The pandemic has been a source of huge obstacles for many businesses, and Mekong Quilts has not been spared either. Since late last year, Mekong Quilts’ physical stores in Hanoi and Siem Reap have closed for good, owing to a large reduction of tourist arrivals as well as a difficult economic outlook.
“[Now], online orders to Europe and Australia account for an increasing percentage of our sales,” Bernard Kervyn, founding director of the quilting-based social enterprise, explained.
Last flagship stores in Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh slated to close on 15th June 2021
When the effort started in 2000 as a way to supplement the increasingly prohibitive costs of social work in its parent organisation Mekong Plus, Mekong Quilts was merely a modest quilts workshop in a small alley in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. This was where Bernard’s partner Madam Thanh Truong and a foreign quilting expert began to train the nimble hands of underprivileged local women to produce the finest quiltwork that the region has seen.
“We had to move six times due to rising rent,” Bernard exclaimed. Vietnam’s rapid development in the last 20 years has been both a boon and bane to Mekong Quilts existence.
By the time Mekong Quilts found its final location on Lê Lợi boulevard in 2012, women from more than four provinces in both Vietnam & Cambodia have benefitted from the team’s endeavours. Long gone were the days where the physical store functioned as both a shop and a workshop.
“[The Lê Lợi] store has been the best location we ever found, but we will be closing it on 15th June 2021 along with our Phnom Penh store in Cambodia,” Bernard said with a heavy heart.
Two of Mekong Quilt’s quilters sharing their feelings about the lack of work due to the pandemic.
With less rental to plough through and fewer expenses to deal with, he believes that all remaining funds can go to restarting the livelihoods of Mekong Quilts’ female artisans.
Recent developments and the fate of beneficiaries
Since early last year, Mekong Quilts has begun an in-depth series of restructuring to help keep the effort and its quilters afloat. Beyond developing new products that represent a new age of pandemic-driven lifestyle and work-from-home antics, including beautiful handcrafted 3-layered face masks and breathable clothes made by skilled women fabric artisans from Long My village in Hau Giang Province, Bernard has led to team to seek mutually beneficial collaborations with both local and foreign organisations locally to boost its visibility amongst locals and expats.
Just this year, an Easter Fundraising event at the Deutsches Haus in Ho Chi Minh City organised with assistance from the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany saw more children participating in a Mekong Quilts handicraft painting activity. The total ticket sales made from participants garnered a modest yet significant sum of VND17,000,000 which has been redistributed to supplement the incomes of Mekong Quilts’ craftswomen.
In an alternate world, most of these bamboo and papier-mâché souvenirs would have been destined to reach the hands of many tourists who visit Vietnam; but the pandemic has changed the fate of thousands of merchandise and their creators.
Ms Hoa, a handicraft artisan from a Mekong Quilts papier-mâché workshop in the Mekong Delta was delighted by the outcome of the initiative but is still worried about the future.
“We have been borrowing just for the family to survive. All we hope is for some orders so we can work again,” she said.
Not-before-seen deals for the last month at Mekong Quilts Le Loi & Phnom Penh store
Nonetheless, endings are often bittersweet, and Mekong Quilts would like lovers of high-quality local-made quilts, fabric products and souvenirs to hear about a piece of good news.
From now till 15th June 2021, expats and locals will discover great clearance deals at both final physical locations of Mekong Quilts, with discounts ranging from 30 – 80%.
“We encourage new and old customers to visit our stores quickly for great opportunities!” Bernard exclaimed.