Sewing the big picture; how Mekong Quilts built a social enterprise based on fabrics

In 2001, Mr. Bernard Kervyn embarked on a life mission after recognising the need to provide sustainable employment for under-privileged women in the Mekong Delta region to improve their standard of living while creating a better future for their children. Initially beginning with a team of less than five volunteers, Mekong Quilts now employs more than 100 women in numerous villages in Vietnam and Cambodia, with a total of four physical retail locations in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

 

A woman quilter smiling while crafting souvenirs.

Durable and high quality quilted products made possible with nimble hands

Mekong Quilts’ wide range of beautiful and practical quilted products draws inspiration from Vietnamese, Cambodian and ethnic minority culture and motifs. Unbeknownst to most, quilting is a painstaking and time-consuming process. A typical queen size quilt bedsheet takes weeks, and sometimes up to a month to complete. Quilts are by nature multi-layered, and require utmost patience and precision to sew.

 

Mekong Quilts’ designers make use of the internet to communicate new designs with the hardworking quilters and sewers, reducing the carbon footprint they may result from traditional forms of interaction. Skills development and empathy ensures that the nimble hands of south-east Asian are put to effective use. Designs of quilted and fashion products at Mekong Quilts often goes further than traditional imagery. Ideas inspired by south-east Asian ethnic cultures such as the Hmong of Northern Vietnam, and symbols borrowed from mother nature are combined with minimalist artwork to create handsewn masterpieces that fit every person, living space and bedroom.

 

With strong emphasis on the conservation of the environment in mind, Mekong Quilts’ is dedicated to using materials that are both natural and ethically sourced locally. Mekong Quilts’ range of clothes and fashion accessories are also made of natural linen or cotton, and all papier-mache accessories or souvenirs are made only from recycled newspapers to limit further impact to the globe. In addition, a wide selection of hand-braided water hyacinth-based fibre bags are also unique to Mekong Quilts, highly functional as both shopping and daily-use handbags.

Handbag and dress from Mekong Quilts.

 

“Aesthetics and practicality are best presented with sustainability,” Bernard explained proudly. Mekong Quilts’ packaging team also strives to use as little plastic as possible.

There’s something for the whole family at Mekong Quilts

Bernard also believes that shopping with Mekong Quilts is an enriching experience for the whole family. People are often surprised to know that Mekong Quilts is not just a quilt manufacturer, but is also renowned for its innovative line of bamboo bicycles, which just received a well-deserved upgrade in technology with a recently released electric version that’s both waterproof and lightweight. The stunning bamboo bicycles of Mekong Quilts comes in six different sizes and technical specifications for riders and commuters of all ages. If that’s not convincing enough, accessories such as fenders, helmets, bottle holders and rear racks made with 100% bamboo are also available for those who are keen to keep to the theme and color. Mekong Quilts’ bamboo bicycles are only just as resistant as steel but inherently flexible, giving riders a naturally soft ride; mother nature’s suspension.

Mekong Quilts’ City Bike, made out of bamboo.

 

Beyond fashion and excitement, Mekong Quilts has placed effort to revitalize its product range to include new items relevant to year 2020 where people stay home more than ever, including laptop pouches, aprons, pot holders and casual wear. Facemasks that were introduced for the epidemic in Vietnam earlier this year sports 4-layers, which includes 2 layers of high-quality cloth and 2 microbe filtration layers, and is offered in 7 eye-catching colors and designs.

A bunch of colorful masks handmade by our quilters.

 

“Our ladies re-dedicated three days of time, and income to produce [these masks],” Bernard added. After the initial rounds of production meant for distribution to the less privileged, the fashionable cloth masks became a hit amongst both locals and expatriates.

“We were making more than 4,000 pieces [of these masks] every week,” Bernard recalled excitedly.

Giving back to the community is Mekong Quilts’ Motto

Mekong Quilts was founded as a social enterprise in mind and the team has never forgotten the importance of giving back to the community that made it possible in the first place. Mekong Quilts’ works actively with its parent organization, Mekong Plus NGO, to help the community through initiatives such as micro-financing, scholarships and numerous other programmes that focus on hygiene and agricultural education. Every year, Mekong Plus organises a charity run with the mission to raise funds to provide scholarships for children from low-income families.

 

Kids interviewed during the 2019 VietDa event.

 

“Last year’s event saw an unprecedented attendance of more than 120,000 people, with a total of more than USD42,000 raised, providing scholarship expenses for more than 3700 youngsters,” Bernard added.

 

Through social media and soft publicity, many loyal customers of Mekong Quilts have also become collaborators in the mission of building a brighter future for Indochinese children.

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