We knew from our travels that there were amazing clothes, bags, accessories, and other products made from locally grown hemp, and we knew roughly where they were being made. So we set out on motorcycles on a loop across the North. From Hanoi to Mai Chau, to Son La, to Sa Pa, to Bac Ha, to Bac Kan, and back to Hanoi, we found all sorts of amazing products that exceeded our hopes.
But there was still the one hangup: we could not figure out where they were being made. We would visit a market and see a person selling some beautiful clothes, scarves, tapestries, and more. Even with our Vietnamese friend by our side, when we asked where the product was made, we were told that the person selling it made them... But they never seemed to be able to show us... or tell us where we could go to see the process.
From our prior research, we were aware that many of the resellers of these products in Vietnam are actually not members of ethnic minorities, or are otherwise being dishonest about their products or who made them in effort to sell more of them to tourists. For example, there were tons of shops selling these shirts with the same style, all claiming to be made by hand. But upon closer inspection, they were clearly mass-produced in a factory somewhere.
It seemed we had hit a roadblock that we couldn't get past: we were unable to observe the manufacturing process and ensure that it was ethical and supported people who need the most help. Yet, after all of the searching it started to make a lot of sense: the people we were looking to support didn't have the resources to produce excess products for sale, nor the resources to bring them to a market to sell them. We had to look not harder, but better.
This dog we saw on the way seemed to have a good lay of the land, if only he could speak to us...
On our travels we did connect with a few families that hosted us. A special visit to a shaman's village deserves its own story, but we reached back out via phone to an ethnic Hmong family we stayed with in Lao Cai that we believe has close connections with the traditional production of hemp textile. We explained our predicament and they've agreed to help us, so we're excited to return, capture the hand-production process, and place an order directly with the producers for some beautiful clothes, scarves, bags, and other textiles.
We've planned a trip in the next few days, stay tuned for a blog post about our return to Lao Cai province!