Bordering Cambodia in rural Northeast Thailand lies the province of Si Sa Ket, known for Khmer Ruins, tropical fruit, and silk and cotton cloth. But like many remote areas, the 21st century still has not brought this area investment in infrastructure, and the Internet access within Isaan region of Si Sa Ket is limited and expensive.
The Kohtrad Silk Project is working to change that. Farquhar Simpkin, Kohtrad’s founder, realized that the Internet is a great tool that can alleviate poverty while providing locals opportunities for commerce and exploring the outside world. Simpkin organized locals, creating a cooperative that sources, weaves, and then ships stunning silk scarves and shirts that are well priced (and the purchase includes free delivery!).
The process for making silk apparel is labor intensive. Producing half a kilo of silk takes 35 to 40 hours, and then the weavers, who are traditionally women, use hand looms to create intricate patters in colors and styles that are reflective of the region in which they live. Silk weaving has had a long tradition in Si Sa Ket, but weavers have lacked any effective means for distribution. Simpkin is changing that, and in turn is investing in the community. Workers receive a fair trade pay for their work, and income they generate from the Project helps pay school fees for their children, build a family business, stay in a region where their families have lived for generations, and keep these traditions and skills alive.
The Kohtrad Silk Project will also benefit the entire community because 50% of all profits from the scarves and shirts sold will go towards building an Internet hub, giving locals cheap access to the internet. The hub will be located next to a village school, and the plans are already drawn: the project’s goal is to have the hub filled with desks, computers, and printers within one year.
Thailand has enjoyed a booming tourism industry for over 30 years, but the economic benefits have seldom tricked down to the country’s poor. The current political volatility is only adding to the challenges that many of Thailand’s poor face. Much of Thailand’s rural areas offer youth few job opportunities other than in agriculture, so many flock to the larger cities, including Bangkok, where factories offer few labor protections.
Projects like those of Simpkin’s will help develop local economies, keep families intact, and keep traditional skills flourishing. You can stay updated with the Kohtrad Silk Project by following its blog.