Since 2001, Mekong Quilts has been steadfast in its mission and core values; providing sustainable fabric work for underprivileged women with the ultimate goal of transforming the lives of their families and the community at large.
A craftswomen working on water hyacinth bags.
“We begin from our home in Ho Chi Minh City with only one quilts designer [from Europe] and five Vietnamese women,” Bernard Kervyn, Managing Director said, explaining the humble roots of the social enterprise that spans many rural vicinities in Cambodia and Southern Vietnam.
Early diversification into environmentally-friendly products
Beyond its beautiful and vibrant core line of adult and children’s quilts that have made Mekong Quilts one of the most sought-after artisanal boutique brands in the region, Mekong Quilts is no stranger to handcrafting eco-friendly souvenirs.
In Long Mỹ district of Hậu Giang province in Southwestern Vietnam, the water hyacinth plant that grows in shocking abundance on rivers is seen as a pest in the eyes of locals–blocking waterways, damaging boat engines and restricting the development of healthy aquatic life.
Thankfully, Mekong Quilts began working with locals in the early 2000s to harvest this unwanted ‘weed’, and its fibres are dried and processed to become an unexpectedly durable textile material.
“Before the pandemic, we had three workshops that worked on tote bags weaved from water hyacinth fibre,” Bernard exclaimed.
Mekong Quilts water hyacinth handbags.
Unrecycled refuse is increasingly becoming a problem in rural Vietnam, and turning paper waste into works of art morphed into another form of sustainable income for the nimble-handed craftswomen who work closely with Mekong Quilts.
Newspaper and old A4-sized documents are some of the most common disposed paper waste that Mekong Quilts converts into attractive papier-mâché products sold to tourists. From mini-lanterns to themed offerings for festive seasons such as Lunar New Year and Christmas, consistent orders for decorative merchandise meant that Mekong Quilts craftswomen enjoyed a stable source of income.
Christmas decorations made from recycled waste paper collected in rural Vietnam.
“These were strategies that clearly benefit both the environment and the women,” Bernard reminded.
Collaborating with companies that care
These efforts have grown to new heights in recent years.
Together with Scancom, one of the world’s largest outdoor furniture producers, unused lengths of WeatherTex®, a weatherproof and lightweight synthetic fabric developed by Scancom, are made into cushions that feature Mekong Quilts’ signature quilt. Similar cushions have also been made for pets.
A small dog resting on one of Mekong Quilts’ newest pet cushions.
“Scancom gives us the unused fabric without cost, and the resulting cushions will be sold back to them at a price [that is] fair to both our craftswomen and customers!” Bernard explained.
As of April 2022, Mekong Quilts has also begun working with several denim wear producers with the same strategy in place.
“We are [also] in talks with uniform makers that hold thousands of unused uniforms that they need to dispose of,” Bernard added.
Through careful design and the knowledge of the limitations of working with unwanted clothing in mind, Mekong Quilts is planning to release a new series of laptop covers and pouches.
“The fashion and apparel industry produces nearly 10% of global carbon emissions!” Bernard said, elaborating on a lesser-known fact.
Recycling old fabric has thus become an important endeavour at Mekong Quilts – one of the few projects that impact both the environment and its beneficiaries positively on a large scale.
How you can help Mekong Quilts and the environment
Other than helping Mekong Quilts’ craftswomen and the environment by purchasing sustainably made products do consider joining Mekong Quilts’ regular bamboo bicycle tours organised in Ho Chi Minh City and the neighbouring provinces where many of its beneficiaries live.
“The tours are a combination of a glimpse of Mekong Quilts’ community efforts and a truly memorable eco-tourism experience,” Bernard insists.
Crossing a river during a Mekong Plus Bamboo Bicycle Tour.
For trips to Long Mỹ district in Hậu Giang province, participants will ride Mekong Quilts’ innovative and comfortable line of bamboo bicycles through the lush greenery of the Mekong Delta region while witnessing Mekong Quilts and its sister NPO Mekong Plus’ community project efforts that range from quilts production, housing made from recycled plastic, and other exciting projects including but not limited to low-cost eel farming, pest-resistant covered vegetable farms and biogas fermentation.