Look Good, Do Good: Sop Moei Arts and Giveaway!
The cultures of tribal villages in Thailand have changed undeniably over the past decade. The focus of aid for these once isolated communities used to circle around clean water and healthcare. Now, with road access and schools servicing many of these communities, the needs have shifted to more economic concerns. In this latest column of Look Good, Do Good, we discussed the shift and how Sop Moei Arts is working to help create incomes while preserving traditional crafts with shop owner and founder Kent Gregory.
Sop Moei, named for the region in Northern Thailand where it was founded, is evidence of the changing relationships with these communities. Kent, born and raised in Thailand, started assisting rural tribes in the Pwo Karen region ten years ago. His non-profit brought them medical supplies and worked to improve child nutrition. At the time, 65% of kids under age five suffered from malnutrition, but despite hard work and different strategies, he failed to see long term improvement.
The problem wasn’t education, it was a simple lack of food. These communities relied on their own farms and often could not grow enough and could not afford to supplement their crops. What they did have was cotton and skills like sewing and weaving. And so the approach shifted completely and Sop Moei Arts was founded.
Sop Moei is a non-profit textile, accessories and home goods store in the Old City of Chiang Mai. The shop is piled full of colorful handbags, vibrant throw pillows, ornate wall hangings and woven baskets. The mission is to employ weavers and sewers and maintain their traditional crafts while generating income for their communities. With this new approach, Kent saw a larger decrease in child malnutrition than he ever had working his clinics.
With improved access and connection to modern (and Western) life, these villagers have mostly traded in their beautiful hand-made tribal garments for t-shirts and jeans. This trend is especially notable among younger generations, and the once profitable and necessary trade of sewing the vibrant garb is phasing out. Sop Moei is not the first outlet to sell traditional goods to the masses. The markets in Thailand are flooded with similar items made cheaply for tourists, but the more traditional ones are difficult to market in the modern world. Hand looms used by villagers are also very narrow, limiting the size and amount of fabric that can be created at a time.
Sop Moei tackled these challenges when it bought two large looms and taught the villagers to weave larger pieces of fabric that could then be sewn into a variety of items. Soon, Sop Moei became the largest employer in the area and transported the cloth over the mountain to Chiang Mai to be sold as pillows, purses, sarongs and more.
To further encourage preservation of tribal customs, Sop Moei asks the artists to continue making products as they would and then repurposes them. For example, a shirt that was once a staple in everyday life, but now is only worn by a few on special occasions, is still produced, but turned into a pillow. This allows the artist to make what they are good at creating, encourages them to keep their customs and still generates an income.
Turbans that are wonderfully detailed but no longer worn are preserved in the form of a beautiful clutch. Patterns that appeared on antiques no longer produced are redesigned and woven in cloth. One such pattern is two short lines separated by a space repeated throughout, which is a modern adaptation of the traditional style of seeds sewn onto the fabric in the same pattern.
Thus, the products at Sop Moei have a special appeal. Each item is unique and limited edition: One shirt becomes one pillow and no two are the same. You can shop there knowing you are supporting a community, keeping a dying art alive and celebrating the traditions of a village. Styles range from the bright pink, yellow and black stripes with tassels and fringe to more subtle, modern patterns.
If you are looking for a unique conversation piece for your home, a stylish handbag or a beautiful scarf, Sop Moei is the place to visit in Chiang Mai for quality items. You can shop Sop Moei online or at their retail locations in Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
Sop Moei Handbag Giveaway!
To celebrate this unique shop and give you a chance to take home a piece of local culture, we are giving away a navy blue tote from Sop Moei! This bag features the double line pattern that represents the seeds that are so vital to the Karen communities. It has red leather piping and handles, is fully lined and has inside pockets. A clip on the inside also allows the back to be folded into an “A” shape.
Entering is easy! Just follow the instructions on the form below and earn as many entries as your can before midnight EST March 4. Remember, you can tweet multiple times for 2 entries per tweet. Good luck!
One random winner will be selected on March 4 and notified by email.
*Winner has 7 days to get in touch with us with shipping information. If no response is received within 7 days, another winner will be chosen. Winner is chosen at random. Shipping is covered by Sop Moei Arts.