When visiting Thailand one might spot a giant field of floating plants with beautiful blue flower around the canals of Bangkok. These are water hyacinth, an aquatic plant native to South America. Despite its alluring appearance, it is one of the most invasive species that has been destroying the local aquatic ecosystem in many countries around the globe and Thailand is no exception.
The plant was first introduced to Thailand around 1901 from Indonesia and has since caused many problems in any body of water it has its root in, especially in Chai Nat province. The plant can multiply at exponential rate – from ten to million within a year if left untreated. Apart from blocking the canal route, water hyacinth also prevents native plant from growing and creates a poor living habitat for local aquatic animals. The invasive plant also takes up water space meaning that the canal can store less amount of water in the summer, but is more prone to flooding during monsoon season.
Image src: www.khaosod.co.th
An aerial view over the Chao Phraya Dam in Chai Nat Province. A field of water hyacinth spans six kilometers long is blocking the waterway and affecting many locals living in the area.
However, a community of people in Chai Nat province has seen an opportunity among this chaos. By combining local artisan skill and creativity they are able to create beautiful weaved basket and furniture from the problematic plant.
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Charoeyporn Kerdkasem, the leader of Chai Nat weaving community explains that she is the third generation in her family to inherit the weaving skill. Growing up in a family of bamboo basket weaver and taught by her grandma and mother, she fosters her love for the traditional craft.
“These products are all hand-made. There is no pressure weaving these baskets because we are not a factory. If we get tired we just take a quick nap. Basket weaving doesn’t make us rich, but it also doesn’t make us any poorer. You can live a happy life if you manage your spending well. Water hyacinth is not a problem for us; in fact it is like money floating on water”
That being said it is not an easy task preparing the material. There might be an abundance of water hyacinth, but only those with the right shape and size are harvested. The plant also needs to be clean and dry before they can be used.
Checkout how a water hyacinth bag is made from this video
Wanting to support such positive action, VT Thai reaches out to the community in hope that we can open up new doors for them. It was such an amazing experience seeing these baskets come to life as pieces of dried water hyacinth was carefully weaved together into baskets of marvelous shape, each with its own characteristic and unique charm. After months of talking and developing the prototype, we were able to create a signature handbag made from water hyacinth and patina leather. The bag was named “Vipha” which means “radiant and beautiful” in Thai.
Vipha Handbag made from water hyacinth and patina leather
We were really glad to be able to work with such an amazing group of people and love the fact that the community can come up with such an eco-friendly solution to the water hyacinth problem. Instead of using chemicals spray or herbicides they decide to turn obstacle into opportunity – solving the problem creatively instead of destructively with absolutely stunning result.
Vipha handbag may not be able to transform the villagers’ life. But it gives them a sense of hope that there are people who recognize their problem and appreciate them for their artistic ability. We truly hope that one day the field of water hyacinth will be under control, and the only thing that blooms in the weaving community is the love and pride that the people have for their local craft.