Myanmar is a wonderfully diverse country made up of more than 135 different ethnic groups, each with its own history, culture, language, as well as textile traditions. Turquoise Mountain works with weavers from four different regions in Myanmar: Chin, Kachin, Northern Rakhine, and Mandalay. The weavers produce textiles woven on both backstrap and frame looms.
The supported weavers across the four regions are now producing textiles in cotton and silk adorned with traditional motifs and patterns. Their work is being sold to hotels, interior designers and private clients all over the world, bringing the rich traditions of Myanmar to an international audience and creating much-needed income for women in rural areas.
Ma Su’s story is typical. She is a Bamar weaver who began weaving at age 13, learning from her mother and sisters on one of the 20 looms her family had at home. Before joining a workshop run by Turquoise Mountain’s technical consultant, Ma Nandar, she would weave at home and sell her products to Thailand, but she was not making very much money. Now working with Turquoise Mountain, she has joined a group of weavers producing fabrics for international clients and five star hotels. Ma Su likes weaving in soft colours and can manage up to 60 heddles.
Myanmar is famous for its traditional handmade crafts: the lacquerware of Bagan, the lotus silk weaving of Inle Lake, the rich diversity of ethnic textiles, world-known gems, woodcarving and delicate handcrafted gold jewellery. These crafts are still taught in many regions, and represent a unique and significant part of the identity and livelihoods of people across the country.
However, it is an industry in decline. Each year fewer artisans work in their crafts, and many traditional motifs, techniques and materials are no longer in use. Turquoise Mountain believes that there is enormous potential to drive sustainable economic growth across the country through job creation, whilst empowering women and ethnic minorities.