Kokkabok Women’s Cotton Group: Supporting Itself Sustainably

Member of Kokkabok Women’s Cotton Group grow not only organic cotton, but also grow indigo which is a natural blue dye.

Member of Kokkabok Women’s Cotton Group can be seen spinning, weaving and creating organic fabric daily without much support from outside.

A few old women in a small village of Thailand can be seen spinning, weaving and creating organic fabric daily without much support from outside. They are old but with zeal to save their tradition that reminds them of their own childhood and a sense of self esteem to support themselves. As they produce beautiful traditional fabric,  they earn money that makes them financially independent.

It started in 2001 when a few women came together in Ban Kokkabok, a small village in Loei province of Thailand to find a way to make a living. They visited a women’s group whose members dyed cotton but had no source for cotton yarn. So they said, “Why don’t we grow cotton?” They, with the help of the Loei Development Foundation (LDF), formed Kokkabok Women’s Cotton Group and started producing organic cotton.

These elderly women grow not only organic cotton, but also grow indigo which is a natural blue dye. They spin and dye cotton and weave the threads to make fabric for shirts, towels, handkerchief etc. They also weave fine fabric for an organic baby clothing sewing corporation called Panmai. The products of the Group are marketed by Green Net.

All these women together decide their goals, a fair price for their work and check quality. They also manage their own capital. The members have developed a savings plan (equivalent to 1/3 of every month’s production) that can be paid in cash, cotton or indigo.

These women also try to make the whole process very sustainable by working on cost effectiveness and soil enrichment. They save seeds for the next year’s cultivation and work jointly with Organic Farming Groups to learn how to increase soil’s productivity naturally.

Through this Cotton Group, these women are not just earning decent wages, but are also taking a pride in reviving a dying cotton industry in Loei by growing organic cotton.

“I am very happy because I can bring back the tradition of my parents and make them alive again. My children and grandchildren can learn about the process and do it as well”, says Mae ‘Oon, a group member.

She also says “By not using chemicals, the river in our village stays clean. There used to be lots of fish in the rivers, but after using chemicals the fish weren’t there like before.”

The group is growing. The group now includes women from a nearby village. In 2005, members of the group taught their cotton skills to women in 8 other villages and shared seeds. These villages now send their cotton to Kokkabok for weaving.

The group promises its customers high quality organic cotton. Though it still cannot afford to get its products certified, it has a committee to check the quality of the products.

The demand for the organic cotton produced by the Group is always high. Customers in Bangkok buy the organic cotton products from Green Net at the monthly ThaiCraft Fairs or at the Lemon Farm shops. International customers make large wholesale orders.

The supply in fact does not meet the demand. “There is more demand that we can meet. We can’t produce as many products as ordered. But this isn’t a factory — there are many steps involved,” says Mae Paeng, another Group member.

Making cotton fabric is a labour intensive process and these women, being less in number and less supported, face their own set of challenges. These women are also not sure if their future generations would continue the tradition. Nonetheless the Kokkabok Women’s Cotton Group continues to work and grow.

Read the full story on: Organic Cotton Improves Village Life

Photo Courtesy: Ellen Agger

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