The Chiang Mai Hilltribe Handicraft Training Centre was established in 2007 by the Seventh Day Adventist Church to help train and provide income for education for women and girls from poor hilltribe families in northern Thailand. The making and sale of clothing, bags and accessories allows the women to earn money to help pay for their children’s schooling as well as offering employment opportunities for the older students themselves during vacation periods.
The Centre’s blurb states that they employ Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Hmong, Karen, Yao and Khamu workers so you’d expect a pretty wide range of attire on offer. In fact apart from some Yao and Hmong jackets, none of the items are at all traditional and the themes seems to be an eclectic selection of crossover Western/hilltribe styles with classic, for example Hmong, patterns (lots of swirls and bright colours) decorating pencil cases, mobile phone holders, pillow cases and so on. It’s fair enough since there’s only so much commercial potential for Akha hats, and they’ve come up with some pleasing results.
It is very much the same kind of product that you’ll see in Chiang Mai’s Walking Street Market, in Luang Prabang’s Hilltribe Market, Sapa high street or increasingly in such places with no hilltribe connections at all, like Phnom Penh’s Russian Market. In this case, however, you’re buying straight from the makers and without any mark-up by intermediaries, and so at considerably lower prices. When we visited the shop items seemed so cheap we thought some of the tags were misprints! The shoulder bag pictured above, for example, was around $3 — which just goes to show the mark-up some vendors elsewhere are adding. Needless to say, there’s no bargaining here and all prices are marked.
It’s also interesting to be able to see the products being made right there in the workshop across the entrance hall from the showroom, which you are free to visit as well.
They also have a professional catalogue, so are aiming perhaps primarily at the gross trade and indeed we reckon this not very well known outlet would be of interest to some of our European friends who like to stock up on cheap knick-knacks in Chiang Mai and other places to stock their stands when they do the rounds of European summer festivals and markets. We say not very well known since the location is — while not exactly out of the way — not an area you’d be likely to casually wander through. The workshop/showroom is situated at 248/1 Maneenoparat Road, Tambon Sripum, which is the exterior moat road close to Wat Lok Molee and Computer Plaza, and right next door to the Seventh Day Adventist church itself. (See map.)
How to get there
Maneenoparat Road is the exterior moat road and the centre is close to Wat Lok Molee and Computer Plaza, and right next door to the Seventh Day Adventist church.
By Mark Ord.