During one of her visits to the local night market Laos, Emi Weir noticed that very few products were made in the country. It got her thinking about how to empower artisans across Laos to make and sell their handcrafted products locally.
In 2010, Weir launched Ma Té Sai (“where is it from”) to provide a platform for women and artisans across Laos to create and sell their textiles and handicrafts. Starting in 2013, Ma Té Sai began teaching women in different districts to sew, further enabling them to create finished products from naturally dyed and woven cotton cloth.
“It all started with a jacket,” explained Weir. Her black cotton swing jacket sold so well when the business first started that she ended up receiving support from a Malaysia-based Foundation to expand her operations. Today the product range has expanded significantly, and the young women Ma Té Sai empowers “are now the major breadwinners in their families,” Wei added. The unique, handcrafted products represent the work of 15 artisan villages, 5 individual artisans and 8 organizations across the country.
Ma Té Sai is omnichannel and benefits from bricks and clicks. “We couldn’t survive without tourism,” explained Wei. The company maintains a brick and mortar showroom in Luang Prabang, occasional pop-up shops in Vientiane and a growing online presence. While Weir sees Asian markets as the most important for her business, she receives online orders from around the world.
Her company has benefited tremendously from increased online visibility. Tourists and online shoppers are able to discover the company through social media and services such as Tripadvisor and social media tools, which has grown the business.
With a dispersed network of artisans and global customers, Weir and her team rely heavily on digital tools and platforms to operate the business. Web-based messaging tools, which allow her to communicate with her teams in all areas of the country, “changed our business,” she emphasized.
“Do your research and clean up your own backyard,” suggested Weir when asked to share a few words of wisdom for aspiring global entrepreneurs. “And feel secure where you are,” she added.