After what felt like a short two days among the Pwo Karen hill tribe, we made it back down into Chiang Mai to see the Sop Moei Arts boutique.
Sop Moei Arts is the non-profit arts store that began in the late 1980s, when Kent Gregory realized that these indigenous people needed a source of income to better their overall nutrition and health, rather than foreign interference.
Kent helped the Pwo Karen people set up textile-weaving studios in their remote villages, then opened up boutique stores in Bangkok and Chiang Mai to sell their products and directly fund the artisans.
Before we set foot in the store, I wasn’t too sure what I expected the shop to look like. But when we arrived, I was in awe.
The place was beautiful from the inside out, perfectly located on a busy downtown strip bustling with both locals and, more importantly, tourists.
What stuck me first was how modern and trendy their product line was. Their entire store looked like it belonged in a high-end part of town back in Montreal. It almost seemed out of place seeing a boutique this westernized in Chiang Mai, but it was there and walking into it felt like home.
All the wood paneling, earth tones and warm lighting made you feel like you were invited into a cozy cottage with everything set up like an IKEA showroom.
Nearly everything in the boutique was crafted from the textiles woven by these Pwo Karen natives back up in the hills. And the contrast in environment was shocking.
Every pattern on every pillow, every colour on every handbag—they all had a significance, and we were lucky to see and hear their stories firsthand.
Looking around the shop, I felt as if I had a filter on that no one else had: a different perspective, an inside look. This began to make me feel emotional. I had a deep appreciation for these products and where they came from.
Besides, the products were easy to appreciate. I fell in love with everything in Sop Moei Arts, from the tapestries to the pillows and handbags. This was totally my style, and I could see my apartment back home being decked out in these furnishings. I found it very difficult not spend every dime to my name in this shop.
From the hills to the city, experiencing this very unique textile industry was one I will likely never forget.