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Pioneer uses silk to bring prosperity to local community         

Mulberry trees, silkworms, silk and silk textiles have been closely interwoven with the life of the Lao people for hundreds of years. They are not only symbolic of Laos, but create job opportunities and generate income for weavers, helping them to live above the poverty line. 

A weaver at work at the Phontong Handicraft Cooperative in Vientiane. 

President of the mulberry plantation and silk spinning company and Phontong Handicraft Cooperative, MsKommalyChanthavong, is a good example of those who have worked closely with mulberry trees, silkworms, silk and silk textiles for more than 40 years.
However, her success did not come about by chance. She has been devoting her time and effort to silk weaving since 1975. For 40 years, she has followed the government’s guidelines on making silk products to benefit both herself and her community.
MsKommaly works with a group of 10 women who live in Phontong village, Chanthabouly district, Vientiane.
She was one of the many internally displaced people living in Phontong in 1975. At the age of 10, she left her home in Huaphan province along with her family and came to Vientiane.
At that time, two options existed for those looking for employment - find work with the government or work within a cooperative.
MsKommaly decided not to work for the government, as she wanted to help those in her community. She knew that many women in the village had no employment and little source of income besides the small wages men received for manual labour.
But she also knew that many of the women from the northern provinces had learnt traditional weaving skills from their mothers and grandmothers. Equipped with this knowledge and a lot of determination, she asked 10 women to meet together in her house and formed the Phontong Weavers.
The Phontong Weavers functioned as a simple cooperative by sharing what they had and what they made. Old looms, technical advice, money, and time were all donated to the group, and the resulting products were sold in the Talat Sao Mall. The weavers turned out to be so successful they caught the government’s eye in 1977.
The same year, the government asked the group to weave the numerous ribbons needed for the uniforms of soldiers and police officers. This extra business allowed the weavers to expand their operations and start working in the villages around Vientiane.
From 1980-87 the group continued to expand and mature. In 1985, basket weavers were added to the continually growing group of artisans and the group applied to the government to become a recognised cooperative.
 In order to meet government criteria, each person involved in the cooperative was given a vote, a share and a formal election was held. MsKommaly was elected as the director of the cooperative, and the group legally became the Phontong Handicraft Cooperative (PHC). The government sold raw materials and dyes to the group and set their sale prices based on the production costs that the cooperative had submitted.
Then the mulberry plantation and silk spinning company obtained a concession on 40 hectares of land to grow mulberry trees, raise silkworms, weave fabrics and rear livestock.
Villagers from XiengKhuang, Huaphan and Xaysomboun provinces became involved and 300-600 people banded together to grow mulberry trees.
Since then, PHC has continued to work with village artisans in hopes of helping them to build a better future. But their success depends on finding markets for their products.
Local people raise silkworms which the company buys and sends to weaving groups for use in the making of silk fabric and women’s skirts (sinh). Natural dyes are also used in the production process.
Every step of the process is supervised by experts who have more than 30 years of experience at the company, including in style and pattern design.
Marketing
The products made by the company are sold in local markets and also exported. Their showcase shops are located in Mixay village, Chanthabouly district and in Paek district, XiengKhuang province.
They also have business partners in Australia, the United States and Canada. The company also advertises its products online so that customers have easy access.
In addition, the company produces mulberry juice, mulberry jam, mulberry leaf tea, and soap and shampoo made from mulberry fruit and leaves.
Today more people are ordering these products, creating income for the company, its employees and members of the group.
MsKommaly said she was pleased to help everyone involved in the cultivation of mulberry trees and the making of silk products to gradually rise above poverty.

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update May 4, 2017)

 

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