Ock Pop Tok is a Lao-based social enterprise that produces beautiful, handmade textiles and artisan products. Established in 2000, Ock Pop Tok operates on a platform of fair trade, creating opportunities for local weavers to advance their skills, sourcing the finest raw materials, and providing a sustainable source of income for women artisans and their communities. With two boutiques, a villa for guests, a top-rated café, and a creative arts and learning centre in Luang Prabang, the company strives to raise the profile of Lao textiles and artisans within the country and abroad.
What was the motivation to set up Ock Pop Tok? What is its mission and vision?
Founded in 2000 by Englishwoman Joanna (Jo) Smith and Laotian Veomanee (Veo) Douangdala, Ock Pop Tok has grown from a small shop selling only a few designs, to becoming one of the most important textile and artisan institutions in all of Laos and South East Asia.
Meaning “East Meets West” in Lao, Ock Pop Tok (OPT) was founded on principles of fair trade and sustainable business practices, and was pioneering social business and ethical fashion before these terms were even a part of our cultural lexicon. The partnership between these two women dates back to 1999 when Jo was on an EU funded assignment to photograph development projects in northern Laos. Unbeknownst to Jo, Veo was carving out her own unique niche and making a name for herself among the Lao artisan community. Coming from a family rich with textile and artisan roots, Veo was constantly challenging traditional ways and methods such as creating unique sinhs and patterns that differentiated her from her peers.
While Veo was busy trailblasing a new path for Lao textiles, Jo was becoming increasingly enamoured with the intricate weavings and the women who produce them. Veo’s creativity attracted Jo like a magnet, who was looking for likeminded artists to collaborate with. Both women shared a love for the traditional handloomed textiles and were committed to preserving and promoting these textiles to the rest of the world.
Seeing the opportunity and the beautiful, unique textiles that sprouted from early collaborations was inspiring to both women, so when Veo asked Jo if she wanted to work together on a permanent basis, the answer was “Of course I do!”
Veo and Jo realized early on that in order for handloomed textiles to survive and thrive as a craft, they had to create economic value for the textiles. Weaving, which is done primarily by village women, is often considered domestic work that is not representative of progress or economic advancement.
By operating on fair trade principles specifically by providing competitive wages, opportunities for continued learning and professional development OPT gave village weavers, most of whom are women, the ability to earn a sustainable livelihood for their families and communities. And, by opening a
venue where visitors could see and practice the craft, the two were able to educate visitors about the cultural and the artistic value of the textiles.