Mekong Quilts’ pursuit to elevate lives of underprivileged women

Founded in 2001 as a quilt-focused handicraft social enterprise dedicated to the mission of uplifting lives of female artisans in the Mekong Delta, Mekong Quilts’ was a result of sister non-profit organisation Mekong Plus’ three-decade-long commitment to improving lives of locals in Vietnam and Cambodia.

 

When Founding Director Bernard Kervyn first arrived in Vietnam in the mid-90s, the country was still ravaged by a severe lack of sanitation and basic infrastructure.

 

Mekong Plus began changing the landscape through co-funding essential roads and bridges with villagers—locals would foot up to 70% of the construction bill, while Mekong Plus helped with the remainder.

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One of Mekong Delta’s many monkey bridges, which seem fun but are dangerous for young kids

“This [strategy] helped establish a sense of community spirit and ownership,” Bernard explained.

 

Mekong Plus then began its foray into education and family development, sparking Mekong Quits as a 20m2 quilting workshop in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.

 

Thanks to immense local and tourist demand, the social enterprise has since expanded into three provinces in Vietnam and Cambodia, employing nearly 100 artisans year round, producing quilts, bags, fashion, and more.

A drive to innovate and change

At the heart of Mekong Quilts’ philosophy is something learnt from Mekong Plus’ devotion to community service—speaking to artisans, volunteers, and customers for inspiration to change and innovate.

 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, Mekong Quilts began making handcrafted facemasks featuring ethnic and minimalist designs. The ability to adapt helped keep two workgroups of quilters stay employed, despite having drastically reduced quilt-related orders.

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The famous face masks from Mekong Quilts

Working with furniture manufacturers such as Scancom International, Mekong Quilts’ has taken the united call of preserving the planet seriously, sewing cushions for both humans and pets out of discarded pieces of fabric leftover from the production of large outdoor furniture.

Prosperity of female artisans key to continued education for youth

Madam Lương Thị Đào from Vĩnh Thuận Đông commune in Vietnam’s southwestern Hậu Giang province is a prime example of how a stable income is crucial to family development.

 

Apart from odd jobs such as catching paddy snails that supplement her husband’s income as a part-time motorbike repairman, Lương once worked for a couple of years at a garment processing factory for less than VND600,000 (USD25) a month.

 

After she began working as a quilter with Mekong Quilts, her income increased to stable VND2,500,000 (USD100) a month.

At the time of writing of this article, her income has fallen to VND1,500,000 (USD60) due to post-pandemic woes, but is grateful as many garment workers have lost their jobs due to an impending recession.

 

The effort has undeniably helped the family’s son stay in his 9th grade classes.

 

Ultimately, the drive to create sustainable employment for female artisans comes with a deeper rationale—helping their children stay in school for continued education, in turn changing the lives of future generations for the better.

 

To further emphasise and disseminate the importance of education, Mekong Quilts organises an annual solidarity run that involves all beneficiary villages and communes. At the end of a 2.4-kilometre run, participants contribute a voluntary sum of money that goes into the Mekong Quilts Scholarship Fund that helps more than 3% of students of every cohort.

A wide variety of products suitable for young and old

Above all, Innovation goes hand-in-hand with the understanding of aesthetics at Mekong Quilts.

 

Since 2005, Mekong Quilts has expanded its portfolio of handicrafts to include eco-friendly products, including water hyacinth bags and papier-mâché gifts—both lines of products are made from materials that would have otherwise been considered ‘unsalvageable’ without creative intervention.

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One of Mekong Quilts’ craftswoman, working on papier-mâché items

Water hyacinth are an invasive species in Southeast Asia where they clog water passageways and cause mass fish death due to their uncontrolled growth—Mekong Quilts artisans carefully dry and group water hyacinth leaves based on size, turning them into biodegradable and durable tote bags.

 

Similarly, waste paper and newspaper scrap from schools and homes are turned into papier-mâché items through a three-day-long cutting and glueing process. The versatile technique has led to the birth of Mekong Quilts’ Christmas and Vietnamese hangables loved by all members of the family.

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Christmas decorations made from papier-mâché

Beyond other products such as summer fashion and smaller quilt gifts, several other workshops run by Mekong Quilts’ focus on non-fabric and handicraft related work, producing artisanal incense as well as Southeast Asia’ first line of bamboo bicycles.

How you can help Mekong Plus enrich lives of female artisans

Tourism is picking up in Vietnam again and Mekong Quilts’ artisans are receiving more orders, but their lives have not yet recovered to the same level of income stability as before the pandemic.

 

Visit Mekong Quilts’ physical store at 85 Pasteur, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City or shop online at  www.mekongquilts.com to make a purchase today.

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Mekong Quilts’ newest store in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1

With something for everyone and every budget, every gift purchased from Mekong Quilts is a gift that gives twice—putting a smile on the recipient’s face, and putting a smile on the faces of the beautiful children who get to stay in the classrooms.

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