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Carol Cassidy

Preah Vihear, Cambodia

- Handwoven silk textiles

Carol Cassidy has been working with textiles and fiber art for many years. She studied weaving and textile design in Norway and Finland and earned a B.F.A. from the University of Michigan in 1980. After receiving her degree Carol worked as a fiber/textile expert in southern Africa. In 1989, Carol moved to Laos to work as a weaving advisor on a United Nations International Labor Organization (UN/ILO) project at Lao Cotton. She trained weavers to use Swedish looms and monitored quality control for 210 village based weavers. Carol was also asked to design commercially viable fabrics to be woven by Lao Cotton and to oversee the production process. On her visits to rural women's homes, she was very impressed by the technical skills of Lao weavers, prompted her to make the decision to establish an independent weaving studio in Vientiane.

In 1990, Carol registered Lao Textiles, one of the first privately owned businesses in Laos. Her goal was to demonstrate the commercial viability of creating textiles based upon tradition for a modern world market. Applying her own weaving and design experience, she wanted to work with local craftswomen to produce high-quality fibers that drew upon traditional motifs and colors combined in innovative ways.

Fifteen years after setting up Lao Textiles, Carol became the owner and manager of Weaves of Cambodia located in a remote village in Northern Cambodia. Weaves of Cambodia started out in 1997 as a small scale, community oriented project to weave silk, a traditional Khmer art in prewar Cambodia and produce scarves and wraps. It was funded by Vietnam Veterans of America.

Immediately the project ran into problems. They found it was cheaper to import silk from Vietnam and China than to plant mulberry trees and produce their own silk. They used cheap dyes from Thailand only to find the colors ran and the chemicals the dyes contained were hazardous to their health. There were also problems with the staff.

Bud Gibbons, who was working with Veteran International, an offshoot of Vietnam Veterans of America, made contact with Carol to provide training and advice. The quality of their products improved and they started to sell in handicrafts shops in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. By 2002 it was clear that the Vietnam Veterans of America was unable to continue to support the project. In 2003 he asked Carol to take over the project. Carol was not enthusiastic, however the growing involvement in advising the project on products and designs was among the factors that drew her in; the response of the workers to her advice and instructions was another.

Today, more than 30 land mine survivors work at Weaves of Cambodia weaving high quality silk fabric and products, keeping their age-old weaving culture alive while earning a sustainable income.


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