Fair Trade Bazaar celebrates World Fair Trade Day and Mother's Day

Read a nice write-up in Halifax's The Coast about our upcoming Fair Trade Bazaar on May 12-13 in Halifax. Visit our event website for details. Co-organized by TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles and Little Foot Yurts.

Participating fair trade businesses:
See you at the Bazaar! Spread the word. Bring friends.

"Tribal Textiles" in a World of "Fast Fashion"

I was recently asked what I thought about "the sudden interest" in tribal textiles. Yet, my interest, and I'm sure that of many people, was ignited when first I was exposed to them. In my case that was about 30 years ago in Guatemala.

Tribal textiles generally exhibit an unexpected use of form, colour and texture; conversely, mainstream fashions are watered down to appeal to the widest (not wildest) market. Tribal textiles are so inherently different than the mass produced fashions that fill shopping malls that anyone who looks beyond the everyday and the proscribed could not fail to be intrigued by them.

Traditional Hmong "flower cloths" -- reverse applique on hemp

Of course, another important aspect of their appeal is the growing trend towards ethical consumption. Consumers want to have their cake and eat it, too, that is they want to shop their way out of the global crises we find ourselves in environmentally and economically after more than 50 years of expanding, industrial consumption. Tribal textiles fit the bill – because they can be traced back to a time when societies lived in a greater harmony with nature and when production itself was more authentic, that is, more human and less industrial.

Paleung backstrap weavers in Northern Thailand
Contemporary fashion created with traditional Paleung skills

At the same time, tribal textiles' apparently primitive styles are consistent with the DIY trend that has been popular for a generation already. When the understated elegance and expert tailoring of high fashion, well enough haute couture, were supplanted by art students' creations of cast-offs re-assembled into layered collages, the audience receptive to tribal textiles expanded.

But, what does this mean for the women who produce these textiles? Unfortunately, it might not mean much. The current world of "fast fashion" decrees that styles come and go faster and cheaper than a traditional textile can be produced!

Traditional textiles, regardless of their cultural origins, are produced by hand. While many of the women in the Global South who make them might consider $5/day a living wage, it may take weeks to finish a piece. The end result is slower and more expensive than almost anything produced in a factory, especially when you consider the follow-on costs of sourcing, shipping, labelling, marketing and retailing a product that is produced in limited quantities. Economies of scale do not apply here.

Traditional Mien needlework decorates mobile phone pouches

Consequently, many tribal textiles are being bought used and sold by the bale. A trip to the backside of a large market in a culturally diverse area (such as in Northern Thailand) will reveal truckloads of such textiles. But how is this possible?

The saddest reason is that armed conflicts increase the availability of such booty. Loads of pre-owned textiles came out of Guatemala during the genocidal years of the 1980’s, just as loads of used tribal textiles are coming out of Burma now. Many of these have probably been trans-shipped from China, Tibet or who-knows-where.

These pre-owned textiles are then reworked in nearby sweatshops into designs that will have greater appeal outside the original cultures that they were produced by and for. Not only does this provide incomes to merchants rather than artisans, it also robs young people of their cultural heritage by exporting rare patterns rather than preserving them for future generations.

Some fair traders are doing business in a better way, of course. They establish relationships with artisans who are still producing textiles in traditional ways, whether with backstrap looms, with natural dyes and fibres, or with intricate needlework – sometimes with all three. The products so produced are sold in limited editions and at higher prices, because paying fairly for intricate handwork is never cheap, even when the artisan has a much lower cost of living. However, there will always be for a niche market for those who understand the value, as well as costs and the limitations, of artisanal goods.

Designing accent pillows with a Hmong sewing group

Here at TAMMACHAT, we buy our textiles directly from the women that make them, putting money into the hands of artisans who are working to sustain their families, their communities and their cultures. We spend time together discussing how to best use their skills for our markets, without damaging anyone’s environment. Whether it’s a scarf woven on a backstrap loom, a cushion cover decorated with traditional appliqué or a bag that combines both of those skills, we know that the artists who made them were not exploited, nor were their cultures appropriated.

We bring these to market in tens and twenties, rather than tens of thousands. Once a year we return to Southeast Asia to replace last year's treasures that have found new homes. These tribal textiles are neither fast nor cheap but they are fairly traded treasures for those who can recognize the difference.

Alleson Kase
Co-founder, TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles

O is for Organic!

O is for Organic. TAMMACHAT is proud to be one of the featured fibre businesses on the fascinating Product Talk page on the TAFA -- The Textile and Fiber Art List site. A great way to have textile questions answered that you didn't even know you had!

TAMMACHAT's Organic Silk Fabric
Read more:
P is for Printing.
Q is for Quilt.
R is for Rug.

Happy learning! And there's plenty of eye candy for you.

Warm Heart Creates Eri Silk

Greetings. My name is Eileen Eisele and I am honored to be guest blogging for TAMMACHAT. For the past 3 months our family has been volunteering at Warm Heart, a non-profit based in northern Thailand. I am here with my husband Greg and fairly agreeable 11-year-old daughter Joji. Warm Heart is a community-based NGO that works towards empowering rural Thai villagers through education, health and microenterprise initiatives. I was thrilled to meet Alleson and Ellen on one of their scheduled rounds to collect an order of scarves they placed earlier in the year with the Warm Heart weaving partnership.

