scarves we bought from them are naturally dyed. All were woven with thick, cotton yarns on backstrap looms.

The older women we met belong to a 42-women strong weaving group, while the younger women from whom we also bought belong to another group in a nearby village. As with all the women's weaving groups with whom we work, weaving brings important additional income to these communities.

To learn more about the Palaung people, visit Indigenous Peoples of the World. For more information on backstrap weaving, visit Backstrap Basics. And see our post about another backstrap weaving group from last year's Doi Kham Fair.

Cotton scarf, naturally dyed
Cotton scarf, naturally dyed
Cotton scarf, naturally dyed
Cotton scarf, naturally dyed

Cross stitch textiles reduce women's poverty

At the Asia Pacific Feminist Forum, I wasted no time finding the women's craft area. The struggle against the exploitation of migrant labour – domestic and industrial – was a major topic and the products available in the craft area were examples of positive income alternatives.

My eyes went immediately to the needlework of a women’s group from Phayao in northern Thailand. Baan Tho Fan Maetam Group is a social enterprise formed to help earn additional for village women and to provide scholarships to village children who are otherwise easy prey for sexual exploitation.

The group is comprised of an embroidery team of 59 hill tribe women. Mien (i.e., Yao) women are widely known as expert cross stitchers; the beautiful works on display were fine examples. The Maetam Group also includes a sewing team of 7 women who add these decorations onto sturdy cotton bags and pouches.

TAMMACHAT will be selling these wonderfully crafted, fair trade items in the Spring and Summer of 2012, when this group will celebrate their 16th anniversary of providing alternatives to poverty and exploitation.


New photo book showcases Lao weaving

Lao weavers are renowned for their skills in creating exceptional silks. TAMMACHAT's 5th photo book on weaving in Southeast Asia, Mulberries ORGANIC SILK, is now available. It features the work of World Fair Trade Organization member Lao Sericulture Company, a non-profit that sustains rural weavers in Laos and sells under its brand, Mulberries.

Preview the book for free in TAMMACHAT's bookstore on, then order a copy in softcover or hardcover (with paper dust jacket or with image wrap). Also available in iBook format for quick download (for iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch) -- only $4.99.

Other TAMMACHAT photo books available (photos by Ellen Agger, text by Alleson Kase):
  • Panmai: Handweaving in Thailand (featuring a women's weaving co-op, specializing in hand-reeled, organic silk and known for their natural dyeing skills)
  • Prae Pan Group: Handweaving in Thailand (featuring a women's weaving co-op that is known for its earth tones in cotton)
  • Weaving Sustainable Communities: Organic Cotton Along the Mekong
  • SILK (a collection of images showing the entire process of creating beautiful silks in Thailand and Laos)

Asia Pacific Feminist Forum brings activists together

We arrive in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand with a splash! We fall into the inaugural Asia Pacific Feminist Forum of the Asia Pacific Forum for Women, Law & Development with 120 delegates from 20 countries.

Having written ahead to volunteer, we’re greeted warmly. Ellen’s tasked with tweeting from workshops; I mingle at coffee-breaks gleaning participants’ reactions and suggestions.

The women from Burma are beyond impressive. “We cannot speak of human rights in Myanmar so we speak of human dignity,” one says. This resonates deeply with an Indian women who shares her experience working at the grassroots where people deemed “untouchable” feel excluded from the legal world of “rights,” but understandably long for “dignity.”

Like the other women, we’re thrilled to see light shining in the eyes of the young Cambodian women and sobered by the thoughtful comments of an activist from Fiji who shares her exhaustion. “Four coups are too much for anyone.”

Easing into Asia? Guess not!

Follow APWLD on Twitter: @apwld. To see Feminist Forum tweets: #apff.


Feminists from across the Asia Pacific region enjoy one another

Fair trade underwear & swimwear

If you work for low wages in a garment factory in Thailand and your union president is unjustly fired, what do you do? After years of struggle, a group of unjustly fired garment factory workers in Thailand formed their own cooperative, Try Arm, offering no exploitation, sweatshop-free, fair trade fashion.

I had the good fortune to hear Jitra Cotchadet, the former union president at Triumph, a German-owned factory employing 3,000 workers. She spoke at the first Asia Pacific Feminist Forum, Dec. 12-13, 2011 in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

From the Try Arm website:
"The TRY ARM brand originated in the protest camp occupied by Triumph International Thailand Labor Union workers engaged in a months-long struggle against their unlawful dismissal by their employer. After more than 20 years of laboring under exploitative garment factory conditions while serving as a beacon for social movements throughout Thailand, TITLU workers have responded to their employer’s final act of union busting by applying their longstanding commitment to democracy and economic justice to the production process itself.

"Combining extensive manufacturing experience with an unwavering social conscience, Triumph’s former union employees have now begun to produce TRY ARM undergarments and swimwear according to principles of sweat-free labor and workers’ self-management. We hope that you enjoy these high quality products in which each TRY ARM cooperative member has an equal, vital stake."

Learn more about Try Arm at

Modelling Try-Arm underwear at the Feminist Fashion Show, Asia Pacific Feminist Forum, Chiang Mai, Thailand, Dec. 12-14, 2011