A monk in orange robes ferries us across the Mekong River for Buddha Day, where a old, sky blue temple hums with children and chanting.  It reminds me of an old-fashioned church picnic on the grounds.  Veo and her mother are our hosts, having prepared a fresh Laotian soup before we depart out of leafy greens from the market. Veo and I have been working for days on my balcony overlooking the Mekong, meticulously choosing thread and dye and discussing designs for an ibu collection of shawls. 

She and her business partner, Jo, oversee a growing enterprise of weavers in Luang Prabang, Laos, calling themselves Ock Pop Tok (try saying that five times fast!), or in translation, East Meets West.

 
 

Veomanee Douangdala and Joanna Smith overseeing Ock Pop Tok in Luang Prabang, Laos.

 
 

Veo and I working on designs on my balcony at the Ock Pop Tok guest quarters.

While Veo and I scheme, Mrs. Ting at her loom is the sun at noon - so bright her face and emanating pleasure with the day.  She is working with about 15 other weavers in an open air covered studio, while outside on the lawn, freshly dyed yarn is drying in the sun. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Veo and Jo are opening a new retail space while I am there with my friend and ibu ally, Monica Seeger.  We’re lucky enough to attend the blessing of the space, with monks in high ceremony, not knowing at the time that ibu, too, would be blessing a retail space one day soon!

 
 

The Ock Pop Tok collection for ibu employs weavers from many villages and hill tribes growing in skill, income, and self-sufficiency.  Each year, Veo and Jo offer the weavers an adventure: traveling out of Laos for the first time to the beaches of Thailand, getting their first passport, learning English in an open classroom, participating in Fashion Shows which showcase their own cloth.

 
 
 
 
 
 

I found inspiration in the spiciness of the monk's robes, as well as the cool, silver waters he carried us across. The sky blue temple on Buddha Day;  the gold that lined every upturned eave.  The magic of the Mekong colors each design.

And not just magic for us.  Magic for Mrs. Ting, too. Each thread an adventure pulling us on.