A little look at the people behind the Wilderness Bazaar products, by founder and designer Leeyong Soo.
In Laos, Wilderness Bazaar's recycled aluminium jewellery is made by Mr Xieng Phang and his wife, Tout, in Ban Napia, Xieng Khouang province. Mr Phang has had his own business making metal spoons, keyrings and jewellery for the past 15 years - and now he makes the earrings I design! His primary business is rice farming and he only makes metal pieces when he has orders, with the help of his wife. In his village, there are approximately 15 families that make spoons, which have become somewhat synonymous with the Ban Napia region. However, only a small number of people are skilled enough to make jewellery. The raw metal material that the villagers use is purchased from local metal traders, with some being scrap from the Secret War such as plane parts or bomb casings and the rest coming from car parts and other contemporary sources.
Although I have visited Ban Napia, I have not met Mr Phang and his wife yet, as my initial discussion about jewellery production was with another artisan couple who then passed my order on to Mr Phang (work is shared around between villagers in Ban Napia). However, I hope to call in and meet Mr & Mrs Phang next time I'm in their neighbourhood!
In Vietnam, Wilderness Bazaar's buffalo horn jewellery is sourced through Amy, a stallholder at Ho Chi Minh City's Ben Thanh market. After buying some bangles from Amy, I got talking to her about the possibility of creating some items and she passed on my order to a family business that supplies buffalo horn products to her stall. (Buffaloes are not slaughtered for their horns - the horns and hide are byproducts of the meat industry). The business is in Hoc Mon, about 30km from the city, and unfortunately I did not have the means or the time to visit while I was in HCMC. For the moment, the information I have about the family who make my jewellery is via an email from Amy: "The mainly to make them are the men not women. Because when they make the buffalo from the basic the smell are very terrible. They also the hard work that why is dont have so many women to make them."
Amy is a friendly and savvy lady who learnt all about business from her mother (who also had a market stall). She says that since leaving school she has improved her English by working at the stall, and while it's technically not perfect, it's perfect for my small business purposes - even if Amy herself doesn't think so: "Also hope you clear about the explain of mine. Because of the lemit of English."
Given the limit of my Vietnamese (ie I don't speak any whatsoever) I have the utmost admiration for Amy's language and negotiation skills and am looking forward to working with her (and visiting Hoc Mon) into the future.