TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles: working with rural women weavers in Thailand and Laos

naturally dyed, handwoven silk scarf from ThailandTAMMACHAT Natural Textiles brings fairly traded, naturally dyed, handwoven textiles to Canada and beyond through our Online Shop. We work with rural women's weaving groups and development projects that work with village groups in Thailand and Laos. All this work is small scale, home-based work and produces an important secondary income to women who primarily work as rice farmers.

Important to us is to tell the stories of some of these weavers. Our Travel Blog chronicles our time spent with several of the weaving groups on our most recent trip to Thailand and Laos. We have created books about the 2 longest running women's weaving coops in Northeast Thailand, Panmai and Prae Pan Group, and have developed 2 slideshows that tell the stories behind the textiles we sell: "Social Fabric" and "Women Weave: Organic Cotton Along the Mekong." Photographs on our website give a face to the women behind the textiles we buy.

Panmai weaving coop members raising silkwormsThere are lots of challenges in working in this part of the world: language (although my partner speaks Thai); different ways of doing business (e.g., no "just in time" production, as handweaving an order of 12 silk scarves takes 2-3 months); different business tools used (they're masters with mobile phones, but don't use the internet at all, as they have limited access to it and don't read or write English); variations in natural dye colours (which makes custom orders interesting but difficult if we're making it for a customer who is used to chemical dye consistency); and it goes on.

Another challenge for us as fair traders who work with small scale, home-based artisan groups, is to identify which products we can reliably source. To do this, we must travel and meet directly with the weaving groups. They have been our teachers as we develop long-term relationships. We have learned how they work, and what their needs and capacities are. For example, it takes 3+ months to weave 40 metres of plain weave silk fabric, which means we can only make custom orders with long lead times that include time for planting seasonal mulberries bushes used to feed the silkworms. Organic cotton produced in Thailand is grown from heritage varieties of cotton that must be handspun; this means only textured organic cotton fabric is available in small quantities seasonally.

Thai weaver at her loom, weaving an organic cotton scarfThe groups from whom we buy, particularly the silk producers in the Northeast of Thailand, are facing uncertain futures with competition from cheap "silk" from Vietnam and China; as well, the weavers are generally older women whose daughters and granddaughters are not interested in continuing these generations-old weaving traditions unless they can see that it can generate much-needed income for their families.

Unlike England, Canada is just starting to open up to fair trade textiles. We're working to generate interest and support the movement to know more about the products we buy and consume; to open up international markets for women artisans in rural Thailand and Laos; and to celebrate and help them sustain their weaving traditions, families and communities. We hope this forum will help us do that. Visit our website to learn more.

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Comment by Mary King on May 30, 2009 at 15:40
Hi Ellen, Great to read about your project. As you may know my work with the Panchachuli Women Weavers from India now has 750 women in the co-operative and we are just beginning to import the fabrics and accessories to the U.K. Good luck and best wishes, Mary mary@panchachuli.co.uk
Comment by Rosanne Trottier on May 15, 2009 at 13:29
hi Ellen,

Good to see you've been ever so active since our recent encounter in Bangkok! Congratulations, keep up the good work, hope we can meet again soon,
Comment by Ellen Agger on May 15, 2009 at 9:06
Hi, Andrea. I can send you samples. Contact me with your address at ask@tammachat.com.

In fair trade,
Comment by ANDREA GALER on May 15, 2009 at 6:05
I would be good to see i any of these fabrics work for my collections - how do I see / get samples

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