Profile of: Ock Pop Tok, Laos
Words by Emily Lush, Videos by Eat Travel Explore & Tournons Le Monde
Ock Pop Tok, meaning ‘East Meets West’ in the Lao language, was established in Luang Prabang in 2000. A partnership between British entrepreneur Joanna Smith and Lao weaver Veomanee Douangdala, the label signifies a coming together of traditional Lao craftsmanship with contemporary design and fair trade business principles. Ock Pop Tok’s mission is to increase the profile of Lao textiles internationally while creating economic opportunities for the country’s artisans. One of the most successful labels of its kind in the region, Ock Pop Tok also represents one of Laos’ most comprehensive textile research and preservation efforts. Ock Pop Tok’s activities are focused on the Living Crafts Centre, a property in Luang Prabang that includes a dye garden and workshop, weaving studios, an exhibition and teaching spaces. Open to the public, there is also a cafe and accommodation on-site. Visitors can participate in workshops in loom weaving, natural dyeing and Hmong batik.
A core team of artisans work in-house at the Centre to weave wall hangings, homewares, scarves, and traditional Lao garments known as sinh for the Ock Pop Tok label. Each woman works on her own upright frame loom that is customised to her proportions and uses a pattern-setting mechanism known as a kanmoon. Materials include locally sourced silk, cotton and hemp that is dyed with endemic plants. Weavers specialise in intricate supplementary and chok (discontinuous supplementary weft) techniques.
Ock Pop Tok’s award-winning designs build on figurative Lao patterns such as the intricate Queen and King Naga, both of which carry particular spiritual and cultural significance for the Tai Daeng people. Signature textiles combine techniques from different tribes or regions to create complex textural qualities. Other artisans at the Centre practice specialty crafts, including bamboo basket weaving and wax-resist batik.
In 2006, Ock Pop Tok extended its reach to include rural artisans through the Village Weavers Project. More than 400 women from ethnic communities and minority villages in 11 Lao provinces have received skills and product development training under the program. Ock Pop Tok commissions products from rural co-ops, as well as running an outreach program to re-teach disappearing techniques, especially natural dyes. Skills include Tai Lue indigo cotton weaving, Lanten needlework, Hmong embroidery and applique, and Katu backstrap weaving. Also in 2006, Ock Pop Tok founded Fabric2Fibre, a registered charity that collects, preserves and documents heritage Lao textiles. A small gallery on the Ock Pop Tok property houses one of the country’s most comprehensive hill tribe textile collections, showcased through a series of rotating exhibitions. Visit the Ock Pop Tok website.