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Producers of Finished Items
We carry handicrafts made by producers of traditional products, such as the Mien men who are very skilled at working with silver wear. Producers of traditional products are villagers who are specialised in producing a specific type of product such as jewelery, baskets, or musical instruments.
Producers of Raw Materials
We also support the handicrafts produced by producers of raw materials, these can be divided into two groups
The Lahu and Karen women, who are particularly skilled in back-strap loom weaving.
2. Producers of Embroidery, Applique, Patchwork
The Lisu, Hmong, Mien, Lahu, and Akha women specialize in this production. They are known as sewn textile artisans
The Finishing Group
Finally, our third group of producers are the finishers. This group is comprised of approximately 60 tribal women who work both in the villages and in the city of Chiang Mai. They are trained by our staff to collect the raw materials and sew them into finished items such as clothing, bags, and home decor.
Making a difference- Stories of Transformation
Since 1973, Thai Tribal Crafts has been partnering with Lisu artisans to pursue market opportunities that will utilize the strengths of the craftspeople and improve their economic circumstances. One village in particular, Baan Ton Lung, has become well known for its beautiful handicraft production and long-standing relationship with TTC. Baan Ton Lung village was established in 1908 as a resettlement of Lisu people, and has since been practicing agriculture and handicraft production.
Alema Saeli, 65, was one of the first producers from this village to work with TTC. Saeli moved to the city of Chiang Mai at 27 years old to work as a dance performer for 200 THB per month. Desperate to make additional earnings, she would sell her handicrafts in the evenings. Unfortunately, even this was not enough to provide for her four children, three nephews, and drug-addict husband.
One evening, Elaine T. Lewis, a TTC founder, spotted Alema and her handicrafts near the Night Bazaar. Noticing how talented Alema was, Elaine invited her to become a producer for TTC. Thrilled by this, Alema began designing and producing handcrafted belts, earning herself an average salary of 6500 TBH per month. This was almost twice the average wage of high school graduates at the time. This allowed her to send her family to school as well as provide them with ample nourishment and healthcare. She said, “making handicrafts didn’t feel like work because I enjoyed it so much. I was glad to be able to earn a paycheck from TTC by doing something I loved”.
After Alema introduced us to Baan Tong Lung, we began a development project to provide villagers with proper training and knowledge of the retail process. TTC allowed them to first-handedly understand the business model, and villagers were invited to visit the TTC office to pick up orders and process payments.
Thirty years since we begun our partnership with Baan Ton Lung, the village has become a story of sustainable success. We currently employ 126 artisans from their village, and approximately 80% of the village income is made from the sale of handicrafts. Alema is now retired and enjoying a peaceful life. In a recent interview she claimed that, “my family’s lives have changed. Future generations will now have a better standard of living because of TTC”.
Thai Tribal Craft has been working with Lawa tribal village Baan La Oob since 1996. This village is about 250 kilometers west of Chiang Mai, in the Mae La Noi district of Mae Hong Son. Baan La Oob is recognized for its beautifully assembled silver products. We work with 12 producers from the village who are skilled at making silver earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.
In recent years, many young people from tribal communities all over Thailand have begun to leave their villages and move to the cities in the hopes of finding better paying jobs. For this reason, the population of youth in Baan La Oob is rapidly declining.
Narongchai Pratheeppoj, a 25 year old Baan La Oob native, is one of the few adolescents who has stayed in the village. Taking over his father’s role as the representative for the village’s silver producer group, he says he would like to preserve traditional silver work by teaching the skills to the younger generation. “I want to create an income opportunity for the villagers here so that they will not need to move into the cities.”
As agriculture is the main source of income for the people in this village, Narongchai also grows rice, cabbage, corn, and coffee to supplement his income. He says he “ assembling silver handicrafts is very important to me because it helps my cash flow. With it, I don’t need to borrow money from financial agencies that must be paid back with high interests rates. I can use the money earned from jewelry making to invest in agricultural work and purchase fertilizer and seeds”.
Narongchai regularly visits TTC’s head office to pick up orders, collect payments, and grow his network of contacts. He currently leads the silver group’s participation in the OTOP fair, an event organized by the Thai government.
With the advice and cooperation of TTC, Narongchai and his group have established an eco-tourism, home-stay program within their village. They hope to promote their beautiful silver work and share their stories as Lawa artisans. Travellers are welcomed in the La Oob community with dignity and respect. The villagers hope to share how fair trade has made a substantial impact on their lives.
Mrs. Marasri Wanachode, 58 has been learning methods of traditional tie-dye weaving, embroidery, and natural dye from her mother since she was young. She now uses these skills to support her family and neighbors. In 1958, Marasri married and had three children, however her husband unexpectedly passed away in 1968. For many years she struggled to support her family, but in 1969 she took a job with TTC and became a full-time weaver. This has allowed her much more economic freedom for her and her family.
A few years later, Marsri opened a small craft shop at Baan Pong in Mae Sariang district of Mae Hong Song, about 280 kilometers west of Chiang Mai. It was here that she founded a weavers group, comprised of the women from the local church. In 1973, the center for the weavers of Baan Pong grew large, and a new shop officially opened in Chiang Mai city. Currently, orders from TTC provide part time employment for over 300 Karen weavers from the Baan Pong producer group.
Just like Marasri, many village women lack formal education, restricting them from economically viable opportunities in the regular job market. Fortunately, they are increasingly making use of their traditional skills to produce products for international markets.