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20/10/2018 - 11:02

Ethnic artisans weave modern thread on the Zeng loom

“Zeng is so beautiful and I think it doesn't stop just there...” uttered Mr. William Harold Watson III (American nationality), Director of Coasts Phong Phu Co. Ltd., (hereafter called Coats Phong Phu) in his visit to a brocade exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City.

Zeng weaving originating from the mountains of A Luoi district (Thua Thien Hue province) now gets away from local tradition to find a new path that can please any demanding customer. Few people know that the journey was a coincidence.

Not only funding, Mr. William Harold Watson III (2nd from right), Director of Coasts Phong Phu Co. Ltd., travelled to Zeng weaving villages in A Luoi district to learn about the traditional craft as well.

“Zeng is so beautiful and I think it doesn't stop just there...” uttered Mr. William Harold Watson III (American nationality), Director of Coasts Phong Phu Co. Ltd., (hereafter called Coats Phong Phu) in his visit to a brocade exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City. Zeng fabric originated from the mountains of A Luoi – a place he had not known before, yet astonished him at the very first sight.

 “Mr. Westerner” falling in love with Zeng

Returning after the exhibition, this thread manufacturing expert with an age of over 50 tried to learn more about Zeng weaving. Through the Center for Cultural Preservation and Economic Development (CPED – an affiliated association of the Union of Science and Technology Associations of Thua Thien Hue province), he almost grasped “biography” of Zeng weaving. Not long after that, his company decided to provide thread for free to local artisans of the majestic Truong Son mountains to renew their main products based on traditional techniques of Zeng weaving.

Every month, Coats Phong Phu provided 500 kilograms of thread to Zeng brocade cooperatives in A Luoi district. This type of thread was produced under modern technology with many new colors, and thin, smooth, qualified and appropriate yarn. Local Zeng weaving cooperatives are direct beneficiaries.

At the beginning, local artisans were both worried and astonished when they were holding the skeins in their hands. They raised questions for themselves about whether they could weave; how they would mix the colors; whether the new products would break their traditions; and most importantly, whether customers accept new products.

Zeng fabrics weaved with novel variations

“Those questions were answered in turn as we started testing new thread in different stages. The thread was very smooth and soft as we weaved. And, we, artisans, were really surprised at our outputs with very beautiful colors,” rejoiced Artisan A Viet Thi Tam, Director of A Dot Brocade Textile Cooperative - one of the project funded cooperatives. Ms. Tam said that her cooperative received more than 300 kilograms of thread and has produced many products with new models.

As what she have said, we did not believe in our eyes with their products such as scarves, table cloths... Scarves have completely new colors, on which shining and luxurious beads are weaved. Without observant eyes, we could hardly recognize that they were made from Zeng looms and by the hands of talented artisans. With their professional experience, local artisans estimated that, with every kilogram of thread, they could produce one piece of Zeng fabric of 300 cm long and 70-80 cm wide. With this size, a person can have an ao dai made.

A heart-to-heart reunion

When those first products were “launched”, and received customers’ acceptance as well as compliments for their breakthrough in each thread and line, the target beneficiaries found themselves indebted to their silent sponsor. They wished to meet Mr. William Harold Watson III to express their thanks and present him the scarves woven from modern threads he donated.

Without observant eyes, we can hardly recognize that these fabrics (photo) are made by hand with the Zeng looms

Not long after, a man with that tall figure and indulgent face appeared and received joys of artisans and a tight hug. A Luoi Zeng artisans were moved, “We're so happy. Do you know that we have been waiting for you for so long?” With that such welcome, Mr. William Harold Watson III was really happy and forgot all of his tiredness after a long journey.

Sitting in the Rông house (communal house) and by a warm fire in an early rainy season, the conversation about Zeng weaving fascinated Mr. William Harold Watson III. “I come here not only to see how you use the thread, but also to find out more about this Zeng brocade which I fell in love with since the first time I saw it. Through Zeng weaving, I have understood more about the culture and people of A Luoi. It's exciting and wonderful to me!”. When Mr. Harold Watson III just ended his words, the space of the Rông house was flooded with applause.

Artisan Le Thi Kim Thoai (Nham Brocade Weaving Cooperative) told Mr. Harold Watson III that the output products made from modern thread have been sold with the price ranging from VND 300,000 to VND 01 million, and received satisfaction and orders from customers. “You have sponsored our input costs and also encouraged us to be more creative, to conduct research and launch new models to markets,” shared Ms. Thoai.

Then, she slowly took out two scarves she wove by her own hands, put one on Mr. Harold Watson III's neck and gave him the other one as a gift to his wife. “It’s the thought that counts. Without you and your company, we wouldn't have these such products,” said she.

Mr. Nguyen Manh Hung, Chairman of the People's Committee of A Luoi district, said that the support from Coats Phong Phu and Mr. Harold Watson III has contributed to preserving Zeng weaving tradition of the cooperatives in the district. New products made from thread of Coats Phong Phu are creating new materials and models in conformity with modern fashion trends. Mr. Hung hoped that the sponsors would continue to support and find markets for these new products as well as organize a competition for product and pattern design for on-going renovation of Zeng weaving.

Continue to connect and support product output

CPED's Director Ms. Le Thi Chau Quynh, said that the sponsorship aimed at supporting the preservation and development of traditional Zeng weaving craft in the province of Thua Thien Hue. All was a coincidence. During the cooperation with Fashion 4 Freedom social enterprise, co-founded by Ms. Lanvy Nguyen and Victoria Ho, CPED learnt that the two women were researching Vietnam's artisans and traditional crafts, including A Luoi's Zeng weaving.

In the process of diversifying product models and improving quality of Zeng products, they reflected that the product's quality and models affected the marketing and market expansion a lot. Among that, current popular materials, including wool or thread were provided from many different sources, hence it is hard to control their qualities to advertise and find more markets.

So, they convinced Coats Phong Phu to support Zeng cooperatives' artisans to solve their problems of high-quality thread sources. In one year, Coats Phong Phu would sponsor 6 tons of thread which cost VND 135,000 per kilogram. That's not all. CPED said that they would connect and support the consumption of the above-mentioned products in the coming time.

Coats Phong Phu is one of the leading multinational corporations in the field of producing all kinds of thread for industrial textile, for craft production, and specialized materials for textile sector. It has operated in Vietnam since 1989.

Story and photos: Phan Thanh

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