LAO HANDICRAFT FESTIVAL
Each year, over 200 artists from around the country travel to Vientiane to participate in the festival and sell an extensive variety of products including textiles, jewellery, non-timber and recycled products, pottery and many other cultural items. Beautiful handmade pieces are on sale to suit all budgets, from inexpensive souvenirs to exquisite high-end collectables. Food products such as coffee, tea, oils and spices produced in Lao are also a key feature of the event.
As well as shopping, visitors attending the festival can also enjoy fashion shows, craft demonstrations, workshops and product design competitions. The festival is a platform for artisans to display and demonstrate craftsmanship that has been passed down from one generation to the next. As well as selling their work, artists who exhibit their work at the festival enjoy the opportunity to share and celebrate their cultural heritage with visitors. Thousands of miles, from Laos on the fashion cat-walks of New York, London and Paris, a fashion trend is beginning to take centre stage in 2012: “ethnic and tribal” styles. Ethnic patterns, motifs and techniques still have a timeless appeal. But while international fashion may take inspiration from tribal designs and motifs, Lao handicraft are authentic reflections of hundreds (if not thousands) of years of culture, artistry and skill.
Lao has 49 officially recognized ethnic groups. Each group has its own unique craft styles and traditions, particularly noticeable through their distinctive traditional clothing.
The Akha ethnic group (also known as Ikor), who migrated from Yunnan in southern China and settled in the mountainous areas of northern Laos over the last 200 years, make their own traditional clothing. The women grow and spin cotton or hemp to make cloth. They then use natural indigo dye, before weaving the thread into cloth and decorating it with colourful embroidery. To top it all off, women wear beautiful ornate headdresses.
Visitors to Laos will notice that many women still wear a traditional tube skirt or sinh. From office workers to students, “high-society” to rural villagers, the elegant sinh remains both popular and fashionable.
The sinh is usually made of silk, cotton or a combination of fibers and is woven with motifs that reflect the ethnic culture of a community or region, or the occasion for which it is intended. Traditionally, a sinh is completely handmade; from the hand spinning of the silk or cotton threads to the dyeing process, preparation of the pattern and loom, and finally; hand weaving.
As handicraft artisans struggle to compete in an increasingly globalized world, the Lao Handicraft Festival help to preserve and promote the country’s ancient craft heritage. Through the festival, the Lao Handicraft Association aims to encourage and honour Lao artists by recognizing their accomplishments and dedication to their craft.
Behind the scenes of the festival, the Lao Handicraft Association runs seminars to help artists develop their knowledge of business management, marketing, product design and quality. Limited access to a viable market still poses a major challenge for rural handicraft producers. But one week at the Lao Handicraft Festival can dramatically increase their sales and income. Thanks to the festival, some even develop business relationships that lead to repeat orders and contracts for popular products.