Joshua K. & Andrew T.

United States > > > with Thao, Vietnam

It all started when...

I am interested in increasing my knowledge of traditional natural dye processes - getting first hand knowledge of ground up natural textile development. My profession is in the corporate fashion industry developing men's knitwear with a local company in Wisconsin. As a side project, I have been working with local farmers to create textiles and apparel. I have successfully tanned leather with tree bark, woven and naturally dyed organic cotton, washed, carded, spun, knit and felted local wool - all to be made in to clothing for small scale collections. As my knowledge and process grows, I hope to have my sole income be sourcing and making apparel as locally and as naturally as possible. I believe in what Thao is doing, to improve the ethics of the textile/fashion industry and wanted to learn from her!

Traveling with my friend Josh, our trip began with a long and scenic cab drive from Hanoi to Cao Bang, after a pleasant studio visit with Thao and her family. The day after our arrival, we ate delicious duck Pho for breakfast and had a short motorbike to the home and studio of the Phuc Sen Handicraft Group. Every time we traveled from the city to the country, I was completely amazed by the scenery, absolutely mind melting - coming from the American Midwest. 

The rural community was easygoing yet industrious and fastidious. Each day was filled with a different learning experience, from moving silk worms to their cocoon hotels, to creating indigo paste from fermenting fresh leaves. Thao was very informative of her process and not pretentious, albeit her profound presence as a designer. I was able to make time for extensive notes on each textile process. Having a decent amount of weaving experience, I had quite a hilarious time fitting into the back strap floor loom - a fascinating construction compared to looms I've used in the past!

Not knowing a lick of Vietnamese, Thao was able to translate well beyond standard greetings. During the warping of cotton yarn for the loom, I recall a story translated from an older woman of the handicraft group about her childhood that was quite touching and real. 

As an apparel designer and actively involved in the use of sustainable and regional fiber systems, I found the trip to be both fun, informative and a complete cultural shift from my everyday. To describe it all in writing would almost feel inauthentic - as I imagine, some things can only be experienced by the soul. Josh and I are forever grateful to Thao and the women of the Phuc Sen group for an extraordinary experience!

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