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Oz Fair Trade

Meet the Artisans of Saoban Crafts, Laos

Oz Fair Trade Laos Saoban

Laotian women in ethnic groups account for 70 percent of the illiterate population. Many of them rely on weaving to earn an income. Poor rural people depend on agriculture for food and income, but agricultural conditions are often unfavourable and productivity is low. This makes income from weaving essential. The gaining popularity of factory produced and/or imported textile goods are making life increasingly difficult for these women.

Saoban is a member of PADETC, a Lao NGO that integrates socially sustainable programs in education, agriculture, micro-finance, handcrafts and community leadership. Saoban is a social business that works with traditional artisans to preserve and promote Lao village crafts. It works under the principles of fair trade in order to create employment opportunities for villagers, especially women, and reduce poverty. The word "saoban" is Lao for “village”; the enterprise represents a dynamic and promising new opportunity for an ancient craft. Saoban works on both sides of production, improving product quality and variety while also sourcing markets domestic and foreign on behalf of rural artisan groups. Today, Saoban works with over 300 artisans in 14 producer groups across five provinces of Laos.

Fair Trade

  • Saoban creates opportunities for economically and socially marginalised producers in Laos and operates on the principles of ‘fair trade’.
  • Saoban ensures fair pay and working conditions for village artisans to provide rural families and communities the opportunity for a dignified and sustainable livelihood.
  • Saoban is an active member of Fair Trade Laos.
  • Saoban imbibes the World Fair Trade Organization’s 10 Standards that Fair Trade Organizations must follow in their day-to-day work.

Eco-friendly products

  • Saoban supports sustainable practices by using raw materials from sustainably managed sources or by using waste materials.
  • Saoban promotes the use of natural dyes, reviving traditional indigenous knowledge.
  • Saoban artisans create products from local bamboo, silk and organically grown cotton, using hand-powered techniques, the way the Lao people have for centuries.

Lao cotton

  • Saoban works with a group of talented cotton weavers, comprised of 60 women, in Savannakhet Province. The group produces a range of beautiful cotton products that have been hand spun, hand dyed with natural dyes, and hand woven on traditional wooden looms.

Recycled bombshell products

  • For decades, artisans in Laos have been converting materials of mass destruction to objects of beauty. Some of the objects that Saoban producers make using recycled bombshells include spoons, bangles and pendants. One such artisan is Mr Sone from Napia Village of Xiengkhuang province.

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Artisan Stories
Only 16 at that time, young Kong had to set aside her dreams of finishing school. Instead, she stoically took up the burden to help her parents raise and feed the family of ten by farming and weaving. “I have always loved to weave and I don’t mind sitting for hours at my loom weaving the intricate motifs for the sinh and scarves,” she said. But it was difficult for Kong to earn money from weaving as the village is far from the main silk markets. In 2006, Kong learned about Saoban, which promotes socially and environmentally viable small-and-medium rural enterprises. Kong approached Saoban to help her establish a small weaving enterprise in her village. From Saoban, Kong and her weaver group were trained in basic business planning, product design, quality control, and natural dyeing. Saoban also provided to the group two high-quality looms and micro-loans to start the business. Kong’s own economic situation has improved progressively. She now earns about 2 million kip (about US$250.00) each month and for the first time she and her family could enjoy a degree of economic stability. In fact, she has used part of her earnings to buy more rice land and cows to augment her family farm and renovated her house.

Everyone from Ms Anousone’s village knows how to  gin and  spin cotton  into thread, dye with natural indigo and then weave the cotton fibres into the distinctive raw fabric of the region. “I learnt  this from my mother, who learnt from her mother, who learnt from her mother” explained the 29 year old mother of three.  “We really want to start our own business so we can make and sell our products as we like” said Anousone. Although Anousone and her neighbours have technical expertise, they don’t have any experience in business management, quality control and marketing. They now want to become part of Saoban’s network. Since 2005, Saoban has facilitated the formation of 14 groups of rural artisans in Laos that now operate as small businesses. This means the profits from their work stays in the village communities. Your purchase of Saoban’s cotton products will help Anousone’s dream of running a business come true. Saoban plans to support Anousone and her friends form a self-determining artisan group, providing them training and micro loans to commence business operations.