Part of my volunteer assignment was to help with marketing materials for the microenterprise program. My background as a photo stylist for catalogs and commercial photo shoots has taught me one thing -- a picture is worth a thousand words. Having no prior knowledge of weaving it was with utter fascination I started documenting the incredibly multilayered process of a hand-loomed textile, from creepy crawly Eri silkworm to sensational silky scarf.

I present to you the story of a Warm Heart scarf.

Warm Heart weavers are located at the Warm Heart Children's Home and at the Pa Dang Temple. At the Children's Home, the looms sit under a converted rice barn; upstairs is the children’s library.

Eri silkworms munching away on lahoun leaves -- their job: to eat, grow and poop (which, I am told, makes a tasty tea).

Soft Eri cocoons in their "cocoon condo." After the cocoon is spun, it is cut open and the pupae released -- to become a moth, lay eggs and die, or be eaten as a tasty fried snack.

Soaking the cocoons -- this softens them and removes the stiff seracin so they can be fluffed and spun into threads.

A bundle of fluffy Eri silk fibers dries in the sun -- next the fibers will be separated by hand, ready for spinning.

Rattana, a nun at the Pa Dang Temple (Wat) spins on a wheel made from a recycled bicycle rim.

Mae Joom's experienced hands spin the silk fibers into thread. Eri silk is incredibly unique in that it has the rough texture of a cotton wool mix but the softness of silk.

Mae Joom, Warm Heart's head weaver and trainer, prepares the "Deer’s Ears" leaves for the dye bath.

Newly dyed strands of Eri silk dry in the sun. The dyeing takes several steps to reach the desired color. In the next step the pink will become dark espresso brown.

Cotton and silk threads are wound and ready to be set up on the handloom. TAMMACHAT's Eri silk scarves use traditional Mulberry silk and/or cotton for the warp threads with Eri silk for the weft.

The handloom under the rice barn is prepared for the TAMMACHAT order, which takes several weeks to complete.

Loom detail -- I was a little obsessed by the beauty of the these hand-built looms, wonders of wood and metal recycling, just gorgeous.

Rattana and her assistant work at the loom at the wat, adjusting the warp threads as they weave.

Sripan sets up the warp threads on the handloom. This is an important and time consuming step.

Ann weaves a TAMMACHAT Moss Green Agate scarf with great concentration. Twelve to 14 scarves in one design are woven at a time.

P'Yada holds her daughter Popiya, who was ever present on weaving days. All the weavers helped entertain her while P'Yada worked the loom.

Sanom, a PaDang nun displays the subtle cream and espresso Eri silk and cotton TAMMACHAT scarf still on the loom.

A shuttle holds Eri silk threads -- the texture is nubbly but oh so soft. It gives the finished scarf a beautiful texture.

Loom heddles guide the loom to create the intricate patterns -- I did mention I was obsessed.

TAMMACHAT scarves are now finished -- Joom and Moss Green Agate, which is now available online.

Coming to a neck near you -- detail of the Ivory and Ebony Eri silk scarf shows the finished espresso brown color.

Sripan and me -- they are happy to turn the camera on me for a change. I learned so much from these weavers.
[Note from Ellen of TAMMACHAT: We are thrilled to get to know and begin to work with Warm Heart, which is doing important work to help children, help reduce poverty and help villagers empower themselves in northern Thailand. We're also thrilled to see younger women carrying on weaving traditions and creating new ones with Eri silk.]

Support for TAMMACHAT in the Nova Scotia Legislature

When we returned to Canada late in March, we were surprised and pleased to find this resolution in our large pile of mail. It was drafted and read by our Member of the Legislative Assembly in Nova Scotia, Pam Birdsall, on Dec. 13, 2011 in the Nova Scotia Legislature.

Thank you, Pam, for making public the challenges faced by people in Thailand in the dramatic and destructive floods this past fall. We very much appreciate this gesture of support.

A Resolution Commending Alleson Kase and Ellen Agger, Tammachat Natural Textiles

From the records of The Nova Scotia Legislature:

Third Session


By: Ms. Pam Birdsall « » (Lunenburg)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Thailand has experienced some of the worst floods in the last 50 years, losing as much as 15 per cent of their rice crop, causing the disruption of factory operations, and causing widespread unemployment and hardship; and

Whereas Alleson Kase and Ellen Agger of Mahone Bay are the co-owners of TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles, a fair trade company that supports women artisans in Laos and Thailand; and

Whereas TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles is providing much-needed additional income for women and families living in flooded areas of Thailand through fair trade;

Therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly commend Alleson Kase and Ellen Agger of TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles, and wish them safe travels as they return to Thailand to continue to work with women's artisan groups in that country.

[Note: We donated 10% of all sales from our November shows in Nova Scotia to help women in Thailand. See our blog post of Jan. 13, 2012.]

Fresh, new handcrafted textiles now online

We're delighted to bring you fresh, new textiles from our recent trip in Thailand and Laos.  Now available on TAMMACHAT's website.

All our textiles are...Artisanal. Handwoven. Fair trade. Sustainable. Ethical. Eco.

Cotton Scarves and Shawls: handspun, chunky textures, organic cotton, lots of indigo.

Organic Silk Scarves: beautiful, beautiful, beautiful in a lovely range of colours.

 Eri Silk Scarves: handspun, textured, for women and men.

And the Blossom Travel Jewelry Pouch in Organic Silk is here and ready for you!

Drop by TAMMACHAT's website to find more offerings over the next few weeks. Follow us on Facebook  and Twitter for timely postings.