Producer Spotlight: Ock Pop Tok

Posted on August 02, 2013 by Ali Price | 0 Comments

We've been working with Ock Pop Tok, a social enterprise based in Laos that works with artisans all over the country to offer sustainable employment and keep traditional weaving techniques alive. We caught up with Dan Nash on Ock Pop Tok's team to learn more about their work, how they got started, and the must-see places in Laos.
Can you tell us how Ock Pop Tok got started?
Ock Pop Tok was founded in 2000 by a local weaver Veomanee Douangdala and an English photographer Joanna Smith.  Starting with just a small weaving centre offering tours in 2000, this was transformed into the full Living Craft Centre in 2005 and a four bedroom villa was added to the Living Craft Centre at the beginning of 2012. It also initiated the Village Weaver Project, in which Ock Pop Tok’s artisans empower and provide sustainable employment to over 800 local women by transferring their weaving and handicraft skills. In 2006, the company also opened Fibre2Fabric, a non-profit gallery that showcases textiles as a dedication to documenting, exhibiting and upholding the social role and tradition of textiles in Laos. 
Where are the Ock Pop Tok artisans primarily based? Do you mainly employ women?
From the very beginning the aim of Ock Pop Tok has been to empower rural women to use their traditional textile producing skills to create a sustainable future for their immediate families and villages. In addition Ock Pop Tok seeks to educate the wider world to the rich history and traditions of Lao weaving through a range of educational activities. 
About 60% our production is done in Luang Prabang at our Living Craft Centre with our full time weavers, the other 40% comes from part-time weavers from our Village Weaver projects spread through Laos. Ock Pop Tok is one of the founding members of the Lao Fair Trade Group. It works alongside development agencies and the Lao Women’s Union to create Village Weaver Projects across 11 provinces all over Lao. The aim is to train artisans from remote areas in product design and other textile business related skills. Village based production is found to have significant benefits to communities as a whole.
What is the textile making process?
The textile making process is a complicated and time intensive process. It starts off with approximately 5000 silk worms and feeding them daily. Once the worms have formed their cocoons, we boil them and get silk. Next, the weavers will have an idea of the design and proceed to obtain the natural resources to dye the silks and then start weaving. A scarf could take anytime from 1 week to months, depending on how complicated the patterns are.
Can you tell us more about the workshops and seminars you offer? 
Our workshop and classes include natural dyeing, weaving, batik classes and bamboo weaving. Classes range from 1/2 day to 3 days. Guests will learn about the origins of silk, silkworms and its life cycle. They will then be introduced to the natural dyes and are invited to prepare two dye sources from natural resources. This involves boiling or crushing various plants and mixing them with different stones or metals to obtain a certain colours. Our weaving classes invite guests to weave their own place mats with the help of our master weavers while our bamboo weaving classes allow guests to weave their own baskets using bamboo strips. In our batik class, guests will learn from our Batik expert with more than 30 years of experience. They will get a first hand experience trying out batik and creating their own designs with our help.
Do you have any programs to support your artisans?
We provide a fair wage, safe and healthy working environment as well as contractual benefits to all our staff and weavers. We pay considerably higher than the legal Lao minimum wage to all our weavers. To give a sense of scale, the average full time weaver at Ock Pop Tok earns 3 times more than a state employee with a bachelor degree. On top of that, weavers receive commission for each product made. We also provide a minimum subsidy of 50% for their healthcare and sometimes, 100%. We also pay pay for training courses in relevant subjects like English language and computer skills. 
Finally, can you name some of your favorite places in Laos?
Luang Prabang of course!! The Mekong, the mountains, the architecture, the food, the people. Really one of the most special places in the world. Phongsali is a great place to go trekking in remote Akha villages way up in the mountains. Stunning scenery and a fascinating world of remote villages, feels like the edge of the world. Tat lo is the land of stunning waterfalls and laid-back backpacker vibe. Kong Lor cave is a stunning 7km cave running through a river underneath Limestone mountains. You cross it on a boat with torches. Bolaven Plateau is where Lao coffee is grown. Take a motorbike from Pakse and take a few days passing through amazing scenery and visiting coffee plantations until you reach the pretty town of Attapeu. Way off the beaten track but well worth it!
Thanks so much, Dan, for sharing with us. The whole Lydali team is itching to visit Laos now. Shop Ock Pop Tok's beautiful scarves here. Learn more about their work in Laos (and visiting them!) here.

Posted in laos, ock pop tok, producer spotlight, travel, travel diaries


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