The potential for the Banyan Tree Gallery to become a force for good came to Claire Chiang, co-founder of Banyan Tree, after she attended a regional summit on handicrafts in Hanoi in Vietnam. "That was the first push for setting up something which I felt could support the craft industry, and importantly, cut away the middle man, between producers and consumers," she says. By going directly to the producers, they are able to bring the dollars directly to those people who create the traditional crafts, many of whom are women. "We soon found that's a very concrete form of female empowerment." Using newfound skills and business savvy built from their Banyan Tree partnerships, entire villages have now created portfolios that bring them more customers, as well as the ability to improve their own living conditions and the future of the next generation — often being able to send their children to school for the very first time.
Rice Sacks as Art
When you come back from a holiday, you don't just want to return laden with trivial souvenirs. You want something that recalls the authenticity and charm of your stay. Hence why the products found in Banyan Tree Galleries showcase the craftsmanship of local cottage industries, many still creating bolts of silk, sculptures, and essential oils in ways that have remained unchanged for millennia. Not only does this provide guests with an authentic memory of their time, it also has the power to transform the lives of the communities who provide these unique handicrafts.
That empowerment also stems from the fact that the craftsmen make use of the materials they work with every single day. Like a group of women living in the rural deltas of Vietnam, says Applelynn Teo, group director of design and production for the Banyan Tree Gallery. "They work with rice sacks every day during harvesting – and so they use the rice sacks, turning a mundane workaday material into stunning slings, bags and even iPad holders. And to ensure that authenticity is not lost on the customer, each product comes with a small write-up of the backstory," she explains."Guests ask the reasons behind the colour, the motif and why a material was used. All this is put into a short paragraph so the person knows what they are buying. We have lots of guests who don't just want to buy a product and walk out."
Time to dig deeper and explore the exotic brew of South East Asian culture: