Beginning in 2001 as a sister social enterprise of Vietnam-Cambodia-based non-profit organisation Mekong Plus, Mekong Quilts‘ was conceptualised as a platform for creating sustainable fabric work for under-privileged women in Indochina.
Inaugurating itself with just five female artisans and a passionate quilt designer, Mekong Quilts began as a small workshop in Ho Chi Minh City. Today, the social enterprise works with women from 3 different provinces in Vietnam and Cambodia, producing souvenirs and fabric gifts that range from children’s quilts, ethnic-inspired tote bags, festive papier-mâché decorations, and even south-east Asia’s first range of bamboo bicycles.
A group of craftswomen working on baby quilts in a rural village of Vietnam
“Sustainable income for our women artisans means that their children will be able to finish school uninterrupted,” Mekong Quilts Founding Director Bernard Kervyn remarked, dissecting the psyche behind the group’s focus on an all-rounded approach which elevates the living conditions of local families and ensures the continued education of the region’s young.
To achieve that, Mekong Quilts works hand-in-hand with Mekong Plus and partner NGOs including Ánh Dương Centre to organise an annual solidarity charity run in beneficiary communes and villages—marathoners from all walks of life contribute a voluntary sum of money to the Mekong Quilts regional scholarship fund.
One of Mekong Quilts’ best seller: the Silk Happiness Quilt
In 2022 these local contributions amounted to almost US$60,000 and benefitted more than 3% of the student populace.
A diverse range of products suitable for the entire family
In the late 2000s, Mekong Quilts began expanding its core range of products from its initial namesake.
Beyond children and adult bed quilts that take several weeks to complete, the social enterprise began harvesting one of the region’s most invasive aquatic species, the water hyacinth, to create environmentally-friendly tote bags.
A woman harvesting water hyacinth in a small river in the Mekong Delta
With dried fibrerendered from water hyacinth, these aesthetically pleasing and durable bags create employment for local women while alleviating environmental destruction due to the plant’s innate ability to multiply quickly—waterbeds infested with water hyacinth often results in clogged waterways and the death of numerous aquatic species due to the lack of oxygen.
The Vietnamese and tourist love of local ethnic art also sparked a line of bags, facemasks and wearable fashion made with sustainably sourced ethnic fabric at Mekong Quilts—most notably, indigo fabric sourced through fairtrade from the Hmong tribes of Northern Vietnam, and batik-inspired sarong fabric from Mekong Quilts’ beneficiary villages in Cambodia.
A selection of water hyacinth bags produced by Mekong Quilts
Mekong Quilts’ line of papier-mâché hangables is also perfect decorations for children’s rooms and the festive season. Made with high-quality sorted waste paper and non-toxic glue, its production employs artisans who may be more adept at non-fabric work.
Working with international partners to create sustainable products
With the advent of conscious consumerism, Mekong Quilts has embarked on a journey to work with the world’s leading fabric producers to bring new life into waste material.
Scancom, an international conglomerate focusing on outdoor furniture, provides Mekong Quilts’ with waste WeatherTex®, a state-of-the-art weatherproof fabric, to create cushions for both humans and pets. Finished cushions are then sold back to Scancom, creating employment and sales for both partners. A line of minimalist tote bags made with the material is planned, expanding on the collaboration’s earth-friendly mission.
One of Mekong Quilts’ cushions, made using Scancom’s weatherproof textile
Mekong Quilts also works with Terre d’Oc to produce artisanal incense sticks for the French home fragrance retailer’s line of interior perfumes.
Incense-making artisans in Vietnam’s Bình Thuận province apply the powdered bark of the Indian Laurel Tree (Jiggat) onto thin bamboo thicks using a traditional wood tumbler—no chemical adhesives are used and the process ensures that three even layers of the coat are applied.
Approximately 9 tons of incense sticks have been produced annually thanks to a two-decades-long partnership, and Mekong Quilts plans to create a new line of green tea and oriental grain-based potpourri fragrance bags using discarded quilt-making fabric in an effort to aid Terre d’Oc mission of purveying products that create positive social and environmental impact.
How you can help Mekong Quilts’ female artisans
The pandemic has come to an end, and Mekong Quilts’ female artisans and their nimble fingers are once again hard at work to produce some of the region’s finest purpose-driven and sustainable handicrafts.
One of Mekong Quilts’ craftswomen working on a quilt
Every order at Mekong Quilts is a gift that gives twice—beloved by its recipient while putting a smile on the faces of Mekong Quilts’ female artisans and children who return to school with ample nutrition and the drive to create a better future.
Browse Mekong Quilts’ wide range of products on the website and follow the Facebook Page for the latest updates about exciting Mekong Quilts’ bamboo bicycle tours organised in Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta, and even Europe.