Mulberries gets a makeover

It’s now already two months since I escaped the Melbourne winter and yet I still haven’t told you what has been the main focus of my time away. I think it’s high time I let you know what I’ve been up to.

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The “retail salon” at the Mulberries store in Vientiane, Laos, is open! But what does that have to do with me?

Well, I’ve been staying with the family of the Mulberries founder, Kommaly Chanthavong, since the start of August (save for a fortnight in Seoul and Tokyo – more posts on those travels to come). I became friends with Kommaly’s daughter Boby when we were both working on fair trade festivals in Melbourne, and I’ve been back and forth to Laos a few times travelling, buying copious amounts of handmade textiles and working on my jewellery brand Wilderness Bazaar. But this time I’ve been volunteering with Mulberries, helping out with developing products and masterminding a massive makeover.

Above the shop is a room that has been a makeshift work and storage area for years, but I thought it could be turned into something like a gallery, a rental space for yoga and pilates teachers or somewhere to hold workshops, movie nights, discussion groups – anything, really! Boby and the Mulberries staff thought it would be better off to start it as an extension of the shop downstairs, with scope for renting it out in future. Either way, it needed a bit of TLC to go from this…

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to this…

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Of course this didn’t just happen by magic. There was a lot of sweat involved (thankfully no blood or tears, as far as I know) due to some serious scraping to get rid of old pale pinkish paint and stains, wielding rollers and brushes to apply new coats of white and vacuuming and sweeping to clean up the dust (lots of fun in Vientiane’s heat and humidity!).

We held the official opening for the space last week, with staff from the Mulberries farm in Xieng Khouang and their Vientiane counterparts demonstrating their skills in weaving, applique, soapmaking and silk reeling and spinning.

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We also staged a mini fashion show (styled by me!) in the original shop on the first floor, with the staff and their friends modelling some of the scarves, bags and even aprons. All of these scarves in the photo are hand woven from organic silk dyed using natural materials such as bark and leaves. Pretty impressive!

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Kommaly and her family had just got back from the Philippines where she received the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation Award recently. She gave a short speech at the retail salon opening, with Boby interpreting.

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The retail salon is ready and waiting for visitors, so if you’re in Vientiane, please drop in and check out our makeover skills 🙂 In the future there will also be some craft workshops held there, so if you’re interested, like the Mulberries Facebook page and keep in touch!

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