TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles offers women from rural communities in Thailand and Laos an opportunity to reach markets outside their countries with their handwoven textiles and to earn a fair income. In 2007, Ellen Agger and Alleson Kase began TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles, a fair trade organization. Agger and Kase wanted to promote “eco-friendly, sustainable living; wherein, we sell textiles that help sustain not only cultural traditions and communities, but also techniques that protect the natural environment and the makers.” TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles brings you fairly traded, hand-woven fabrics, clothing, gifts, and home decor items. While that is the business goal of TAMMACHAT, Agger and Kase are conscious of making a difference in the overall community. Agger and Kase travel to Laos and Thailand in order to meet with their partners, the women who create the fabrics and textiles.
Agger and I spoke via Skype about TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles, and she explained the footwork required to make connections with women from rural Thailand and Laos.
“TAMMACHAT is a fair trade social enterprise,” Agger explained. “The weaving groups are quite well organized and have support from NGOs. They still needed access to markets that they couldn’t reach.”
Agger explained that some of their partner groups create the entiure product, from raising silkworms or growing organic cotton, to creating threads, dyeing them, weaving them and sewing them into products.
“Hand-woven textiles carry people’s energy,” Agger said. “Cultural products definitely have soul. They are important for continuing traditions. The women weave patterns into the fabric that have meaning to their culture.”
Agger and Kase are currently traveling in Thailand and Laos. Each year, they spend four months working with their artisan partners. “We work with women weavers during the weaving season,” Agger said. “This occurs after they bring in their rice harvest. Most of the women are farmers first. Many weave seasonably. Most live in their villages and many look after grandchildren, as the middle generation has moved to cities to find work. Weaving is an important cultural tradition as well as a family tradition. Most of the weavers learned from their grandmothers.”
On their website, Agger and Kase promote the 10 Principles of Fair Trade, writing: “As importers of fairly traded textiles, our work includes educating consumers about the artisans’ culture and living conditions, as well as the hidden costs of globalized ‘bargains’ in today’s marketplace. Ask who makes the products you buy and under what conditions.”
“Fair trade is about relationships and ongoing interactions,” Agger said. “We don’t feel that we sell products as much as we introduce people to amazing artisans firsthand. We work with cooperatives, family groups and social enterprises.”
She goes on to discuss the future of weaving and the influence of industry. “The future of weaving in Thailand is in question,” Agger said. “Not many of the younger women are continuing this tradition. It’s different in Laos, where there are fewer economic opportunities for women, so younger women are still learning to weave to create incomes.”
For the older generation, some traditions still remain. “Indigo is believed to have healing properties and a connection with women’s reproductive system. Only older women do the indigo dying for that reason.”
Agger and Kase are asking the consumer to be more considerate, not only in how you make purchases, but also what you purchase. They want the consumer to know where the product comes from…whose are the hands creating the scarf, and what is that woman’s story? For within a grandmother’s story, you will find generations of practice and care. In that, TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles finds value and offers that to us, as participants in a global economy. They maintain a high standard within their own business practices. Agger and Kase are resourceful as the women creating the products. Most of of TAMMACHAT’s promotional, packaging, and shipping materials are created from recycled stock and are reused, when possible, and recycled.
TAMMACHAT has memberships with seven organizations that promote sustainable environments, whether that refers to nature, employment, or community service, but most of the time, these organizations care about the planet as a whole, and their work involves all of the different systems.
TAMMACHAT also participates in a child literacy program for the children in Laos. For every item purchased, TAMMACHAT gives a child in Laos their first book. Books are published by Big Brother Mouse, a not-for-profit, Lao-owned publishing project, with a Lao staff. In 2011, TAMMACHAT helped 750 children acquire books. Traditionally, books are a rare commodity for children in rural Laos.