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Artisan turning waste paper into gold

Hardscrabble childhood inspires up-cycled paper creations

Waste paper may appear a fairly useless commodity to some, but one industrious artisan and business woman is busy using it to earn several million kip each month.

Used A4 size office paper is main raw material propelling the success of Recycle-Art Laos and its artistic proprietor, Ms Malavong Maniseng.

Ms Malavong Maniseng is proud of her 3D picture products. --Photos Recycle-Art Laos

Under her skilled guidance the waste paper is transformed into intricate three dimensional artworks for people seeking to decorate their own house or office with a piece or two to reflect upon and enjoy.

Waste paper is recycled or even up-cycled, adding value to generate much needed income for her family in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Ms Malavong does so with a mix of ingenuity, industriousness and artistic skill inspired by a poor childhood that led to her developing a strong artistic sensibility borne out of relative material deprivation.

The recycled paper that she transforms into sacred iconography including images of the Buddha, depictions of the nation's key sites and monuments, notable flowers and animals now generates millions of kip in sales for her business every month.

Today, her works are growing in popularity among Lao customers and foreign residents and visitors alike who see them as ideal gifts and souvenirs.

Located in Nongduang-neua village, Sikhottabong district, tourists and travelers are increasingly seeking out the shop in their quest for authentic, affordable, handmade Lao souvenirs.

Her business may be thriving now, but it could well be said that Ms Malavong has already cleared her fair share of hurdles to reach this point.

However, devotion to the craft that she loves and passion for self improvement has helped her to overcome all challenges to appear thus far.

Ms Malavong was born into poor family.

Her parents didn't have the money to buy toys for their young brother and sister to play with as did the parents of children belonging to more well-off households in the neighbourhood.

Being the oldest sibling in the family, Ms Malavong was always cooking up ideas on how to produce toys to keep her younger brothers and sisters entertained.

At first, she bought coloured clay sold at a toy shop and began making sculptures of animals.

That experience was the first step toward kindling her love of artistic reinventions of everyday materials.

During secondary school studies in Vientiane she further developed a passion for sculpture and was a regular winner in art competitions held at the school.

After graduating from secondary school, she dreamt of continuing her studies in the field of fine arts.

However, her father did not approve of that idea so she agreed to study business administration instead as per the wishes of her pa.

While she could not attend fine art school as she had wanted, Ms Malavong instead put her artistic skills and business savvy to work developing skills in 3D picture production.

She worked with many combinations of clay and many types of waste paper to make artistic imagery.

After trial and error for almost one year, she found that A4 paper was the most suitable material to produce the 3D picture products.

After succeeding in the testing phase, Ms Malavong had an idea to produce this product for sale.

Yet she did not have enough capital to set up her own business

In addition, her capacity to produce was too limited rendering her unable to meet demand.

Fortunately, a big break came in 2012 when the World Bank held a business planning contest for members of the public throughout the country.

The winner was to receive 40 million kip.

Ms Malavong entered the contest without a moment's hesitation.

Four months after submitting her plan, she received the good news that she had won the award.

Then she used this money as collateral to establish a small factory in Nasala village, Xaythany district to produce the pictures from waste paper.

She was able to earn revenue of some 20 million kip during the first month that she ran the business, since growing as Lao people, foreign residents and visitors have learnt of her offerings.

Today, her 3D recycled paper products are sold in the provinces and in the capital.

She is proud of earning tens of millions of kip per month from her efforts.

She observes that the market demand for this kind of product remains high.

However, the designs are revisited regularly to create more opportunities for sales to customers.

Ms Manivong is very proud of her ethical and legitimate business.

“The most important thing about this product is helping to preserve environment by reducing deforestation,” she said.

Recycle-Art Laos can be found on social media site FaceBook: @Recycle-Art Laos

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update April 20, 2017)


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