TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Monday, July 27, 2009

TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles: Empowering Women Artisans in Thailand and Laos, Part 1

By Ellen Agger and Alleson Kase
Photos © Ellen Agger 2009

TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles imports eco-friendly, fair trade fashion and home decor from rural Thailand and Laos. TAMMACHAT, which mean natural in Thai, was established in 2007 by Alleson Kase and Ellen Agger. Learn more about the artisan groups TAMMACHAT works with in Part Two of this post.

Ellen Agger, co-founder of
TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles

Why we started TAMMACHAT

Two reasons: First, the more idealistic one, was to realize the sayings that “another world is possible” and “vote with your wallet.” We believe that people impact human rights, communities and the environment with every purchase we make. So, it’s important that people have access to fairly traded and environmentally friendly products.

Second (and this is more serendipitous and more personal), we were in the right place at the right time. A few years ago we were traveling around Thailand, searching out weaving groups, an interest of Alleson’s since 1980 when she first traveled in Guatemala. The women we met at one weaving co-op told us their sales were down, which meant they had to limit membership in the co-op. Right away, we knew we were going to connect their desire to expand their market with our desires to find new and meaningful careers.

What motivates us:
We want to live in a world where:
• women have choices about and control over their lives within their families and communities;
• people are fairly and adequately paid for their work; and
• everyone uses resources wisely and according to their needs, so that communities and the planet are preserved for future generations.

Thai weaver hanging organic silk,
coloured with natural dyes, to dry.

© Ellen Agger 2009

Fair trade in action
As social entrepreneurs, we want to encourage fair trade and ethical consumption. This means:
• knowing what goods are made of
• where they are made
• how their making impacts the people who make them, their communities and the environment

TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles imports fairly traded, naturally dyed, handcrafted textiles directly from the artisan groups that create them.

Weaver at her loom in rural Thailand weaving
organic cotton table runners.

© Ellen Agger 2009

Handweaving, one of the world’s oldest arts, continues to be practiced with amazing skill and well-deserved pride in many rural villages in Thailand and Laos. The silks and cottons woven by women in these areas reflect cultural traditions that have endured from earlier times, passing from mothers to daughters.

We select each piece of wearable art, each table cloth and wall hanging, and every length of hand-loomed fabric that we purchase. Every textile chosen displays technical expertise, aesthetic beauty, careful finishing and sustainable production.

We travel extensively in rural Thailand and Laos, visiting weaving villages and artisan groups, to learn firsthand about the textiles we buy and how they are made. After 2 years of trading, we will apply for fair trade accreditation with the World Fair Trade Association.

We support the artisans and communities that create these textiles by:
• paying fair prices set by individual artisans and artisan groups
• building long-term trade relationships with artisan groups and non-governmental organizations that work with village groups
• supporting environmentally and socially sustainable practices, and appropriate technologies used by artisan groups in the creation of their products
• providing international markets for this work to help preserve this women’s art form and encourage the younger generation to continue these traditions

Raising mulberry silkworms in traditional bamboo baskets
to create organic silk yarns.

© Ellen Agger 2009

Natural fibres, natural dyes
Whenever possible, we source organically produced natural fibres. Heritage varieties of silkworms are raised without chemicals in artisans’ homes rather than in factories. The cocoons spun there are painstakingly hand-reeled into yarn, yielding extraordinary beauty and value. Traditional varieties of cotton, in 3 natural colours, are grown organically, most often on the banks of the Mekong River. Unique, nubbly textures result from ginning, fluffing and spinning these fibres by hand.

Before weaving, silk and cotton yarns are hand-dyed in small batches with organic materials that are locally raised or sustainably gathered. Emerging from these village dye pots are colours that range from subtle to intense, in all the rich hues that nature can create. Of course, some yarns are woven in their natural shades of white, cream, butter yellow or tan.

Age-old designs for contemporary life
Many of the pieces that we buy use designs and techniques that have been handed down for generations. Others – especially weavings that are sewn into clothing, bags and cushion covers – combine the beauty of naturally dyed, handwoven fabric with contemporary flare. We work with artisan groups to develop new products, such as the 100% SILK. 100% ART silk squares for quilters and other fibre artists – developed with the expert colour sense of Panmai Group members and advice from internationally known quilters Valerie Hearder and Laurie Swim in Nova Scotia.

We also buy traditional designs, such as khit (supplementary weft) and mudmee (tie-dyed yarns that produce a design when woven), choosing pieces that will be popular with western consumers.

How we sell these textiles
We sell these handwoven textiles at Fair Trade Textile Events that we organize in communities throughout Atlantic Canada and beyond. We also opened an Online Shop to make select pieces available anywhere in the world. We also have a shop on Etsy. Everywhere that we take these textiles we tell the stories behind them, because this showcases the real value of this beautiful work.

For more information, visit our website. Also enjoy the TAMMACHAT travel blog written by Alleson and Ellen.

Ellen is a member of our Fiber Focus Group. Clicking on her slide show below will take you to her page:

Find more photos like this on Fiber Focus

1 comment:

  1. most people much interested to gear up their business through fair trade . .
    online eco shop


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“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

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