Exploring the Language of Design

Ock Pop Tok’s Latest Venture: Passa Paa

When former British photographer Jo Smith suffered the pangs of a career change, she still wanted to do something that was creative, but also share her knowledge. Soon she found herself in Luang Prabang in north central Laos where she met Veomanee Duangdala, a Laotian woman with an extensive background in weaving and dyeing silk. The two women became friends and formed a partnership that led them to launch a weaving center with the purpose revive ancient Laotian weaving traditions of the Lao-Tai. The center was named Ock Pop Tok.

Weaving has a rich tradition in Laos where women have been weaving textiles made from silk for over 1,000 years. The practice has passed down from generation to generation where it was customary for the women to breed silk worms, dye the silk with dyes derived from plants then weave fabric for themselves and their families.

Since its inception in 2000, Ock Pop Tok has expanded its central weaving practice and has expanded its services that includes a destination for tourists who are interested in the culture and history of Laotian textiles, as well as the weaving and dyeing techniques. The center offers several activities ranging from lectures and seminars to hands-on workshops. Guests of the center can also enjoy a stay at the Ock Pop Tok Villa where the four rooms feature the textile designs from the country’s diverse ethnic groups.

And as busy as the center has become, Ock Pop Tok continues to innovate with its latest venture: Passa Paa— a cultural design collective based in Laos. Developed by Heather Smith, Veomanee Douangdala and Joanna Smith.

The first sparks of Passa Paa came together when Heather traveled to Laos in 1999, the same year she started at Chelsea Design School. Years later with a graduate degree in design under her belt, Heather was working in the fast-paced London design world yet she was dreaming of her past travels to Laos.

Wanting to return and work in Laos, Heather met with Jo and Veo and proposed a number of ideas that incorporated her fascination with indigo and hand stitch, but also her expertise in pattern making. This notion gave birth to the Passa Paa studio—situated in the Ock Pop Tok grounds in Luang Prabang—serving as a creative center for both local and international designers, artisans and interns.

Passa Paa explores the language of design that has evolved in textiles in Laos. It is in the space where artisans and designers can re-think, re-interpret, de-construct and then re-construct these patterns, symbols and forms of expression into a new language of design. A language of cloth for the new world. Rooted in tradition but with a desire to move forward, Passa Paa’s designs cross over between fashion, interiors, art and lifestyle.

Working with both traditional handcrafting techniques and then combining innovative materials with unconventional techniques, Passa Paa’s first collection uses traditional Hmong textiles as a departure point, and features a combination of hemp with print and leather. Cotton fabrics sourced from Lanten villages act as canvases for printed artwork.

Both Passa Paa and Ock Pop Tok will be exhibiting their new collections at Artisan Resource, at the upcoming New York International Gift Fair, taking place January 27-29 2013. Companies that are part of the Artisan Resource edition can be found at Manhattan’s Pier 92.

To learn more about Ock Pop Tok and Passa Paa, please visitwww.ocktokpop.com and http://www.passa-paa.com.

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