Moving to Vietnam in 2011 was the amalgamation of many factors.

It was the contrast I needed at the time and in hindsight was the decision that set me on the path towards starting Mitsein.

Mitsein was borne out of a desire to continue my work with handicraft in Vietnam and Cambodia. I felt there was more for me to do in this area. There was potential to bring contemporary designs to other local crafts and different products areas, to realise my ideas as well as bring a wider market to the skilled craftspeople. It was set up in such a way as to allow more autonomy—to have more freedom to try the things I felt needed trying. To take risks that an established NGO couldn’t take. To open up the experimentation and iteration in the design process. To be more collaborative with the artisans. We are still working with this philosophy at the forefront.

I first considered rattan because I was interested in continuing to use local natural materials and existing craft skills as I had done at Mekong Creations, and I remembered fondly the rattan items that had populated my home as a child. I went searching for craftspeople using this material and learnt that there are still lots of skilled people in the rattan industry, and that there is a huge potential for this NTFP (non-timber forest product) to improve the livelihoods of forest and village communities, many of which are ethnic minorities in Vietnam.

Once I had decided to focus on rattan, I was lucky to be introduced to the team at WWF which had been working on a sustainable rattan industry program throughout SE Asia.  We had long conversations about the details of their project, the complexity of the industry, and the overall picture. We discussed how Mitsein could be a part of the move towards sustainable livelihoods and a more environmentally sustainable rattan industry in the region. And it became increasingly obvious that, with a few guidelines, rattan was a great choice for a business wanting to effect positive change.

The industry involves many groups along the supply chain: forest communities who propagate and harvest the rattan by hand; rattan traders who buy the product from the harvesters to sell on; workshops and village weavers all across Quang Nam and other regions who add value to the material; as well as the handicraft retail industry, which ranges from local markets to international distributors. I was interested in ensuring a good deal for those at the bottom of the pyramid.

…rattan is magical!

At Mitsein we believe that the raw materials grown in Vietnam should have as much value added in Vietnam as possible, to achieve maximum industry growth and maximum benefit for these low income communities.

From a design perspective rattan is magical! It grows as a vine so in essence it is a naturally occurring wooden rod of up to 30m. Because of this form, when it’s used in wire-frame designs, it has very little material wastage. Steam bending and joinery techniques can be used to transform this material into all sorts of designs. There is still so much for us to explore with rattan, the possibilities are endless. Our artisans design group is full of ideas for new product directions and experimentation of this beautiful material.

 

Sarah Thomas

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