Bags, wallets from Laos highlight skills of local craftsmen

Makers differentiate their products through the adoption of handwoven fabrics and handembroidered details.

February 20, 2017

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Makers differentiate their products through the adoption of handwoven fabrics and handembroidered details.

Suppliers are offering handcrafted bags and wallets made of natural materials. (L-R: Bags from Khunkeo Handicraft and Saoban Handicraft, and wallet from Khunkeo Handicraft)

Bag and wallet makers in Laos are leveraging the skills of the country’s handicraft communities to grow revenue and exports. Many suppliers are focusing on handcrafted pieces made of cotton, silk, rattan and jungle vine.

For bags, handbags, totes, sling bags and clutches are among the designs Laos suppliers typically offered. For wallets, among the common options are envelopes, purses, checkbook types, trifolds and models with shoulder straps.

Several companies are expanding their selections of handcrafted designs by combining fabrics such as silk and cotton with bamboo or rattan. In addition, bag manufacturers are creating products specifically meant to hold laptops, tablet computers, smartphones and other mobile devices.

Most suppliers have one or two designers. These makers typically release two to five new models each year.

Competitive advantages

Local craftsmen play an important role in boosting the competitiveness of the industry. Several suppliers contract craft villages to produce the textiles that will be adopted in their bags and wallets. Some exporters source semifinished or finished products from local communities.

Laos’ government and a number of private organizations have implemented several initiatives to keep weaving, dyeing and other traditional crafts alive and encourage further development of the necessary skills.

Laos’ government, for instance, implemented the One District One Product (ODOP) project with the support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, targeting the development and promotion of a product unique to a local village or community. The ODOP project in Saravan province, for instance, resulted in the setting up of a group in a Katu village for weaving products that incorporate banana fiber.

The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC), a private nonprofit museum in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, provides small loans, training and market information to artisans, helping these artisans preserve traditional knowledge. Through the TAEC Museum Shop, TAEC Boutique and its online shop, TAEC sells crafts sourced directly from artisan communities.

A number of bag and wallet makers that subcontract production to local villages also provide these communities training to ensure products meet customer specifications and international requirements.

Another advantage of Laos’ bags and wallets industry is having lower labor costs compared with suppliers in China and several other countries in Asia.

This article and its contents are provided by the Hinrich Foundation, a partner of Global Sources in promoting trade across Asia. The products and the suppliers featured in this article are export assistance program beneficiaries of the Hinrich Foundation.

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