Selling Yarns 2

Innovation for sustainability



Silk: Innovation for social and cultural sustainability

Session: Art Centre stories: engagement with industry Saturday 7 March 2009 3:00 - 4:25pm

Boby Vosinthavong

Manager, Lao Silk and Craft


The Lao Sericulture Company, trading as Mulberries, operates as a not-for-profit organisation in Laos. The organisation emerged in Vientiane in 1976 following the Indo-China Conflict when Kommaly Chanthavong gathered ten internally displaced and desperately poor women weavers from Xam Neua in her home province of Hua Phan and began the Phontong Handicraft Cooperative.

In 1990 Phontong and Camacrafts joined ventures to assist Hmong refugees (many of whom had assisted the US during the war years) rehabilitate in post-war Laos by utilising their artistic skills to design and make hand-crafted products as a means to social and economic recovery.

In 1993 Mulberries Silk Farm in Xieng Khouang Province was established as a research and model silk farm seeking to provide a solution to the social and economic problems of rural and remote villages. This was done by reviving and encouraging the traditional Lao practice of silk fibre production. The farm provides training and support in silk worm rearing, art/craft practices of weaving, embroidery, batik and appliqué. These opportunities reduced migration to crowded capital cities and additionally reduced the need to import silk fibres. The training also includes seeking viable markets, locally and internationally, in which the finished products are sold. Lao Sericulture and Phontong-Camacrafts Cooperative currently works in 200 villages with over 3000 members.

An important aspect of Lao Sericulture’s work in environmental sustainability. We stress the real economic benefits of growing mulberry trees using organic fertilisers and natural pesticides. This promotion of environmental awareness helps to 1) reduce opium growing 2) reduce slash and burn agricultural practices and 3) reduce the use of synthetic dyes. We show villagers how to eliminate waste from the silk production process.

Kommaly will demonstrate how Lao Sericulture uses innovation in producing silk fibres, creating natural dyes and weaving textiles. This includes the production of indigenous and hybrid silk yarn and an accompanying creative and design development strategy which gives rise to the creation of truly unique silk products for our local and international markets. These processes form part of a viable solution to social, artistic and economic sustainability among many different ethnic groups living in remote and rural Laos.

See also: Boby Vosinthavong's biography