In the mid-70's the whole world was screaming for authentic hilltribe handicrafts. This started with the dispersion of a large number of Hmong and Yao refugees from Laos to North America and Europe. Now, retail buyers in the west especially in the United States, are buying what they've always wanted. They are authentic, but they were different from the hilltribe handicrafts of the 70's.
How can that be? Different from before but still authentic? And the answers to both questions are. "The hilltribes people are still making them..." and "But market demands have caused a change in design."
You'll also find that this is true as you shop around for hilltribe handicrafts in Thailand. This doesn't mean that these handicrafts are not as good as those available before, and it doesn't mean they're not authentic. It simply means they've changed and for the same reason.
What happened? Well, the Hilltribe handicrafts industry was started by the hilltribes people when they were still In relocation camps, mainly in Thailand waiting to be sent to other countries for resettlement was started with the help of people in voluntary agencies and church organizations who wanted to have the hilltribes engaged in some kind of meaningful work while still in the camps. Good for morale, and possibly good for earning income.
At first an effort was made by having the hilltribes people make their handicrafts as they had traditionally done, and this they did. But when the finished products were sent abroad for sale, the market said, "the quality isn't good enough". So, the Industry began to change.
Potential consumer comments were heeded and some voluntary agencies actually went to the effort of having marketing surveys done to determine hilltribe products that would sell. The result was a relatively customized line of products that were known to be marketable prior to making. The volunteers assisted the hilltribes craftsmen with materials such as thread, fabric et cetera and eventually provided training courses on how the hilltribes people could make their crafts more efficient and at higher quality for the market,
As time went on and the refugee hilltribes ended up mainly in the United States this system was continued but at the new local level.
Now that we're into the 90's, some potential buyers are screaming "We want the authentic" But the market dictates how these things go and the majority of buyers overseas are quite happy with the current output.
In Thailand, it is more likely that people will be tuned to the 'authentic' handicrafts, simply by environment. But it's unfair to say that the majority of current design in hilltribe products is not authentic. These people have undergone change just like all other peoples do. Some new designs have surfaced is fact which indicate the changing hilltribes people. One is an embroidered piece of people at war, the memory of a true life experience put down in thread on fabric.
For those of you shopping for hilltribes handicrafts while you're here in Thailand you might have a better chance of finding some of the old stuff. For the most part, though we advise that you not be too picky --you can get some beautiful pieces in the more recent designs, and at a much lower cost than you'd pay at -home.
Copyright © 1995-2014 Welcome to Chiangmai and Chiangrai magazine All rights reserved.