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History of Lao Cotton
Cotton has been grown in Laos for centuries, mostly on a small scale for direct consumption by the households who transform the fiber into cloth material and objects of daily use. In Savannakhet Province, the people of the Phu-Tai ethnic group have a long standing tradition of cotton production. They grow a native variety of short-fiber cotton and hand weave it to produce the indigo-dyed checkered cloth used as loincloths and sarongs for men, and as headscarves and household linens.
Most farmers in Laos cannot afford expensive chemical fertilizers and continue to grow their cotton on small land holdings, interspersed with other crops for natural resistance to pests. Although the cotton sourced by Saoban is not certified organic, the producers and growers tell us they do not use chemicals. Certification is an expensive process which is beyond the means of small home producers in Laos, and beyond the means of Saoban.
Cotton in Laos is usually planted by hand and watered by the monsoon rains. It takes eight months for the plant to produce the cotton flower, then it is picked by hand, ginned by hand (a difficult and unpopular activity), and then spun into yarn by hand.
Cotton in Laos is traditionally dyed using natural dyes and although chemical dyes are becoming more popular, Saoban aims to preserve and promote the tradition of natural textile dyes in Laos.
Traditional wood and bamboo looms are used by weavers to transform the cotton fiber into cotton cloth.
Saoban works with one group of cotton weavers, comprised of 60 women, in Savannakhet Province. The group sends their natural cotton fabrics and products to Saoban, which sells them in the Saoban shop in Vientiane and ships them to boutiques in Vientiane and around the world.
In Savannakhet, most cotton products are dyed with natural dyes according to longstanding local traditions. Distinctive indigo ikat patterns originate from the people of the Phu-Tai ethnic group.
- Natural Dyes
- Ms Bountavee – Cotton Artisan
- Ms Anousone – Cotton Artisan
- Ms Mae Mai – Cotton Artisan and indigo dyeing expert
A social enterpriseSaoban is a member of PADETC, a Lao NGO that integrates socially sustainable programs in education, agriculture, micro-finance, handcrafts and community leadership.
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Chao Anou Road, 97/1 Ban Watchan, Chantabouly, Vientiane, Lao PDR
Open hours 9am-8pm Monday to Saturday. 1pm-8pm Sunday.