Date of this Version
Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).
This paper examines the responses of Tai speaking groups in Laos and Vietnam to outside influences and their increasing awareness of the commercial value of their handwoven fabrics. Based on the author’s field work in Luang Namtha Province, Laos, Nghe An Province, Vietnam and Vientiane and Luang Prabang cities, Laos, the weavers in the three regions are compared and their responses to challenges presented such as the availability of yarns and dyes and access to input from the target market and outlets for their products are examined.
In northern Laos live the Tai-speaking Lue, Tai Dam, Tai Khao and Tai Daeng. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of governmental and non-governmental agencies worked with various villages to encourage the weavers to produce cloths that could be sold to outsiders as a source of income. In order to appeal to a foreign market, the weavers were introduced to the idea of making textiles incorporating new widths, colors and patterns. Initially, the Lao government set up a distribution network. Today, private traders dominate. Luang Namtha Province, bordering on Burma and China, has few foreign tourists who could give the weavers immediate product feedback.
There are also a number of Tai speakers living in northern Vietnam, most notably the Tai Dam and Tai Khao. In the late 1990s a non-governmental agency, Craft Link, identified certain villages in Nghe An Province as training centers to revive traditional weaving and to make it commercially viable. The weavers in these villages are still actively involved in producing textiles for sale, with Craft Link as their primary outlet. The area of Nghe An Province discussed in this paper, near the border with Laos, is not open to tourism.
The paper ends with an examination of the textiles produced by the Lao-Tai commercial weavers living in the Laotian cities of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Unlike their counterparts living in rural provinces, these weavers have direct access to the purchasers of their product and greater exposure to the outside world by attending trade fairs and conferences in other countries.