Vientiane: Ma Te Sai

I am very excited that Ma Te Sai, a Fair Trade handicraft social enterprise, has finally opened a shop in Vientiane. Ma Te Sai, which means "where is it from?", was started by Australian Emi Weir in Luang Prabang five years ago. Emi works with artisans and women from across Laos to source, design and make beautiful textiles, handicrafts and clothes.

Ma Te Sai's new shop is sharing space with Houey Hong, a vocational training centre for Lao women in Vientiane. They also make beautiful, handmade products, specialising in silk. So you'll be spoilt for choice. The shop is called True Colour.

Ma Te Sai and Houey Hong rub shoulders at the new True Colour shop in downtown Vientiane

Ma Te Sai and Houey Hong rub shoulders at the new True Colour shop in downtown Vientiane

Fair Trade businesses like Ma Te Sai not only empower women in rural Laos but support the amazing Lao ethnic weaving industry that has existed for hundreds of years.

Ma Te Sai specialises in cotton textiles and handicrafts that incorporate designs from different Lao ethnic groups. Emi works with individual weavers and sewers to create her designs. She says she's continually inspired by visiting the weaving villages as the artisans are always coming up with new and interesting styles.

Beautiful handmade Lao cotton scarves, wall hangings, table runners and mats from Ma Te Sai

Beautiful handmade Lao cotton scarves, wall hangings, table runners and mats from Ma Te Sai

Hand-stitched scarves from the Aka tribe in Muang Xin, northern Laos

Hand-stitched scarves from the Aka tribe in Muang Xin, northern Laos

Ma Te Sai helps women in rural Laos to develop a sustainable income by teaching them sewing and marketing skills, and providing ongoing work. They buy materials directly from the artisan or village cooperative so as to support the weavers, farmers and their families. As a Fair Trade member, Ma Te Sai ensures that they pay a fair price for both materials and labour, thereby helping to raise the standard of living of rural ethnic weaving communities.

RELATED POST: Ock Pop Tok, Luang Prabang

The iconic red woven patterns of the Katu tribe in southern Laos

The iconic red woven patterns of the Katu tribe in southern Laos

Indigo-dyed cotton is a popular feature of Ma Te Sai's wares

Indigo-dyed cotton is a popular feature of Ma Te Sai's wares

These soft cotton scarves come from Oudomxay province, north of Luang Prabang

These soft cotton scarves come from Oudomxay province, north of Luang Prabang

Soft cotton ties

Soft cotton ties

Hand stitched coasters and bags

Hand stitched coasters and bags

In Luang Prabang, Lao textiles are everywhere; you can even weave something yourself. It's actually much harder to learn about the rich history of Lao ethnic textiles in Vientiane. Which is why I was so excited to hear about Ma Te Sai's new shop when I ran into Emi last month at the ASEAN women's tourism forum.

These shops, like Saoban and Ock Pop Tok, which support Fair Trade and handmade products, are gradually opening in Vientiane [handicraft shopping post coming soon!]; growing a viable and quality shopping experience for tourists and locals alike. And visiting these shops is great way to learn about Lao culture and also to support the vulnerable women whose livelihoods depend upon the traditions and skills that have been crafted for generations.

Ma Te Sai's new clothing incorporates traditional fabrics, such as this ikat weave, in a modern design

Ma Te Sai's new clothing incorporates traditional fabrics, such as this ikat weave, in a modern design

Emi is also excited about her new clothing line that she's developed with the Seng Savang sewing centre in Savannaket, in southern Laos [try saying that five times in a row]. Seng Savang is a French-run NGO that helps victims of human trafficking and exploitation by providing them with sustainable vocational skills.

It's long-term partnerships like this, with Seng Savang and Houey Hong, among others, that really enrich a brand like Ma Te Sai. In turn, these Lao organisations benefit from access to new and hopefully more profitable markets.

These recycled paper table mats and coasters are made by the Lao Disabled Women's Centre

These recycled paper table mats and coasters are made by the Lao Disabled Women's Centre

Natural skin products from small Luang Prabang producer, Naxao Botanicals

Natural skin products from small Luang Prabang producer, Naxao Botanicals

Gorgeous handmade cushion covers and bedspread from Houey Hong

Gorgeous handmade cushion covers and bedspread from Houey Hong

Finally, I also love these little wooden geckos that Emi designed for a Luang Prabang hotel as "do not disturb" door-hangers. They'd also look gorgeous "running" down a wall.

Wooden geckos handmade by a wood carver in Luang Prabang

Wooden geckos handmade by a wood carver in Luang Prabang

Excited? I am. And I'm going to return and spend a little longer at Ma Te Sai (the first time I was too busy chatting and taking photos).

Ma Te Sai is downtown at the True Colour shop on Rue Setthathilath, opposite Wat Mixai.